Indy 500 Post-Race Winners Interview
PAT SULLIVAN: We know that this man now has orchestrated a 15th Indianapolis win. He did exactly what I know they plan to do or want to do every month of May. They won the pole, they won the pit stop competition and won the race. Any way you slice it, that's a clean sweep and that's a great day.
ROGER PENSKE: We talked with Helio about the win of his life a couple of weeks ago and he comes back do show you. Outside he has that personality, he climbs the fence, but inside he's as tough of nails. He had to be to go through what he went through the last six months. It's really a credit to the team. Great to see how Briscoe ran. Will Power was up there. Sorry to see my son Jay's car have the problem. But you look up to that podium, that's the one thing during this race, you look up at the podium for two reasons; where are you and how many laps to go. And I think about 85 or 90 laps, that 9 and 10 car were out there doing a pretty good job, and I said it's going to be a long day. But we stayed on our game plan, the pit stops were sharp. For some reason Ryan thought he had a tire go down and we got a lap down and able to get him back into second, but unfortunately we were probably four or five laps short and we had to come in. So it was just one of those things, but it was a great day.
It's a credit to Tim Cindric who will come in here obviously and the consistency. I think I said before probably 800 years of experience on this team, and it's interesting that Rick Ryanman has had, I think, 12 wins, too. He's a crew chief that's been on the team, not always as a crew chief but certainly as a key part of our whole team. So it's consistent sponsor, consistent wins and this guy is something else. Give a big hand. (Applause)
SULLIVAN: Welcome the winner of the 93rd Indianapolis 500 and three-time winner, Helio Castroneves, and Tim Cindric.
Mr. Penske just talked about your toughness, Helio, and I think about the emotional Victory Lanes we've seen in years past. Bobby Rahal certainly had an emotional Victory Lane, and Emerson one time comes to mind and the famous Al Unser, Jr. Victory Lane. But I don't know if I've every seen one like that, and all I could think was this has all the makings of a made for TV drama. It is the most incredible finish to a set of circumstances. And all of us in Indianapolis were hoping you'd be here, simply be here for the month of May. And to be here and win, wow. How about that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's exactly what I said, wow. When I was inside the helmet and still on the victory lap, I, normally I cry -- no, actually I scream to the guys and celebrate and this time I have no words, just let it go. It was a very special moment that last, the celebrating lap. I was a little upset because I to stop and I keep hearing breaking radio, "You've got to go to Victory Lane." I didn't know where Victory Lane is because the last two times I was here was exactly where I stopped. So I was like I've got go over the fence. What they did for me during this very difficult time, they never stopped sending great messages. As you said, I heard it all what I'm talking about. It is a great way to pay them back. What a great way to show that I am so honored to have fans like that. I will never forget so many positive messages.
Obviously I keep telling this to Roger and Cindric to give me -- and our partners, to never stop believing in me and to give my life back, to be in the racecar again and to be here in Victory Lane and to be here in Indianapolis, winning for the third time is just, without you guys, I wouldn't be able to do that. So thank you so much.
SULLIVAN: Before we go to the questions, Tim let's get a comment from you. One of the things Roger said, you never know what's happening in the month of May to some degree, you've been the dominant car in everybody's mind and all of a sudden, bingo, there go the two Target guys and they were looking awfully strong. What were your emotions at that time?
TIM CINDRIC: I was about to ask him what was going on because all those things happen, and all of a sudden we're fifth and he's as calm as can be. He was a lot calmer than I was, because I was sitting there trying to figure out what our next steps are going to be. Just like Indianapolis always is, it's a series of races inside of races, and you always have to look at the next stop and you know you have four or five more stops to make it up. If you can make up one stop, all of a sudden you're the leader. He actually had to pass a guy or two to get there. We knew we had the right guy behind the wheel.
Q: Helio, I think one of the things that's been overlooked here is you are a three-time winner, a historic achievement in itself. All the adversity aside, now you've joined three-time winners, four-time winners, that's the best of the best.
