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Q&A with Helio Castroneves
Helio Castroneves at Long Beach
IndyCar Series star Helio Castroneves will compete in the Road Runner Turbo 300 on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, nine days after he was acquitted in a lengthy trial on charges of income tax evasion.

Here is a Question and Answer session The Star had with Castroneves by phone from his Miami office on Tuesday:

What was your feeling to be back in the race car at Long Beach last weekend, less than 24 hours after your acquittal in Miami?

“It was the best feeling in the world. For me, this is what I was born to do, it’s race. I love to be around the cars, I love to be around the track. I’ve been doing this since I was 11, 12 years old, so to be back in that environment was the greatest feeling in the world.”

How do you convince the fans that you’re the guy they’ve loved and overcome the stigma from the trial?

“This is the important message: It’s faith. I cannot believe how many people, how many fans, were praying, how many were sending good messages. Without those prayers, without the positive thinking, it would have been very difficult, very hard for me to go through … it’s me who needs to gain them back, I’m the one who needs to thank them and appreciate each message. People from Kansas sent messages to my Web site, from Indianapolis, from California, from Florida, from Brazil, especially, so I was very happy and surprised.

“It was the only kind of news I was looking for. I didn’t want to see any press, I didn’t want to see any TV. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but the fans were true and honest to keep me strong.”

How worried were you that your career could be over?

“I was scared since the beginning. I never lost faith, but sometimes, I’ll be honest, I questioned faith or questioned why am I going through this? If this happened, if that happened, what am I going to do? I’ve been doing this my entire life. I don’t do anything other than racing. It goes through your mind, but you can’t try to figure out or question God’s direction. It was like, He’s doing this for a reason, I will find out. I never watched a race, I never watched any news regarding racing. I didn’t want to go through a second torture. One thing was enough torture.”

How tense was it when that verdict was about to be read?

“It was hard. I was very emotionally fatigued. Still thinking about it, it still is very fragile to control my emotions. Everybody knows I’m a very emotional person. When I’m happy I cry, when I’m sad, I cry, too. It was hard waiting. All the mornings were very difficult because you never know when the result is going to come. About midday, I was feeling a little bit better, because no news is good news. I had a fair trial, and I can’t thank enough the system.”

Your sister, Katiucia, also was acquitted. How is she doing?

“My sister was in-cred-ible. Without her, it would have been very hard to go through this alone. She was extremely strong. I was very worried because she has a son, 9 months old, and I was very worried. Nine months old, you have to take care of him. What if the worst happens? She always believing, and that kept me very strong, and my family as well, including a very special person, my girlfriend was all around. For me to have those people made me realize, materialistic stuff we sometimes get stuck on that, but friends, family, you can’t replace.”

Even with the acquittal, are you concerned about losing sponsors or endorsements?

“Honestly, I’m just happy to be back in racing. My team never stopped believing in me. My associates, Philip Morris and the rest of the sponsors, they never stopped believing. The biggest proof is me last week coming back in Long Beach. In the racing community, at least, it was a great welcome.”

If that trial was the toughest moment in your life, does anything come second?

“I tell you one thing, I appreciate life much more. I appreciate little things. Sometimes, you just go out in the garden and look at the grass and the sky, and you’re like, ‘Man, I never thanked for that.”

Back to racing, how satisfied were you with an eighth-place finish?

“We didn’t have much practice, just Saturday for about an hour and then qualifying. After six months, coming back in the car and obviously, I felt some difference. It’s like playing tennis, when you stop playing for a long time, when you come back, the ball seems to come back to you a little bit faster to you than before. You have to get the rhythm back. The race was able to give me that. I was able to pass; unfortunately, I got passed as well. It was muscle memory of what I used to do, and no question my muscles were sore, too. But it was special finishing a race and finishing in the top 10.”

What were you thinking when you were in the lead for three laps more than halfway through the race? Would that have been too good to be true?

“I can’t believe it … that yellow came up a half a lap early. If it would have come on the next lap or a half a lap later, we would have for sure been sitting in a great position in the top three. This is racing, you gamble, you try something, and unfortunately it did not work out. We’re trying to do a conservative race, not trying to do anything risky. The only practice I could get was on the racetrack during the race. That was my mentality, to come back and get the groove back.”

Having missed so much time on the track, how much ground do you have to make up to be ready to win a third Indianapolis 500?

“I’m glad I am going to Kansas. It’s a very challenging place. An oval, that gives me another practice to bring the rhythm back. I feel I’m ready. I have a great car, a great team, if I rely on those guys, we’ll be in good shape.”

Considering what you’ve gone through, have you considered consulting this week with H&R Block, the Kansas City-based tax preparation company?

“It would be a great sponsor, H&R Block. But the only thing I can say is thank the fans. Without their prayers and positive thinking, it would have been hard to go through.”

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