“I won’t give up until I get there.”
This past Wednesday I had the privilege of spending time with three of the IZOD IndyCar Series' top drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves. We were all attending a media luncheon hosted by Sonoma County's Infineon Raceway, held in anticipation of the Aug. 28 IndyCar race. The luncheon took place in San Francisco at Fior d’Italia.
After Friday’s practice, Helio was quoted as saying, “Infineon Raceway is a great track. The No. 3 Penske Team car has always been fast there and we hope that continues this weekend with the Guidepoint System Car. It is always nice to visit California’s Wine Country and the track is certainly challenging. Team Penske knows how to find Victory Circle at Sonoma. Our teammate Will just tested there for us so we should be in a good position to finally put it all together and have a great result on Sunday."
On Saturday, IndyCar ran their qualifying session for Sunday’s race. I am happy to report that Team Penske held the top 3 spots. Will Power took the pole with Helio Castroneves and Briscoe right behind him. This was the team's first 1-2-3 qualifying effort for the 2011 season.
Helio’s qualifying time was 01:19:0916 at a speed of 104.825 mph. This placed him in 2nd and part of Firestone's FAST 6. Below is a small clip of when Helio took off to make his final qualifying run. Please excuse the "not so perfect" video but it gives you an idea of what it was like.
Helio Castroneves was born in May 1975 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He currently lives in Fort Lauderdale, FL, with soon-to-be wife, Adriana and daughter Makaella.
2011 marks Helio's 12th season at Team Penske in the No. 3 Shell V-Power Pennzoil Ultra and AAA California IndyCar. Helio's magnetic personality came alive in 2005 in front of millions of TV viewers. Helio, a three-time winner of the Indy 500, is the only racecar driver to compete on "Dancing with the Stars." Helio along with dance partner Julianne Hough took the world by storm and danced their way into the hearts of millions, winning the dancing championship.
I want to thank Helio (not Julio or Hello) for taking the time to speak with me and provide me with my IndyCar education. He was very charming and extremely friendly, making this a very easy transition for the women at Skirts and Scuffs.
Castroneves released a book about his life and challenges both on and off the track. The book, "Victory Road – The Ride of My Life," detailed Helio's' rise to stardom, the details behind his high-profile tax case and his exciting return to Team Penske racing.
We at Skirts and Scuffs hope you enjoy getting to know Helio Castroneves a bit better, and that if you aren't into IndyCar racing at this time, maybe you'll give it a try. 2012 should prove to be an exciting year with a new car design with new engine.
LB: So you're originally from Brazil, currently living in Miami, correct?
LB: Did you come from a large family?
HC: No, not really. Just myself and my sister.
LB: Was it your dream as a young boy to be a racecar driver when you grew up?
HC: (Helio nodded yes, with a big smile.) I was about 11 years old when I started and by 13 I knew what I wanted to be. I was glad to have parents who would support me and a family who supports me. They worked hard and were dedicated to help me be what I wanted to be.
LB: How do the fans in Brazil differ from those in the U.S.?
HC: Well really the only difference is here when they pronounce my name. They say Heelio, Julio, Hello but at the end of the day they are all excited and I really care for them.
LB: Your daughter will be 2 at the end of the year. What is your favorite activity to do with her?
HC: Oh boy. Every morning she wakes up and goes to our room. It's really just waking up with her and playing with her. I love it, I love it. It's my favorite time with her.
LB: If Mikaella wanted to race cars when she got older, what series would you want her to race in?
HC: Oh boy. Well if she wanted to be a race car driver, the first thing that I would say that there is only one race car driver in the family. But if she wants to be a race car driver, I am going to tell her to enjoy it and have fun. I would let her try to learn from her own mistakes.
LB: So have Adriana and you married yet?
HC: Not yet. I’m waiting for her to say yes. I am really looking forward to it and it is definitely worth the wait. I’m just waiting for her to say yes.
LB: What would your first dance be?
HC: (We all laughed.) I don’t know. I probably would have to choreograph something with Julianne. I’d ask her to teach me some cool moves. I don’t know. When the time comes I will find out.
LB: I see a totally different type of passion from the drivers in IndyCar. How do you explain that passion for the sport and how do you handle it when the heat is on?
HC: To be honest, in IndyCar things happen very quick and for me the pressure brings out the best in me. The way I react is actually the best way. I know I’ve got to do everything right. When you do it that way it becomes even better.
LB: Do the powers that be want you to show your passion on track for the fans? For example, in NASCAR, there is the "Boys Have at it Policy."
HC: I think I already show my passion more than anybody, to be honest. I don’t have any problem with that. People already know that.
LB: With all that you have accomplished in IndyCar, do you ever think about crossing over to NASCAR?