CASTRONEVES: I feel honored to be in this category of drivers. When I go to the dinners with the old timers, and I'm there first of all feeling pretty impressive -- feeling pretty honored. I feel pretty honored just to be there. And now being this type of category, wow, with such the incredible names. I feel blessed to be in that category. But without a team, without good people surround you, you cannot make that and, like I said many times, Team Penske has won so many times, so they prepared this race. I again give them credit for all my guys and especially Ryan Briscoe and Will Power when they did the preparation, you know, while I was not there. And that was incredible.
During the race, you know, just to answer the question, I was just trying to take it easy. I didn't want to push it. I was waiting for the right time and I just asked them, put me in the lead, and I will have no problem. In fact, we didn't change anything in the car. As soon as they put me in the lead, boom, the car was just incredible. We were running 220s, even saving fuel, and this guy kept telling me got to save fuel, got to save fuel. In the back straight I could not hear because I have a problem with the radio, it was the best thing. So every time I come to the front straight, got to save fuel. Gosh, this guy won't let me go. And then I was actually back there, I was studying what the car could do and if I have to pass somebody. And I was just waiting for the right time, and the right time came, like in 2002, the right time came, 2001. So this place is amazing. I had a great car, Roger Penske gave me a great car today. When we needed the speed, we were right there, and when we didn't need the speed we were very close to the other guys. So great job there.
Q: Helio and Roger, it took you guys maybe a little longer to get together after the race and, Helio, I know you were greeted by a lot of people before Roger. What was that meeting like sort of between the most emotional guy in the place and one of the most calm guys in the place? (Laughter)
CASTRONEVES: As you can see, look, he only smiled three times or two times, when it's his birthday and when he wins the Indy 500. (Laughter)
But I tell you one thing, these guys know me for a long time. Like I said, they are not only my boss, but what I've been through, I really felt they are becoming great friends. It was just incredible, you know, so many people, even the fans as you can see that everybody was cheering. It was just incredible. I want to say thank you to everybody who supported me and to give me the extra push, especially when I wasn't there driving the car. To drive for this man here is just an honor again, and I'm so glad I'm still doing what I love most for the best in the business.
PENSKE: Well, I guess my situation is the race, I think I mentioned on the way in, I said, "Tim, one thing you do is you look up at that pylon and see where your number is and how many laps to go," and I did that a lot today. From lap 180, I knew who had the wheel, I knew the experience, I knew the preparation, and I felt calm and there was no reason to get excited. I talked to Tim, I said, "Has he got enough fuel?" He said, "No problem." So it was a matter of winding it out. And, of course, the chance to see Helio, he's part of our family and, you know, you're just so happy to see these guys execute like they have, because it's -- you know, I said I think to someone, that Indianapolis, what it's done for our company and our 40,000 people, our customers, my family, building a brand, you could never do it like you can if you surround yourself with the Indianapolis 500.
So for me it was just spinning in my head, I say this is exactly what people expect. So I have to take my hat off to you. Thank you.
Q: Helio, you said Friday, "That's the last chapter in my book." Obviously you're writing more chapters. Kind of talk about how many more chapters you've got, and what's this chapter going to be?
CASTRONEVES: Hey, if we keep doing what we're doing, it's going to be a big book, you know? (Laughter)
I'm probably not going to read it, but it's going to be a big one, too much. (Laughter)
But I said it was the last one but, I think it's the beginning. And certainly it's a great way to come back. I feel fantastic, I feel great. But certainly like I said, I couldn't do it without those guys. Talking about Rick Ryanman, he won this place 12 times with different drivers. When he come to you and he says he has so many other drivers and he's honored to be with you, so that's the type of people you want to be, you want to have right there tightening your wheel because you know they're going to do everything to make this happen. And I can't stop thanking them because without a great team you can't do what we did, and a great strategy. This guy here has been with me since 2000S. he's still the only one that understands me. However, I did improve my English but even today with the problem on the radio, we have to go through a lot of communication. And Rick Mears, he was there for me; Clive [?] Hollow was there for me as well. Those guys were just -- it was a great synchronization piece, you know. We never lost any calm on those issues that we had. That's what it takes to win this race.
