Helio Castroneves

Three time champion of the Indianapolis 500, winner of the program Dancing with the Stars, writer, father and dedicated athlete.

By Sacha Vaz

The roar of the engines undoubtedly thrills the spectators. Even those who are not a fan of the sport are impressed with the high speeds. Celebrating 25 years of races on the streets of Toronto, the IndyCar’s ninth stage took place in the city, on July 10th, 2011. Edmonton played host to the tenth stage of the race on the 24th of July.

During the Toronto GP, the Brazilian race car driver Hélio Castroneves, 36, gave an exclusive interview to Wave inside one of the large trucks of Team Penske, a team that he has been on for 11 years. Extremely nice and attentive, Castroneves was amazed when he realized that he would be interviewed by Brazilians and praised this community that gets larger every year.

A resident of Fort Lauderdale, in Florida, and originally from São Paulo, Castroneves lives with his wife, Adriana Henao, and his one and a half year old daughter, Mikaella. His parents are always present and his sister, Kati, is his business manager. In 2008, Castroneves was charged with tax evasion in the amount of almost US$ 5 million and if he were convicted, could have received 35 years of prison. “This was the worst moment in my life, I thought it was all over”, he states. Thankfully, he was declared innocent after 6 months of fighting in court.

 We are celebrating 25 years of the Indy in Toronto. How many tim have you raced here?
Castroneves – This is the 8th time for me here in Toronto. The first time was in 1996. I won here in ‘97, at the Indy Lights race.

 Have you done any tours around the city?
Castroneves –Not this time! It’s funny, but it was easier before, when I was in lesser ranked categories (laughs). But I love Toronto, it is a beautiful, modern city and the restaurants are incredible. I like it a lot. I feel at home here!

 In a few words, describe the Toronto race.
Castroneves –It is a very traditional race, I remember watching it on television when I was younger and today, I race on the same track! It is irregular and curvy, with a different and cool layout. The fact that the layout has been the same for so many years makes it a very special race.

 You are the only Brazilian and the sixth race car driver in history to win the most famous race three times: the Indianapolis 500. What is your biggest dream?
Castroneves – My dream is to continue racing and breaking barriers. It would be cool to unite all the great drivers: Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser Sr, with four victories! I know that I am in a very special group, but to be near them would be a real honour.

 You won the 5th edition of Dancing with the Stars, on ABC, in 2007, dancing wonderfully with Julianne Hough. Tell us a bit about this experience.
Castroneves – It was an adventure! Of course I will never be a professional dancer, but the opportunity came up and I couldn’t resist. I met one of the directors of the show during a race, and she found it very interesting that I and one of my colleagues were so distinct from one another, because he lived on a farm in Columbus and had a truck, while I lived in a mansion in Miami and had a Ferrari. So this director invited me to participate in the show. At first I thought it was a joke! Then I asked my sponsors if it would be a problem and they all liked the idea! This way, I was able to reconcile the shooting schedule with my profession.

 But you didn’t just participate, you won the show!
Castroneves – Yes and it was really cool! My objective was just not to be eliminated at the beginning. I trained for about four hours a day! I felt at ease and every time I heard the audience’s applause, the more I got into it! Of course I had a spectacular partner and we clicked right away. We are friends till today. Nothing happened between Julianne and me, even though a lot of comments were made at the time, but seduction is part of the dance! It was a unique experience, I had a lot of fun, but I prefer to race than to dance (laughs).

 If you had the opportunity to participate in a reality show, would you do it? 
Castroneves – I will never say never after having been on Dancing with the Stars! I think it all depends on the opportunity and if it is a good one, why not?

You published a book, “Victory Road – The Ride of My Life”, where you write about your experiences and obstacles which you overcame and you also have a blog. Is writing a hobby?
Castroneves – Yes…the Idea to write the book came about just after the incident with the court in the US, when I felt that I needed an outlet for the distress and bad feelings that were inside of me. In the book, I write about my anguish and how I overcame it. Just like me, there are other people who have gone through the same situation and didn’t know what to do. Family unity is very important to overcome any problem. The end of the book is a beginning of a new life, in other words, the birth of my daughter and my partnership with Adriana. When I thought it was all over, life surprised me and I was able to begin again.

 Who inspired you to become a race car driver?
Castroneves – Senna was always my inspiration. Then again, he was the inspiration of my generation. I caught the end of Piquet, but Senna was our hero, a mirror for me. I wanted to drive just like him and break all the records as he did. It was a great loss, especially for us Brazilians.

 What is your relationship with Team Penske?
Castroneves – I have been on this team for 11 years and I intend to stay for as long as I am doing a good job. My teammates Will Power and Ryan Briscoe are fantastic and super fast. We work together! Each one has their best day and we know how to deal with that. Without a doubt, it is a very good team environment.

 Helio, we thank you for granting us this interview. What is your message to the Brazilian community in Canada?
Castroneves – Hey people from Canada, I want to ask for your support, because I am not the only Brazilian who races at the Toronto Indy, there are five other drivers! I hope to see you all here next year! Hugs to all of you!

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