Castroneves To Start Indy From Pole
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
IndyCar superstar Helio Castroneves has emerged from six months of legal hell, capped by a six-week trial on federal income tax evasion charges, a better man.
Helio may even be…the Brazilian version of bionic.
“I have to say that what I learned from the trial probably my mind is much stronger now and my skin is a little bit thicker now,” Castroneves said Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, shortly after qualifying on-pole for the 93rd Indianapolis 500.
“(And) I’d like to say his English has gotten a lot better hanging out with all those attorneys,” joked Tim Cindric, the president of Penske Racing. “He used to only know about 50 words of English, but he’s continued to move that along. “Dancing with the Stars” has taught him another 25, but they were a little different, though. Now he’s got all these technical words.”
A two-time Indy 500 winner, Castroneves’ third pole for the Memorial Day classic was the backdrop for an emotional release for Team Penske, as Castroneves and teammate Ryan Briscoe qualified 1-2 among the 11 drivers securing starting spots for the May 24 race.
Castroneves, who turns 34 Sunday, scored his third Indy 500 pole and team-owner Roger Penske’s record 15th with a four-lap average speed of 224.864 mph (2 minutes, 40.0967 seconds cumulative time) around the 2.5-mile oval. It was Castroneves’ 27th career IndyCar Series pole, and his first in three starts this season.
Briscoe made a late attempt to unseat Castroneves during the six-hour session, withdrawing his second-best qualifying time, but came up short at 224.083 mph. Briscoe will start in the middle of Row 1, with 2007 Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti (224.010 mph) on the outside in his return to IMS with Target Chip Ganassi Racing.
Team Penske completed a sweep of sorts when Will Power – who was hired during the offseason in the event Castroneves wound up going to jail – qualified on the outside of Row 3 at 223.078 mph.
Graham Rahal, making his second IMS start, qualified fourth in the No. 02 McDonald’s Racing Team car for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. Reigning Indy 500 and IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon, the ‘08 pole-sitter, and Andretti Green Racing’s Tony Kanaan also will be on Row 2. Kanaan, whose initial attempt was disqualified because of a post-qualifying technical inspection infraction, bumped his way into the field with an hour left.
Mario Moraes (223.331 mph), driving the No. 5 KV Racing Technology/Votorantim car, qualified sixth, with Marco Andretti (223.114 mph) and Power (223.078 mph) also on Row 3.
Danica Patrick (222.882 mph) will start 10th and Alex Lloyd 11th. Lloyd bumped Hideki Mutoh from the field with an attempt that ended one minute before the end of the day. Six different teams are represented in the 11 qualified spots. Positions 12-22 in the traditional 33-car field will be set Sunday.
A federal jury in Castroneves’ adopted hometown of Miami acquitted him on April 17 of most charges that he worked with his sister and lawyer to evade more than $2.3 million in U.S. income taxes. The jury cleared Castroneves on six counts of tax evasion but hung on one count of conspiracy. The jury also acquitted Katiucia Castroneves, 35, who is her brother’s business manager, on the tax evasion counts but also hung on the conspiracy. Michigan motorsports attorney Alan Miller, 71, was acquitted on all three counts of tax evasion and one count of conspiracy. The jury deliberated six days after a six-week trial.
Declared a free man, Castroneves made his 2009 debut on the Streets of Long Beach on April 18, finishing seventh in America’s most prestigious street race. In the series’ most recent race and the only oval event leading to Indy, Castroneves finished second to Dixon at Kansas Speedway on April 26. Neither of those races, however, approaches the aura surrounding “The Greatest Spectacle Racing.”
“Are you kidding, man? It’s just incredible,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda. “Again, for me, once again, I have to thank Roger and Cindric to believe in me, to be behind me all the way. Like I said, you guys gave my life back just being in the race car and for me that means a lot. That’s what I know to do, you know, since I was 11 years old, that’s what I love, it’s racing. This place is magic, man. I tell you, it’s something that’s just amazing.”
Castroneves and Briscoe basically tag-teamed the pole. Castroneves had gained the point after opting to withdraw his first four-lap time and speed. With 10 minutes remaining in the six-hour session, Briscoe went out in his No. 6 Dallara/Honda in a bid to unseat his teammate, but fell short.
“If you’re not up for this day, I’m not sure why you’re here,” said Cindric, who plotted strategy with Penske to the final gun. “Our goal today was to try and sit on the pole and make sure all three cars were in the first 11 in the first day. We accomplished that, and there’s no better way to do it with my buddy (Helio) racing against the wind. About made me cry today, but I didn’t.”