Q: Helio, you know, you showed your emotion a lot after wins and stuff like that, what do you do before the race to like turn it down? Do you still have that statue you smuggled into the Vatican in '04?
CASTRONEVES: I do actually. I just put my helmet on and close my visor, that's it. That's what I do. When I'm there in my space, in my territory, I know what I need to do. Obviously I have guys around me telling me what to do because they have better eyes than me in those circumstances, but I'm the one in charge there and I'm the one telling me I need to put the car where I need to be. So when you do that, it's a great place in the world. You don't need to worry about anything else. That's why I'm one person out -- not that I'm different, I'm just excited to be around in racecars, but when I'm in the car I've got to do everything I can to reach the limit, not only myself but in the car as well. Today was just a perfect combination.
Q: Roger, you were faced with a pretty unique and extraordinary set of circumstances with Helio's legal troubles. What went into your decision to handle that situation the way you did it, keeping the seat warm? Also, did you ever during that process wonder to yourself, "Will I get Helio back?"
PENSKE: Obviously, that was the big question, what's going to be the final answer. When Helio and I talked almost every night and initially we talked about a race and so many seconds ahead, so many seconds behind as we kind of went through the four or five months of discussion. But I think Tim Cindric and our sponsor, we met, we talked about it, we sat down with Helio and said, "Look, we've got a situation here we've got to deal with, we will stay with you until the final answer." Obviously as the season was going to start, he understood that we had to put someone else in the car and we said, "You need to focus on your situation, but the moment we get the word that you're ready to go, we're going to have a car for you." And I think you saw that at Long Beach and we were able to give Will a good car, finished second, sat on the pole.
So I guess, you know, I had so much faith that Helio hadn't done anything wrong. I couldn't understand why he was guilty, you know, before he had the trial. That's all I saw, every piece of publicity that came out of Miami was he was guilty, and the way they treated him initially was, you know, was deplorable. We just said, "Hey, we're with you." The good news is Helio, myself, his family, we never had to get the other side of the answer, so, again, the final answer was exactly what we thought it would be. He was cleared of any situation, and obviously there was no issue because one has to understand that we knew Helio, we had a contract with Helio. That contract we knew was the right one, and we handled it properly. Obviously when he first came to this country, putting something together, we had the Greg Moore problem, lost Greg and Helio was there, I talked to him and he said he didn't have a ride with Carl Hogan. So there's lots of moving parts there. This is the things that you don't get unless you're sitting there in court and read a lot of these documents that you don't see.
But I can say this: We never, ever were going to leave his side. It's worked out, and I think the payoff today is not only for him but for everybody on this team that never, never blinked an eye.
Q: Helio, Roger mentioned when you first came here, and I want to take you back for just a minute because when you did first come here, nobody knew anything about you. And I remember I met you in the garage and we walked together to the pits and nobody bothered to say boo to us. Then within about three weeks you were totally inaccessible because you became a superstar. I saw you on television recently and I know how emotional you are, and I think people rightfully adore the sincerity that you exude. But you said something about this whole series of events has really kind of -- these are not the exact words -- but something like this whole series of events has put life back in perspective for you and given you a better perspective or sense on that. I kind of wonder, you know, you became this instant superstar, and I'm kind of wondering how that's going to temper now your life moving forward. Is there anything that can change really given what you've done?
CASTRONEVES: No, I'm always going to be the same Helio as I've always been. Outside the car, I've always been accessible to you guys. Whenever I'm asked questions, I'm always able to do that and the fans as well. I'm going to continue being myself because that's what my mom taught. My mom always told me to be yourself. If you're happy, you're happy; if you're sad, you're sad. But I always continue to be myself.
Q: Helio, you kind of talked about you're honored to be part of this, the category of being three-time champ of this race. Winning the hundredth anniversary of this track, does that add a little more excitement to today's victory?
CASTRONEVES: Winning here, I mean it's very special. I'm just so honored to be the guy doing that. Like I said, to be in a select group, first of all, and this is just incredible to see how many people -- and I was actually coming to the track this morning, asking a lot of people. I don't remember seeing how many people were here and struck in traffic and things like that, and they keep saying the Indy 500, it's coming back. And for me, to hear those words, it's just fantastic. And be sitting here talking to you guys is just amazing because this place is very special. I'm super happy that it's coming back.