HC: You're always thinking about it. To be honest it's just more about opportunity. Right now I’m really driving for the best team in the world. Team Penske is the best organization in the world. I am very thankful for the opportunities that they gave me. Once I’ve married with this incredible company, I just want to keep going as far as I can. And then if there is an opportunity with NASCAR, then why not try it?
LB: We were talking about Mr. Penske, who is very respected in the motorsports world. How would you describe your relationship with him?
HC: You know the Boss, Roger, he’s obviously my boss, but after everything we’ve been through together we’ve become good friends. My family and his family. Kathy and the kids. Having that type of relationship not only with him, but with the management like Tim Cindric, the president of Penske Performance, Inc. For me it's just great to have friends like that.
LB: Recently you celebrated your 200th race with Penske at Loudon. Out of your 200 races, which one (or ones) are your favorites?
HC: Actually the number one. Because when you start in such an incredible organization you never forget the first win. Even if the result wasn’t what you wanted, for me it's just to be here. It’s a dream come true.
LB: Your IndyCar stats are pretty amazing …
HC: Thank you.
LB: 160 races, 19 wins, 84 top 5s, 119 top 10s, and a staggering 31 poles, broke a couple of records but no championships?
HC: (enjoyed going over his stats.) Ah you see. She gets me going like that and then she turns it around and stabs you right there.
LB: (having fun with it) What do you feel is your biggest obstacle?
HC: I guess it just hasn’t been the right time. We’ve been very competitive and we put ourselves there every weekend. That’s what motivates them to get out there and get that championship. But to do that you have to work hard. You’ve got to put yourself out there. So it's a lot of different obstacles. One year it's one thing, the next year it's another. You just can’t give up. I won’t give up until I get that there.
LB: Are you responsible for the climbing of a chainlink fence?
HC: (laughing) I don’t know, am I?
LB: What inspired you to do this?
HC: I guess it was just a spur-of-the-moment. I was just thrilled to win my first race. So I just decided to jump out of the car and go celebrate with the fans.
LB: Would you say that Tony Stewart copied you?
HC: Yes, you could say he copied that. But that’s okay.
LB: Who do you consider to be your biggest threat out there on any given day?
HC: The drivers out there. Those sons of guns.
LB: The last time a race was protested was in 2002. It involved Team Green and you …
HC: In all the protests, I’m always involved. I don’t understand that (He looks from side to side.)
LB: What was it like to be in that position? Are you surprised with the decision regarding your teammate Will’s show of passion?
HC: I don’t like to be in that position, absolutely. You can’t control other people's minds. With that situation it shouldn’t have even started to be honest. It was a mistake from the directors, but unfortunately the changing and the ruling, it just opened for more problems. With my situation we didn’t try to overrule any results. We just want consistency and hopefully the people responsible for this will learn from their mistakes and take things a little more serious.
LB: How do the physical aspects of driving compare to those of dancing as far as preparation goes?
HC: Dancing, I had Julianne, a whole 110 pounds. (With driving) people don’t understand we don’t have power steering or air conditioner. So it's tough business.
LB: Would you do it (Dancing With the Stars) again?
HC: ABSOLUTELY! I had a great time and I won.
LB: Our final question: IndyCar is getting a new car and motor in 2012. Is this going to benefit the drivers?
HC: It will be a good move for the series. For everyone in fact. We’re all gonna start fresh. There is no development of this car. Everybody is starting at the bottom. Its good for the manufacturers involved. It's going to create even more competition. So trust me, it's gonna be more fun.
HC: WE DID IT! ( He shook my hand, then returned to his chocolate mousse.)
In closing, I want to thank Team Penske, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Ryan Briscoe as well as their PR representative, Merrill Cain. Merrill made this first step into Indy one that I will always remember by allowing me to spend time with these three championship drivers and get to know them so I could in turn bring them to our readers. It was a high point in my young career as a writer/columnist and not soon forgotten.
I would also like to thank Kim Martin, who assisted me with the Penske interviews. She was an asset to me with her support and her love for IndyCar and NASCAR.
All photos courtesy of Lindi Bess and may not be reproduced without permission.
The WIN Series is exclusive to Skirts and Scuffs and was created by Lindi Bess. The first original column to the site, a niche that Lindi felt was missing in NASCAR coverage. Bringing our readers interviews with some of NASCAR's most notable females such as Samantha Busch, Kim Wallace, Krista Voda, DeLana Harvick, Wendy Venturini and many more. Lindi has also recently interviewed drivers such as Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose, David Reutimann and Andy Lally. If you've missed any of Lindi's interviews, just click on her name on the Skirts and Scuffs home page. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to tweet me at @LindiB_NASCAR or leave a comment at the bottom of an interview. I read all comments. Thank you.