Penske said Castroneves proved again “how good he really is.”
“It was a thrill for me and obviously for him and all the people who stood behind him over the last five or six months, especially, you know, to his family,” Penske said. “I just want to personally congratulate him for a fantastic job. Obviously, we’ve got a competitive team because Ryan wanted to have a go, which was obviously a tough call. But he wanted to go and Ryan wanted to go, so we had to give each of them a chance, and we didn’t want to lose those top two spots, but it worked out fantastic for the team.
“Of course, Will Power, we’ve got to take our hat off of him. I mean, he made that run. The people who got ahead of him at the end each had two or three times they went out, and he stayed with his time from the beginning. So it was a great run.”
Castroneves, who repeatedly has praised the American judicial system for affording a foreigner a fair trial, said the experience has changed his perspective on life. “You know, I appreciate what I do,” Castroneves said. “I realize even more, I knew what I loved racing, but I realized even more that’s my life, you know? And just to be here, it’s just a dream come true, and I appreciate every day knowing that I wake up in the morning. I know sometimes I’m annoying in the morning, but that’s me: I enjoy life. Now I enjoy it even more.”
Briscoe, who started third and finished 23rd in his debut for Penske last May, was disappointed he could not bump Castroneves in the final hour, when the track traditionally is cooler and faster. “We tried to go out and get (the pole) back, but we couldn’t get it done at the end of the day,” said Briscoe, a native of Australia. “It was just an unbelievable qualifying run by Helio and Team Penske. He must be on top of the world at the moment.
“But I tell you, for me, second place at the Indy 500, second front row in a row, it’s a great feeling, and I’m just so happy to be here. I know I’ve got a good car going into this race in a couple of weeks, and I just hope we can have a solid run, be at the front all day long and have a shot at winning this 500.”
Castroneves spoke with Briscoe once the session was completed, and could sense his teammate’s frustration. “I mean I could see in his face he was a little upset,” Castroneves said. “He’s a race car driver. You want to be the No. 1, it doesn’t matter who it is, you know? Unfortunately, what I’m going to have, he’s going to have. One day it’s going to be my turn, one day it’s going to be his turn. “But he’s a first-class guy, he’s an incredible race car driver, and that’s the way it goes. One pushes each other, and the only one that’s winning here is the team. Today Team Penske is the one that’s winning.”
Franchitti, the ‘07 Indy winner and series champion while driving for Andretti Green Racing, posted a solid third in his return to IMS. Franchitti missed last year’s Indy 500 while driving in NASCAR Sprint Cup for team-owner Chip Ganassi, who is now his IndyCar owner.
“We made the best of what we had in the Target car,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Target Dallara/Honda. “Everybody here wants to beat Penske, but you’re fighting against AGR. We knew we didn’t have the pole speed. It was pretty nerve-wracking. We were really concerned somebody would knock us off the front row. We went out and did seven practice runs. And on each of those runs, you are pushing it to the limit.
“It was a long day. It was fantastic being back and driving the car around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It puts a smile on my face every time.”
Rahal made two qualifying attempts, and moved from sixth to fourth on the latter. “The McDonald’s guys changed the gearbox in pit lane, and we had to make our qualifying run without a practice lap because of the time,” said Rahal, 19. “They did a great job fixing everything so quickly, and I was able to go out and put it on the second row. I would rather start from the inside of the second row than the outside of the front row, so I’m pretty happy with how the day ended.”
Dixon was pragmatic about his fifth-place effort in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry. “It wasn’t terrible,” said Dixon, who led 115 laps at IMS last year. “The car was consistent; we just didn’t have the speed. The car has a little shine on speed now and then. Qualifying fifth is further back than we thought we would be. We know that anything can happen here. At least the pole gives you bragging rights for a couple of weeks. We did it last year, but this was a tough day for us.
“They (Team Penske) are a bit ahead of us. They have been since Day One. The race will be different; that’s the one that has a different pay check.”
Kanaan’s initial run was disqualified because of a weight infraction on his multi-colored No. 11 Team 7-Eleven car. “We were down 8/10ths of a pound,” Kanaan said. “Those are the rules. It’s our mistake _ not even a mistake. How can you blame somebody? The guys worked so hard all night long. The car was a little light, so we had to do it again. I have to thank the IndyCar (officials) for doing me a favor because I don’t think I would have gone out again. I came back out, and the track was better. The wind had died down. It’s Indy. Nothing came easy for me. I wasn’t expecting to have an easy day. Qualifying the first day for us, at this point, it was almost a miracle.”