Q: Helio, a question concerning the final stages of the race. You said earlier your team were on the radio and said save fuel, save fuel. Nevertheless, just from the outlook on the television, personally I had the impression lap times, speed, et cetera, et cetera, have been nearly identical. So how difficult was it to concentrate and do always the same speed or nearly identical lap times?
And a question also for Mr. Penske. Three or four laps before the end the camera shows Helio's family very emotional, very nervous. You seemed pretty controlled and cool. (Laughter)
How difficult was this not to show emotions and to be controlled?
CASTRONEVES: Do you want to answer the last one?
PENSKE: I guess when you've been here, you just hope that there isn't, you know, a yellow. I knew at 180, when we said, when Tim said we had fuel and I knew Helio was behind that wheel and he made that restart without Wheldon getting by him, it was ours to lose. So you have to be rational in this thing, you get excited, it doesn't do anything to help you go faster. I think Helio, the lap times that he was turning, we have a fuel gauge, we know where we had to be on fuel, he obviously had a number he was making and still running in the 220s. Wheldon is a real competitor and what we didn't want to do was have him jump us on the start and we didn't want to have another yellow. That's the time, you can see at the beginning how aggressive Franchitti was, and yet, as we ran about 20 laps, Helio just moved on by.
So this is -- it's a very, very different race.
CINDRIC: Just to clarify as far as saving fuel, not the last yellow but the yellow before that when he actually made his last pit stop, that's the point where everybody was really having to save fuel. If there weren't any more yellows, once the last yellow occurred, who was it, Matos and -- from that yellow because it was so long put us in a position and put Helio in a position the last 20 laps to run flat-out as much as he needed to, just to clarify all that.
CASTRONEVES: He answered that. (Laughter)
CINDRIC: What he said.
CASTRONEVES: I can't hear, man. The radio and everything, it's like a buzz.
Q: Tim and Helio, they're talking about the best of the best of the best. And Helio, you're still a relatively young man. Has the discussion ever come up the first to win five Indianapolis 500s between you two?
CINDRIC: You know, I guess it hasn't really crossed my mind too much since probably 2003, you know, at the point where he had a chance to win three in a row and we had made our last pit stop there in 2003 and he was the leader. Helio ran up on lapped traffic there toward the end of the race and he was able to get by him, and ()and at that point in time that's probably the last time we really talked about numbers here. After that it was just a matter of what's it going to take to get back there again. We had a couple of rain races and a few things where I think we had the car to win, but we weren't able to get to the end for a couple of reasons, but rain being one of them. As we look at it now, I remember as a kid growing up here, remembering how cool it was to wait for A.J. to win his fourth and what that meant and all the hype about A.J. winning his fourth, and then again with Mears. So I kind of lived it as a kid, and it's kind of cool to sit up here and think he has a chance to do it.
CASTRONEVES: Well, for me, I tell you, you can't be thinking about five without making three. We just made three and now thinking about fourth. But I will think about it, dream about it, but we've got to work for it. Certainly have the team to do that, but we have a long way. Right now for me, I'm just going to enjoy this moment because it's very special.
Q: Helio, to win this race sometimes takes a little bit of luck. Weren't you behind Kanaan when he crashed in the back straightaway? Take me through that and what went through your mind when he veered off.
CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I saw on the straightaway like a little smoke probably from bottoming and all of a sudden, I'm not sure if it was the left rear or right rear suspension broke, and he hit pretty hard. I saw a piece of wing coming straight to me. I even told the guys to check the air box because I thought something hit, didn't hit my helmet but there was so much debris. Well, we did stop right on that yellow and we found out there was a piece of carbon stuck into the right front or left front tire. So it was lucky that everybody stop and I stop as well. So we were able to go back and continue the race. So it was very, very impressive because it was right on the front straightaway and it was a big crash.
SULLIVAN: We've got four questions left in line. That will be our final four.
