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Spiderman 3: Castroneves Climbs Way to Another Indy 500 Win

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 25 2009
2009 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves climbs the fence and waves to his fans. (IMS Photo by  Bret Kelley) 

2009 Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves climbs the fence and waves to his fans. (IMS Photo by Bret Kelley)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Indianapolis – Helio Castroneves’ “best Month of May ever” ended in the only place it logically could Sunday afternoon, Victory Lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

His freedom and racing career wallowing in legal limbo as recently as last month, Castroneves captured his third Indianapolis 500 victory – and record 15th for Team Penske – with a win punctuated by the tracks of his tears.

“When I was inside the helmet and still on the victory lap, normally I cry. No, actually, I scream to the guys and celebrate,” Castroneves said. “And this time I have no words, I just let it go. It was a very special moment that last, the celebrating lap.”

Castroneves spent several emotional seconds hunched over in the cockpit of his orange-and-white No. 3 Dallara/Honda after the finish, trying to collect his thoughts.

“I think my tears speak for everything,” Castroneves said.

Castroneves, who handed team-owner Roger Penske his record 15th Indy 500 pole on May 9, led the final 59 laps of the scheduled 200 around the 2.5-mile Speedway.

Castroneves took the lead for the final time on Lap 142, when he went underneath 2008 Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon entering Turn 1. Castroneves’ final challenge came on a restart on Lap 183, with Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick bunched behind him. But neither Wheldon, the 2005 Indy 500 winner, nor Patrick, the 2005 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, had anything for Castroneves. The 34-year-old Brazilian steadily pulled away to a margin of victory of 1.9819 seconds.

Castroneves stopped on the frontstretch and – despite resistance by a Speedway “Yellow Shirt” official   hurriedly exited the cockpit for his signature “Spiderman” victory celebration. Castroneves quickly scaled the fencing and added a round of fist-pumping shared with his crew and fans.

“I was a little upset because I stop and I keep hearing breaking (over his) radio, ‘You’ve got to go to Victory Lane,’ ” Castroneves said. “So I was like I’ve got to go over (to) the fence. What they (the fans) did for me during this very difficult time, they never stopped sending great messages. It is a great way to pay them back. I will never forget so many positive messages.

Helio Castroneves wins the 2009 Indy 500. (RacinToday.com photo by Mark Henderson/Really Really Big Industries)

Helio Castroneves wins the 2009 Indy 500. (RacinToday.com photo by Mark Henderson/Really Really Big Industries)

“Obviously, I keep telling this to Roger and (Penske president) Tim Cindric to give me…to never stop believing in me and to give my life back. To be in the race car again and to be here in Victory Lane and to be here in Indianapolis, winning for the third time is just…without you guys, I wouldn’t be able to do that. So thank you so much.”

Castroneves led a total of 66 laps – the first seven from pole and those final 59 – but not without expressing concern about the final restart. “In that situation, I was able to manage the gap because I was pretty comfortable with the car,” Castroneves said. “The car was just fantastic.

“Once I got in the front, it was never look back. What a day. This place is magical. Things are starting to fall into place. This is the best Month of May ever. Wow! Three! I can’t believe it.”

The 2009 IndyCar Series season began without Castroneves, who along with sister Katiucia and business manager Alan Miller, spent the last six months facing charges of federal income tax evasion. A six-week jury trial ended in the defendants’ favor on April 17, with the exception of one count of conspiracy. That final legal hurdle was overcome here on Friday, when Castroneves learned the government had dropped the charge completely.

Fittingly, Castroneves spent Friday setting the fastest lap during the final one-hour Carburetion Day practice, and then won the annual Indianapolis 500 Pit Stop Challenge with his Penske crew. All that remained was winning “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and joining the ranks of the three-time winners.

Castroneves won the Indy 500 in 2001 and 2002 in his first two starts. He now is a member of an elite group of three-time champions that includes Louis Meyer (1928, ’33 and ’36); Wilbur Shaw (1937, and ’39-‘40); Mauri Rose (1941 and ’47-‘48); Johnny Rutherford (1974, ’76 and ’80) and Bobby Unser (1968, ’75, ’81).

“I feel honored to be in this category of drivers,” said Castroneves, who became a three-time winner in his ninth Indy 500 start. “I feel blessed to be in that category.” Castroneves notched his 15th career series victory, tying Wheldon for third all-time. Castroneves also recorded his 91st top-10 finish – most in series history.

Penske – whose stable of Indy 500 champions includes Bobby Unser and four-time winners Al Unser and Rick Mears – reiterated that Castroneves is more than an ace race car driver; he is part of the family.

“Spinning in my head (Sunday) was this is exactly what was expected,” Penske said of the outcome. “I guess I had so much faith that Helio hadn’t done anything wrong. I couldn’t understand why he was guilty, you know, before he had the trial. That’s all I saw, every piece of publicity that came out of Miami was he was guilty. We just said, ‘Hey, we’re with you.’

“The final answer (verdict) was exactly what we thought it would be. One has to understand that we knew Helio, we had a contract with Helio. That contract we knew was the right one and we handled it properly. I can say this – we never, ever were going to leave his side. It’s worked out and I think the payoff today is not only for him but for everybody on this team that never, never blinked an eye.”

Wheldon, meanwhile, overcame a crash earlier this month to put Indianapolis-based Panther Racing back in the series spotlight. The taciturn Englishman scored his fourth top-five finish in seven Indy 500 starts.

“I’m incredibly excited,” said Wheldon, driver of the No. 4 National Guard Dallara/Honda. “Unfortunately we didn’t have enough for Helio and the whole Penske organization. They should be very proud. I have to say there’s not many races that I’ve done in my career where I can honestly say that the team executed 100 percent. And I have to say they did today.