Kanaan, the 2005 Indy pole-sitter, said his Dallara/Honda was more a less a product of the Andretti Green parts bin. “It’s Hideki’s (Mutoh’s) tub with parts off of my other car,” Kanaan said. “(Friday) afternoon, we found out that the No. 11 car wasn’t fast enough, and we didn’t know why, so we just decided to change everything. We changed engines. We changed the gearbox. We changed chassis, and we did go two miles an hour quicker. What it is? We don’t know. We’ll find out this next week and try to see what really went wrong with that car. Definitely, we’re not winning a beauty contest today.”
Patrick’s 10th-place effort continued a streak that has seen her qualify among the top-10 in all five of her Indy 500 starts. “The unfortunate part is that there is still speed on the table,” said Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Boost Mobile/Motorola Dallara/Honda fielded by AGR. “I had to lift in Turn 2 for a couple of laps. I managed to get the last one in there without (lifting). But it’s just disappointing because you know that there’s more speed then. You know, I sat in the car for an extra 30 seconds, and I’m like, ‘Put a half turn of front wing in; let’s just go back out again.’ But it’s just not that simple.”
Notes and Quotes
· Helio Castroneves won the PEAK Performance Pole Award presented by AutoZone and its $100,000 prize.
· Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchitti qualified on the front row and earned $25,000 and $10,000 from PEAK, respectively.
· This is the third Indianapolis 500 pole for Castroneves. He also won the pole in 2003 and 2007 when he went on to finish second and third, respectively. Castroneves’ two wins in the Indianapolis 500 came from the 11th and 13th starting positions in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
· Castroneves is the eighth driver to win at least three poles at the Indianapolis 500. Rick Mears won six while Rex Mays and A.J. Foyt Jr. each won four. Johnny Rutherford, Mario Andretti, Tom Sneva and Arie Luyendyk each won three poles.
· This is the 15th pole for Roger Penske at the Indianapolis 500, more than any other owner. No other car owner has won more than four poles. Penske’s first pole at Indianapolis was with Tom Sneva in 1977.
· This is the 27th career pole for Castroneves. He is the IndyCar Series’ all-time leader Castroneves also has qualified in the top 10 for seven consecutive Indianapolis 500s.
· Castroneves leads all IndyCar Series drivers with 79 career top-five starts. He also leads all drivers with 98 career top-10 starts.
· This is the 43rd IndyCar Series pole for Team Penske.
· Briscoe qualified second and will start on the front row at the Indianapolis 500 for the second consecutive year. He started third last year.
· Briscoe will start in the top 10 for the third consecutive year. He qualified seventh in 2007.
· This is Briscoe’s best starting position of the season. His previous best was fourth at St. Petersburg. Briscoe has qualified in the top 10 in 12 consecutive IndyCar Series races dating back to Watkins Glen 2008.
· Franchitti qualified third and will start on the front row for the third time at the Indianapolis 500. He also started third in 2004 (finished 14th) and in 2007 (finished first).
· Graham Rahal qualified fourth. He qualified 13th as a rookie last year. Rahal’s father, Bobby, won from the fourth starting position in 1986.
· Scott Dixon qualified fifth, the fourth consecutive year he has qualified in the top five for the Indianapolis 500 and the sixth time in eight starts.
· Briscoe, Dixon and Rahal are the only drivers to qualify in the top 10 in all four IndyCar Series races this season.
· Tony Kanaan qualified sixth. He has started in the top six in all eight Indianapolis 500s in which he has raced. Kanaan has qualified in the top 10 in 19 consecutive IndyCar Series races, the longest active streak.
· Mario Moraes qualified seventh, his second consecutive top-seven start in the IndyCar Series. He started sixth at Kansas Speedway. Moraes started 31stin last year’s 500.
· Marco Andretti qualified eighth, his fourth consecutive top-10 start in the Indianapolis 500.
· Will Power qualified ninth. He started 23rd as a rookie in last year’s Indianapolis 500. Power has qualified in the top 10 in all three races he has competed in in 2009.
· Alex Lloyd qualified 11th in his second Indianapolis 500 start. He started 19th last year.
· Dan Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 champion, did not make a qualifying attempt. He has started in the front two rows in five of his six starts in the Indianapolis 500. The only other year he started outside the top six was in 2005 (16th) _ when he won the race.