Q: Helio, I want to go back to a question, sort of a spinoff on a question he asked before. I remember when you started the tax case, I remember you saying on TV to a reporter, "I'm trusting in God to get me through this." And today when you took the checkered flag, you hadn't completed the lap and you said, "Thank you, God, thank you. "
What's happened to your faith in the course of this last six months?
CASTRONEVES: Sometimes you try -- I try to answer questions, I just couldn't find the answer. And today I found the answer and that's why. I thank Him.
Q: Helio, I want to go back toward the end of the race when everyone was saving fuel, so it might have been two yellows from the end. When Will Power was behind you, if it wasn't a situation where you both had to save fuel, and say you had enough fuel to make it to the end, what do you think would have happened? Were you worried about Will, because he looked like he was catching you?
CASTRONEVES: Yeah, he was very strong. What was up with that? (Laughter)
PENSKE: We hadn't dialed the number yet.
CASTRONEVES: I didn't know who it was until I looked at the Pagoda and saw the No. 12, and it was like he's coming here, and they're telling me to save fuel, tell him to save fuel. (Laughter)
No way. And he was very strong and I don't know what happened. But I would not give up that position. Towards the end certainly I don't think he was saving fuel, but he was doing extremely well up to that point because we already have quite a few laps on the tires and he didn't have a clear lap. I had a clear vision and no traffic, and he was catching pretty fast. So he was doing very well. Then I think a yellow came up and we all had to pit, so he definitely show he's very strong and potential here.
Q: Helio, I have two questions for you but they're short. The first one: Was there some confusion about you being able to climb the fence? Were they saying, "No, don't do it?" If you want to answer that one, and I'll ask the other one. It's real short.
CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I was going over there and they were like, "You've got to go to the Victory Lane." And this yellow guy kind of like pulled me in. (Laughter)
I want to get out, and he's like, "No, you've got to stay here." I was trying to take the stuff and he was literally holding my helmet and myself there. Finally I saw the team come and I said, "I'm sorry, I want I've got to get out." (Laughter) That was the confusion, I wanted to go and climb the fence.
Q: The other thing was so often the person leading with ten laps to go doesn't win this race just for whatever reason or whatever various circumstances. It looked like to us when you were leading at that point, there was absolutely no way that anyone was going to catch you. Do you think, did you have that feeling, I mean after the all the emotions and things like that, it really felt this is one time there is absolutely no way?
CASTRONEVES: You guys make that. You guys talking about the ten laps, guy's not going to win. No, I was just going in and certainly I had a good gap between the second place, and I was just managing, make sure -- and I couldn't hear how many laps to go. I tried to keep looking to the number of laps, and he keep telling me ten, then I didn't know if it was ten or seven or I was just so confused. So I'm just like, OK, forget it, keep going, keep like the 219s, 218s. And I think I had enough car. I didn't even ask the lap time that the second place was doing. So at that point I was just trying to finish the race and manage the gap that I had and hopefully not get in traffic. Because this year the field was so tight, I can see it was very hard to get traffic. So it was interesting to see that.
Q: Helio, the boss mentioned his concern about the restart. You had seen starts and restarts where a guy in second place was in pretty good position. Were you concerned about that restart with Wheldon?
CASTRONEVES: Yes, absolutely. We didn't have the new tires either, so I kind of like knew that in that situation if you don't have a very good car, you'll be able to keep behind and certainly it happened and I was able to manage the gap. After that I was just -- and because I had a few laps in the front as well, so I was pretty comfortable with the car. It was just one of those things when you're in the front, you just keep going and the car was just fantastic up there.
Q: A quick one for Roger and then a quick one for Helio. In '06 you said that was your most exciting Indy victory. Was today your most gratifying?
PENSKE: I would say yes.
Q: For Helio on a lighter note, are you glad this one was a decisive Indy 500 victory?
CASTRONEVES: A what? Well, the last one was never a problem for me or for us. But hey, we didn't have rain, we didn't have to deal with anything. So we proved it.
SULLIVAN: We've learned something that Tim Cindric is right, by the way, Helio used the word synchronization very well. That's a dancing turn, the decisive maybe not so much. I tell you what, how about it, folks, what a great effort by all of you? A salute. (Applause)
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