Harris: Emotion Got Best Of Helio

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 27 2010

Helio Castroneves is an emotional guy. Somtimes, too emotional. (File photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Helio Castroneves is an emotional guy.

A few years ago, my wife and I had the good fortune to travel to Rome for an interfaith conference at the Vatican on traveling professionals in sports.

Among the others in attendance was Castroneves, who was called upon to talk about the ministry being provided on the IndyCar circuit and what it means to him.

A Catholic, Castroneves spoke eloquently and from the heart about how it made him feel more at home at the racetracks when he was able to attend services and to know he had people he could talk to about any problems that might crop up in his personal life.

Before he was through, there were tears on his cheeks and a sob in his voice. The emotion he felt was obvious and inspiring. He got a great ovation when he had finished his speech.

Pure Helio.

The outburst following his stunning penalty Sunday at Edmonton was certainly less inspiring, but it was again pure Castroneves.

This is the same guy who earned the nickname “Spider Man’’ for jumping out of his race car after wins and, to the delight of the fans, climbing fences in celebration.

The Brazilian has a Latin temperament, and it often just pops out of him.

The latest example is no so heart warming.

At Edmonton, he and teammate Will Power were engaged in a great duel throughout the race and, on the final restart, with three laps to go, Castroneves made a move to the inside of Power in the first turn – a definite no-no in open-wheel racing.

He was immediately black-flagged for blocking and ordered to take a drive-through penalty. But Castroneves, obviously seeing the red mist, drove on. He was not given the checkered flag as he crossed the finish line. That honor went to Scott Dixon, who had passed Power for second place on the final lap.

There’s really no excuse for his post-race actions on Sunday,  screaming at one IndyCar official at the flagstand and then grabbing a security official by the shirt collar before he was pulled away by Penske team president Tim Cindric.

Later, a cooled off Castroneves, issued the following statement:

“Obviously, I disagree with the decisions made by the race officials on the last restart in today’s race, but there is no excuse for my actions after the checkered flag.

“I apologize to my team, our sponsors, the fans and the entire IZOD IndyCar Series community for my behavior. My actions were totally wrong and I acted inappropriately to some people who are my friends and people I respect very much.

“Obviously, I am a very emotional person and today I let my emotions get the better of me and I’m very sorry for that.”

Helio got a 20-second penalty that relegated him to 10th place and he will likely get fined or get an even more severe punishment from the IRL, maybe even losing some points, ala NASCAR. And that could be devastating to a drive who has yet to win a championship in 12 seasons competing at the top of the open-wheel world and who covets a title above all else in racing.

Every driver needs to adhere to the rules, and Castroneves’ block of Power was pretty obvious. But, setting aside the ensuing outburst, it’s hard not to understand his desire to win and his frustration over losing a race he felt he should have won.

It’s been a tough season for Castroneves, with Power dominating the road and street circuits. The Brazilian has one win and nine top-10 finishes in 11 starts, but he is sixth in the standings and trails leader Power by 115 points.

The frustration mounts as the three-time Indy 500 winner’s hopes of finally grabbing a series title continue to fade.

But Castroneves would be well advised to keep that hot temperment in check and keep his head in and out of the race car.

There’s still a third of the season to go and, if he has any shot at that elusive championship, it’s going to take a cool head to get it.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 27 2010