“It would be more frustrating if I had something for Helio, but I have to say I don’t think we did. But it’s not for a lack of effort.”

Patrick’s third-place result for Andretti Green Racing was her career-best in five Indy 500 starts – and best ever for a woman at IMS. Patrick held the previous record with a fourth-place effort as a rookie.

“The guys did a great job in the pits today, and we had great stops all day,” said Patrick, driver of the No. 7 Boost Mobile Dallara/Honda. “I had a really strong car for the last few stints and would have loved to see the last 35 laps raced green. I know we would have had no issues making it to the end without stopping. I was happy to keep the No. 7 car up front toward the end of the day.”

Patrick also was gracious in her praise of Castroneves. “Obviously, with all that’s gone on with Helio, I saw him at Long Beach (during his series return) and just the kind of hug you get from him after what he’s gone through, it was a different kind of hug,” Patrick said. “So I’m very happy for him. I enjoy him as a person. He’s always been kind to me and, what I felt, respected me, which goes a long way.

“So I’m glad to have him back, and obviously he’s great for the sport. So I’m happy to have him around. But he’s pretty tough to beat, though. That’s the only problem with it.”

Townsend Bell of KV Racing Technology and Will Power, Penske’s third driver, rounded out the top five. Bell improved 20 positions during the race en route to a career-best finish. His previous best Indy 500 finish was 10th last year, and his previous best IndyCar result was fifth at Nashville in 2004.

Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 and series champion, finished sixth – one spot ahead of Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti, whose race was sabotagued by a miscue in the pits. Franchitti was running second to Dixon when the field pitted under caution on Lap 132. However, Franchitti began pulling out of his pit stall before the fuel hose on his car was unhooked and he was forced to stop – a delay that dropped him to eighth.

“You know, that’s what it takes to win at Indianapolis,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 Team Target Dallara/Honda. “Everybody has to be flawless, and we had a problem in the pits. The Target guys are fantastic on pit lane, normally. They do a great job. One mistake, unfortunately, is very, very costly. The Target car was pretty bloody good today.”

Dixon led the most laps, 73, while Franchitti – the 2007 Indy 500 and series champion – paced another 50 in his first start at IMS since that victory. Franchitti also replaced Tony Kanaan as the series points leader. The Scotsman leads Castroneves by five points, 122-117, heading into next Sunday’s event at The Milwaukee Mile.

Ed Carpenter of Vision Racing finished eighth, followed by Paul Tracy of KV Racing Technology and Hideki Mutoh of AGR.

Alex Tagliani topped the four-member rookie class with an 11th-place finish for Conquest Racing. Tagliani started 33rd and last in the field.

“Our day was pretty simple,” said Tagliani, driver of the No. 36 All Sport Conquest Racing Dallara/Honda. “We just tried to make no mistakes and stay out of trouble and continue to make up ground toward the front. We also tried not to make any mistakes in the pits, and that’s exactly what we did. We kept leapfrogging other guys and girls, so we got ourselves into P11.” The Canadian is a prime candidate for the Chase 2009 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Award.

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

                                                                             —

 

INDIANAPOLIS – Results Sunday of the Indianapolis 500 IndyCar Series event May 24 at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any). Prize money to be announced May 25:

1. (1) Helio Castroneves, 200, Running

2. (18) Dan Wheldon, 200, Running

3. (10) Danica Patrick, 200, Running

4. (24) Townsend Bell, 200, Running

5. (9) Will Power, 200, Running

6. (5) Scott Dixon, 200, Running

7. (3) Dario Franchitti, 200, Running

8. (17) Ed Carpenter, 200, Running

9. (13) Paul Tracy, 200, Running

10. (16) Hideki Mutoh, 200, Running

11. (33) Alex Tagliani, 200, Running

12. (26) Tomas Scheckter, 200, Running

13. (11) Alex Lloyd, 200, Running

14. (20) Scott Sharp, 200, Running

15. (2) Ryan Briscoe, 200, Running

16. (19) A.J. Foyt IV, 200, Running

17. (21) Sarah Fisher, 200, Running

18. (27) Mike Conway, 200, Running

19. (28) John Andretti, 200, Running

20. (30) Milka Duno, 199, Running

21. (14) Vitor Meira, 173, Contact

22. (12) Raphael Matos, 173, Contact

23. (15) Justin Wilson, 160, Contact

24. (29) E.J. Viso, 139, Mechanical

25. (31) Nelson Philippe, 130, Contact

26. (25) Oriol Servia, 98, Mechanical

27. (6) Tony Kanaan, 97, Contact

28. (23) Robert Doornbos, 85, Contact

29. (22) Davey Hamilton, 79, Contact

30. (8) Marco Andretti, 56, Handling

31. (4) Graham Rahal, 55, Contact

32. (32) Ryan Hunter-Reay, 19, Contact

33. (7) Mario Moraes, 0, Contact

Race Statistics

Winner’s average speed: 150.318 mph

Time of race: 3:19:34.6427

Margin of victory: 1.9819 seconds

Cautions: 8 caution flags for 61 laps

Lead changes: 6 among 4 drivers

Lap leaders: Castroneves 1-7, Franchitti 8-52, Briscoe 53-63, Dixon 64-85, Franchitti 86-90, Dixon 91-141, Castroneves 142-200.       Point standings: Franchitti 122, Castroneves 117, Briscoe 114, Dixon 111, Kanaan 110, Patrick 109, Wheldon 106, Power 99, Hunter-Reay 84, Andretti 83.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 25 2009
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