Sun, May 18, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Castroneves celebrates being in Indianapolis

AP , INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Whether it's a brilliant smile or tears of joy, Helio Castroneves lets you know how he feels.

Unlike other athletes who hide their emotions or try to act nonchalant about their successes, the Brazilian believes in enjoying the good things in life while you can.

There's very little better for a race driver than being the two-time defending champion of the Indianapolis 500 and going for an unprecedented three in a row -- from the pole.

He has flashed that joyful smile many times since arriving at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in 2000. And the tears fell last Sunday after a dramatic run took the top qualifying spot for the May 25 race.

"I'm happy," Castroneves said the next day as he waited at the Indianapolis airport. "When I'm happy, I can't hide my feelings. I don't want to hide my feelings.

"Why should I? It's natural to be happy, and my mother says there is nothing wrong with showing people how you feel."

The 28-year-old racer, traveling with his father, was making a quick trip to his Miami home to take care of some business before returning Wednesday to try to perfect his setup for the 500-mile race.

As he sat waiting for his plane, a man approached with a newspaper in hand and asked Castroneves to sign it above the story about him snatching the Indy pole from friend and countryman Tony Kanaan.

"Hey, would you look at that?" Castroneves said as he gazed, grinning, at the headline: "Castroneves Stakes Out Indy 500 Pole."

The accompanying photo, showing Castroneves hugging his mother, huge smiles on both their faces, prompted another laughing comment: "She looks better than me. But I look pretty good."

But Castroneves acknowledges that his attitude changes when he dons his helmet and gets into his Team Penske Dallara-Toyota.

"I get very serious then," Castroneves said. "That's my job. There are no jokes and no laughs when I'm in the car."

Last Sunday, Castroneves showed his courage. After waiting in vain for gusty winds to die down, Castroneves decided it was time ``to take a chance.'' He drove onto the 2 1/2-mile Indy oval and turned four laps averaging 231.725mph (372.845kph), with a fast lap over 373kph. They were easily the fastest laps of the day and the fastest laps of the month for Castroneves.

It wasn't easy, either. His hands were flying back and forth from the steering wheel to the bars on both sides of the car that control weight placement and balance.

"You know, I had to drive one-handed most of the way," Castroneves said, shaking his head in apparent wonder. "With the wind, it was adjustments on every turn on every lap. And we had taken out a lot of wing."

That meant his rear wing was laid down flatter, with less aerodynamic drag, making the car more slippery through the wind. But that also created less downforce to help keep the car solid through those windy turns.

When he was at the photo shoot for the front-row picture, he looked at the cars of Kanaan and Robby Gordon, "and I saw they had a lot more downforce than me," Castroneves said. "Whew, that's scary."

Roger Penske wasn't the least surprised.

"I think [the pole] just authenticates how good he really is," said Penske, whose teams own Indy records of 12 wins and 12 poles.

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