Ask Helio Castroneves how rehearsal is going for ”Dancing with the Stars” and he whips out his cellphone to show a video of him practicing a routine.
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner is playing catch-up on the competition for the All-Star edition of the ABC show. While the other couples were working on their first routine, Castroneves was completing the final race of the IndyCar season.
He got in a few three-hour sessions with partner Chelsie Hightower before shifting gears to Saturday night’s finale in Fontana, Calif. Castroneves then raced from his car to the dance floor to start full-time rehearsals for Monday night’s season premiere.
”We were going from 220 mph on the racetrack, and literally, we continued 200 mph on the dance floor,” Castroneves said Thursday.
This isn’t play time for Castroneves, who badly wants to repeat his season five ”Dancing” victory.
He worked on his footwork during idle time at a test session two weeks ago at Fontana, where he showed Penske Racing teammate Will Power several moves. He lamented several times during IndyCar’s final weekend that his competitors, particularly Olympic medalist speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, were getting ahead of him in rehearsals.
Because he’s never worked before with Hightower, the duo has to develop chemistry on the fly.
”She’s certainly pushing the limits,” Castroneves said. ”I’m feeling (it) right now in my legs, everything in my body. I like it. I like the vibe, the attitude. We’re really connecting well. So I guess this is what we need to start the season.”
With his unbridled enthusiasm and effusive personality, the Brazilian has been unabashed in promoting himself for the show. Because dancers need fan votes to help push them through the rounds on the show, Castroneves uses every opportunity to campaign for support.
Last week, before Castroneves bounced his ceremonial first pitch in the dirt at Dodger Stadium, he still managed to remind baseball fans about the gig. When the public address announcer informed the crowd Castroneves is headed back to ”Dancing,” he pantomimed dialing a phone and holding it to his ear, mouthing the words ”Vote for me!” on the scoreboard.
”More than ever the race community is going to be important,” Castroneves said. ”We have other athletes, other champions, great entertainment people … I’m really doing everything I can to throw the word out and make sure that everyone dials the number. I don’t know the number yet, but as soon as I know I’m going to start talking about the number.”
Castroneves had several reasons for wanting to return to the show.
He keeps his mirror ball trophy with his three Borg-Warners — the most coveted trophy in motorsports — and said he needs another ”Dancing” trophy to balance out the collection.
More important, Castroneves was single during his first appearance and now wants to share the experience with his fiancee, Adriana Henao, and daughter Mikaella, who turns 3 in December.
”I’ve been taking her a lot to the races, I wanted her to see something else than only racing,” he said. ”It’s a great therapy. It’s a great thing in your mind, you can go out there not thinking about anything else. That’s one of the reasons I decided to do it.
”Plus for the sport, I think it’s been a great thing. All-Star season is certainly going to call a lot of attention, I believe it’s great for the series and great for my name as well.”