Castroneves takes Indianapolis 500

Posted: Tuesday, May 29, 2001

INDIANAPOLIS -- The new Indianapolis 500 champion gave up some much-needed sleep to watch himself on TV in the wee hours following his victory. He liked what he saw.

''I went to sleep about 2 in the morning because I was watching the race,'' Helio Castroneves said, a wide smile lighting up his face. ''I was getting the last details.''

Castroneves, on hand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway early Monday morning for the traditional winner's photos, was a little sleepy, but obviously happy he was able to take some time to analyze the biggest race of his career.

''That guy in No. 68 did a fantastic job,'' the irrepressible Brazilian said, laughing as he referred to his own Marlboro Team Penske entry.

The 26-year-old Castroneves, who gave Roger Penske a record 11th Indy win, was particularly pleased to note how well he handled traffic and strategy later in the race, when he pulled away from teammate Gil de Ferran, who gave the Penske team it's first 1-2 finish here.

''I planned very well passing the backmarkers, always keeping a good distance between me and Gil, about 1.5 seconds,'' Castroneves said. ''When I achieved that, I stopped trying to go faster and faster because I didn't want to take a chance.''

The two Ilmor Oldsmobile-powered Dallaras dominated the last half of the 200-lap race, leading 79 of the final 91 trips around the 2 1/2-mile oval.

Castroneves inherited the lead when NASCAR star Tony Stewart, who wound up sixth here and later finished third in a Winston Cup race in North Carolina, pitted under a caution flag.

Rain began pelting down moments later, bringing out a red flag and giving Castroneves a shot of adrenalin as he thought, momentarily, he might claim the race the easy way.

''I was expecting the rain when it came over to stay forever,'' he said. ''A tornado or something like that. Rain for a whole week and let's go home. Then I realized the cloud was moving.''

After a 16-minute delay, Castroneves had to get his game face back on.

''When I got back in the car, I said to myself, 'If you are here (in the lead), it's because you save your car, save your equipment and even yourself so you can go for it.' That's what I did.''

When the race resumed, it was Indy Racing League regular Robbie Buhl pressing Castroneves from behind. The leader raised some stir in the pits and in the packed grandstands when it appeared he was moving back and forth on the narrow track, blocking Buhl.

''I heard on the TV that some people thought I was blocking,'' Castroneves said. ''I wasn't blocking. I was protecting my position and I'm pretty sure any other driver in the lead, racing for the Indy 500, a million-dollar race, I believe they would do worse things than what I did, moving one lane.

''When it got to the end, it proved that my car was very fast, especially in traffic.''

Buhl eventually spun out of contention and Castroneves led the final 51 laps, fighting off one last challenge from his older teammate on a restart on lap 172.

De Ferran, the defending CART champion, gave it a great try, darting to the outside and pulling wheel-to-wheel with Castroneves through the first turn before backing off.

''I thought it was a great opportunity on that restart,'' de Ferran said. ''I got it just right. He went to the inside, so I said, 'OK, here we go.' But you can't pinch a car down in the grass and my car didn't want to turn up there.

''I was like 'Ooh.' So I really couldn't get back on the power.''

From there to the finish it was all Castroneves, who showed his joy with his now-traditional post-race wall-climbing.

''I used to see this in magazines and on TV and today I'm the one who's actually sitting in this place,'' Castroneves said. ''I know, I saw it on TV.''

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