Month Of May Shaping Up As A Classic For Castroneves

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 23 2009
Rick Rinnaman, left, of Team Penske gets his pit crew ready during Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. (Photo by Chris Jones)

Rick Rinaman, left, of Team Penske gets his pit crew ready during Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. (Photo by Chris Jones)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Indianapolis – Carburetion Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway traditionally is for sending messages. And the final missive from Helio Castroneves on Friday was that he is so good to go for the 93rd edition of the Indianapolis 500.

“For me, the month is falling into place,” Castroneves said at the end of a blockbuster day of personal news. “Everything is falling into place.”

That stood as a bit of understatement on a day during which Castroneves (1) topped the Carburetion Day practice sheet, (2) won the Indianapolis 500 Pit Stop Competition with his Team Penske crew and (3) learned that the final conspiracy charge stemming from his federal tax evasion trail had been dropped.

All that remains for Castroneves this month is to win his third Indy 500 from pole position.

For the record, Castroneves posted a hot lap of 223.920 mph to edge Penske teammate Will Power, at 223.560 mph, for fastest speed around the 2.5-mile oval during the final one-hour practice. A few hours later, Castroneves, chief mechanic Rick Rinaman and the five-man over-the-wall crew of the No. 3 Dallara/Honda won the Pit Stop Competition over Marco Andretti of Andretti Green Racing. Castroneves and Co. completed the required refueling/four-tire change stop in a record 7.962 seconds; Andretti’s crew posted a 9.465.

Castroneves was supposed to join Power for a short news conference after their chart-topping practice performances. But in an uncharacteristic move, Castroneves declined to attend. The reason why came to light during his post-pit stop news conference, when Castroneves disclosed that he learned of the favorable conspiracy decision moments before practice began at noon.

On April 17, a federal court jury in Miami acquitted Castroneves and his sister, Katiucia,  of six counts of tax evasion but was unable to reach a verdict on one  count of conspiracy. Attorneys  Roy Black and Howard Srebnick, who defended Castroneves, Katiucia and business manager Alan Miller against the tax evasion charges, said it was right for the government to drop the case completely.  Srebnick said the government’s move was not unexpected.

“It would not have been logical to proceed on a charge of conspiracy to evade taxes when the jury has already found that there was no tax evasion,” Srebnick said.

Asked to comment about the outcome, Castroneves – seated between Penske Racing president Tim Cindric and Rinaman – paused for a long moment.

“It feels awesome. No question,” said Castroneves, 34. “I just have to thank the team to always believe, to always be behind me all the time. You know, it’s like I said, this month is getting better and better. With this news as well, it makes us even more stronger. I’m so thankful I have a fair trial and the outcome the way it is. And now, this is the last page of my book.”

Castroneves said once he was informed of the decision by his father and sister, he immediately told his crew. “I wanted to tell my guys first,” the Brazilian said. “You’re thinking it’s going to happen but it takes a little while. And when it happens you’re like…’Is this for real?’ Maybe later tonight or after the race it’s going to sink in. It’s the best month of my life, I tell you.”

Castroneves celebrated his third consecutive victory in the Pit Stop Challenge with Cindric, Rinaman and the entire five-man crew on the dais. Asked to explain any differences in Castroneves since the original court decision last month, Rinaman deadpanned: “He bought us dinner last week. That doesn’t happen very often.”

Cindric added, “That’s a start for sure. We always knew he was cheap. But before all that went down, if you’d asked me if I ever met a more positive guy (than Helio) I’d tell you no. Now I’d tell you yeah, because we’ve met a more positive guy than the guy we knew before. And I think the best way to put it is there’s a certain amount of…I don’t know if ‘maturity’ is the right word or not…but he’s spent his life a little sheltered from what the real world is all about…not that you ever want him to go through that. But he saw the real tough part of the world there for a little while, and he came back a lot stronger.”

Rinaman termed the Pit Stop Competition far from routine, despite his team’s run of success.  Castroneves’ team qualified No. 1 at 8. 122 seconds, then defeated teammate Ryan Briscoe in the semifinals with a 7.636.

“This is probably the most gut-wrenching thing that I do every year,” Rinaman said. “It’s about execution. To do it three years in a row, X-amount of stops and as many as 40 tires being changed – and not one mistake – it’s a credit to the guys.”

The victory was Team Penske’s 11th in the competition, most in the history of an event that dates from 1977. Team Penske has won the last four in a row, starting with Sam Hornish Jr. in 2005 (last year’s event was rained-out). Castroneves has won it four times overall, including 2002 – when he won his second Indy 500. Overall, the winner of the Pit Stop Challenge has gone on to win the Indy 500 five times – including Penske drivers Bobby Unser in 1981, Danny Sullivan in 1985 and Castroneves in ’02.

Rinaman also credited Castroneves providing the precision – and an intangible – required for each stop.

“The energy is with Helio,” Rinaman said. “I don’t know that he’s ever come into the garage depressed, down, even with everything he’s gone through. And it spreads through the team. It’s something that you have to be there every day to understand. We’re just glad we have him back.”

Castroneves noted that some members of this crew have been with him for 10 years.

“If they are nervous, we’re more nervous (as the driver) than anybody because you don’t want to screw it up,” Castroneves said. “If you screw it up, all you’re going to hear is (grief) until next year. Again, they are incredible. They know my style. They know what I like, they know what I don’t like. We are a team…and we celebrate together.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com


Practice Friday for the Indianapolis 500 IndyCar Series event on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine and speed:
1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 223.920
2. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 223.560
3. (5) Mario Moraes, Dallara-Honda, 222.951
4. (4) Dan Wheldon, Dallara-Honda, 222.386
5. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 222.374
6. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 222.357
7. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 222.017
8. (02) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 221.771
9. (8) Townsend Bell, Dallara-Honda, 221.434
10. (44) Davey Hamilton, Dallara-Honda, 221.371
11. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 221.104
12. (15) Paul Tracy, Dallara-Honda, 220.979
13. (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 220.607
14. (2) Raphael Matos, Dallara-Honda, 220.348
15. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 220.205
16. (41) A.J. Foyt IV, Dallara-Honda, 220.119
17. (16) Scott Sharp, Dallara-Honda, 219.977
18. (19) Tomas Scheckter, Dallara-Honda, 219.887
19. (36) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 219.833
20. (27) Hideki Mutoh, Dallara-Honda, 219.627
21. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 219.602
22. (24) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 219.560
23. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 219.328
24. (17) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 219.317
25. (99) Alex Lloyd, Dallara-Honda, 219.262
26. (18) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, 218.919
27. (21) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 218.593
28. (06) Robert Doornbos, Dallara-Honda, 218.164
29. (13) E.J. Viso, Dallara-Honda, 217.788
30. (23) Milka Duno, Dallara-Honda, 217.599
31. (67) Sarah Fisher, Dallara-Honda, 217.315
32. (43) John Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 217.296
33. (00) Nelson Philippe, Dallara-Honda, 216.631

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 23 2009
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