Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Helio Castroneves in Question-and-Answer with Fans

Helio Castroneves, the 34-year-old Brazilian racing driver is on a media tour in the Bay Area and met fans for a relaxed question-and-answer session this morning at the Infineon Speedway,

Sonoma...see previous blog

Helio is one of an elite corps of three-time winners of the Indianapolos 500 and a champion for many fans and racing drivers. But for him, fellow Brazilian driver, Ayrton Senna, is his hero.

'Senna is my hero. I was

looking to him....I wanted to be like this driver,' he said of Brazil's national hero who was from the same home city of Sao Paolo. Helio was days away from his 19th birthday when Senna died tragically on the track at the San Marino Grand Prix in Italy in 1994 at the same age as Helio is now, 34 years.

Another driver that has Helio's respect is the highest-ever ranking female driver in Indy racing, Danicka Patrick. In answer to a question about his favourite Indy driver, he replied, 'I like Danicka Patrick!' and added quickly, 'My girl friend's over there. I'm talking about race car drivers!!!' But mention of Danicka drew huge claps and cheers from his audience.

It's not fair to pick one, as they are all talented, he said, but continued with, 'Rick Mears is a phenomenal person first of all, and an incredible driver in the past. And now he work with us...he has some great sayings, for example...'if you want to finish first, first you have to finish. Those things you keep in your mind....if you think you're going to pass somebody, don't pass because you're going to crash!'

Returning to Danicka, he said he respected her a lot for coming into a male sport. 'You've got to have a tough skin to hear a lot of jokes and things like that. She's amazing, she's definitely a very good driver.'

Would he let her pass him?

'No!' he said. 'I will be a gentleman off the track, not on the track!'

'You're so friendly and affable pre-race, always smiling, answering questions,' began Ed of Petaluma. 'What do you do to change your mindset when you step in the car, strap in, put the helmet on....'

'My mum always says, "you've got to be yourself" if you're happy, you're happy, if you're sad, you're sad and you've got to respect to have a respect back. The way I am is just because I love what I do...but once I put my helmet on that's the time, like, okay, game is on. It's showtime. I close my visor on and I'm thinking exactly what I need to do.....'

That's the point, he said, that separates the energetic, fun guy from the serious and ready-to-race guy.

'When I'm there, I think I'm in my own my territory and I feel safe there. I can do whatever I want inside that race car....'

Helio started go-kart racing at the age of 11, with his 'legs shaking.' Today, children are tending to start at six or seven-years-old, he said. 'I think it's too young, to be honest.'

His view is that 'Sometimes the dads are the ones that want to race and they want to try to realize their dream in their kid.'

A dad in the audience asked what is the next step for kids in go-karts who are keen to get into Indy racing.

Go-karts are the best place to start for anyone interested in open-wheel racing, said Helio, as karts are very similar to the cars. And after that, he recommended small Series cars like Formula BMW, and training with Skip Barber Racing Schools or Infineon's Jim Russell Racing Drivers School.

But graduating from a go-kart to a car is also 'the biggest difference,' he said. People don't realize that the reaction time of go-karts is so fast. Cars are slower, you have time to down-shift, time to break, time to turn.

'I remember turning too early, breaking too late. It took time for me to adapt,' he said.

'What breakfast do you have every race day?' asked a young lad. 'Good question!' he said as laughter rippled. 'The breakfast of a champion I tell you!' It depends, look, I like Cocoa Pebble. No? Okay, sorry!' he said, looking at his questioner. 'Let me try another one, I like Cheerios? Is that okay?!... And I like Granola.'

Another popular question related to his 2007 win in the TV show, Dancing with the Stars, in which he partnered Julianne Hough. What was his favourite dance?

The Mambo, and the Quickstep for which he wore the yellow suit. After watching Julianne demonstrate the Mambo, he told the audience he had said, "Julianne, if I do that we're going to win this competition!"

Win they did. 'We never stopped jumping, I guess that's why, they couldn't see the mistakes!'

Julianne, he added, was 'just awesome, she was a great teacher,' and people didn't realize she was leading most of the time.

A race other than the Indy 500 he would like to enter? He would like to win the 24-hour Daytona 500, having finished third in it, and also participate in NASCAR. The Le Mans 24 Hour is different, 'but I would keep around here, not over there!'

His favourite factory car? The exotic cars, he answered. 'I used to have a Lamborghini, I sold to pay the attorneys'. As the crowd roared, he said, 'I'm serious. Unfortunately, I really liked that car. Darn it! The Lamborghini was a Gallardo, and it was a nice car!'

'But, you know, Ferraris, you can't beat the sound. It is just an incredible machine'.

A flurry of Ferrari fans pressed him on which model. The 430, the Enzo, the FXX - 'man, that car is super. I don't know how much money you have?! So if you have it...I strongly suggest that one! But you've got to be here on the race track as well to try because it's a fast car.'

'My dream car is the Bugatti Veyron but it's too much money!' he said with a laugh. For those who don't know, that's somewhere over $1.5 million.

What he misses, he said, from the earlier days of Champ Cars, is the turbo speed. 'I remember going on the California Speedway about 250 mph, it was the fastest I had actually ever gone. I remember the next lap, crashing too, it was 247. ...I remember it hurts my kidneys. But I miss that speed.'

As the session came to an end, Steve Page thanked Helio, describing him as a great ambassador for the sport and such a nice person.

And as if to prove it, while it had been said that he would not sign autographs or pose for personal pics, a few of his audience who were at the front and able to mob Helio as he rose to go, got exactly autograph and a pic of themselves with the champ.

Discussing the question of who is the greatest racing driver as we stepped down from the stand, Humberto said, 'I thought he might pick Jim Clark, or Graham Hill, but that's old school.'

Humberto is no ordinary mortal but a man of racing distinction: he shares Ayrton Senna's birthday of March 21.

pics show: Steve Page, President and General Manager of Infineon Raceway, and Helio; Humberto; the open-wheel race car for people to try out!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice pics!!