Success At First Sight

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When he was 13 years-old, Helio Castroneves watched on television as Emerson Fittipaldi tangled with Al Unser Jr. at the 1989 Indy 500. Fittipaldi won that day and Castroneves did not forget.

What was also special for the Brazilian was watching Roger Penske, who Castroneves knew that he would, someday, work with. And that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful business relationship.

“Like I said, since I was a kid I remember watching TV and especially this race which was -- which is -- one of the most famous races when I came over to America. I mean, (Penske) is an excellent worker,” Castroneves said. “He knows that's why they call him Captain because everybody knows how -- I tell everybody if you want a bottle of water, he’ll give it to you, but you better deliver later. That's the way he is. But I tell you, it's the way it should be every time because that's where you keep pushing.”

Castroneves worked his way up the CART ranks. In his first year in CART Castroneves drove for Tony Bettenhausen’s small racing team. His abilities became obvious despite the fact he drove with old equipment. Then he switched over to Hogan Racing, in 1999, another independent team with great promise, but that wasn’t converted into wins.

He could only look in from the outside when Penske announced a complete revamp of the team starting with Tim Cindric as president of Penske Racing. Penske also named Gil de Ferran and Greg Moore as co-drivers.

At the last race, in 1999, Moore died of massive injuries and Penske looked around and found out that Castroneves was available.

“Last year when we put this team together, when you really think back, Greg Moore's tragic accident paved the way for Helio to come on our team as Carl Hogan was disbanding his organization,” Penske said. “And to see these two guys start out with strength, we pulled it together at Nazareth. (Penske’s 100th win last May). To me, that was a huge hill to climb. Maybe that was the biggest obstacle we had to overcome, but then as the team came together, Helio was fast, Gil was fast, and we won the championship.”

Last year Castroneves won his first CART race and then two more.

With a CART championship in his pocket Penske looked around, and saw the last obstacle in his path to redemption, a return to Indianapolis where he hadn’t run since failing to qualify in 1995.

“Coming into this year, though, we had planned to come to Indy. That was something Tim put together,” Penske said.

It wasn’t until early 2001 that Castroneves found out his future plans.

“Roger and Cindric were talking about last year, they mentioned it but they never said anything that we're going for it. And I think it was great because Gil and I are working. I'm having a very good time with Gil because we work together, not only with him, but all the guys. We want to make sure everybody understands the other,” Castroneves said.

The key for the 26-year old Brazilian was continuity. This year is first time he repeated with the same team.

“Always I have to prove I always have to prove you know that that I'm fast, that I'm quick, and sometimes you have to prove you know to make sure that people understand,” he said. “And I think definitely that pays off today.”

Thirteen years after first watching the Indy 500 and Roger Penske, Castroneves made a bold move on a pit stop, overtook his teammate, and did nothing short of cruising to his first oval win, the most important victory of his career… so far.

Related Topics:

IZOD Indy Car Series, 2001

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