Helio Castroneves enters the Indianapolis 500 ranked second in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship, 45 points behind Team Penske teammate Will Power. He has three top-five finishes in four races, including a win in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., starting what’s been a Team Penske season sweep so far in 2012.
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Amid preparing his No. 3 Shell V-Power Pennzoil Ultra Chevrolet for Saturday’s “Pole Day” qualifications at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the three-time Indy 500 winner Castroneves shares his feelings on racing at the historic track, how 15-time champion Team Penske goes about preparing for the Indianapolis 500, his chances of winning his fifth Indy 500 pole and what he expects the May 27 race to be like.
To come here to Indianapolis is always incredible. People who have not had the opportunity to be here, they don’t know what they are missing. It’s just amazing.
I know people who have come here much longer than me have said this, and now I understand when they say, “It’s never boring.” This place is magical.
When I come here to the Speedway, it’s always like the first time. It’s not like I’ve done this before and I just know how to handle it. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s a place you have to respect. With Team Penske, we don’t change our routine just because we have won so many times. It’s the opposite, we come in more prepared. We try to prepare for any circumstances and I have the same feeling in my preparation. This year we’ve got different cars, and engines that we are learning so you have to take it easy. This place welcomes you, but you must respect it. If you become a little cocky this place won’t be as nice to you.
The beauty of this place is its history. I think that’s one thing you have to respect and admire. But coming to a place like this is also challenging. You want to make sure everyone is safe and we put on a good show for the fans. At the end of the day, you have to understand it is a racetrack. If you have a problem, face it and get over it. I don’t come here and say, “I know what to do.” You have to step it up every day a little more and if you show respect to the track, it will show it back to you.
Because we have a new car and it’s the first oval everyone is actually going to race, we aren’t used to the package of the race car. I did one test here and at Texas Motor Speedway, and we are still trying to understand what the car wants to do.
Remember we are running right now about 10 mph slower than what we’ve run in previous years at Indy and that affects things, as well. It changes the game a bit. Some people might be fast right off the bat, and some others are just testing a lot of things. In our case, our team has three cars here so we can try a lot of things and discover what is fastest. We can eliminate good things and bad things.
As for winning the pole this weekend, I say the same thing as my hero, Rick Mears, always says. There are two races here, racing in the Indianapolis 500 and racing for the pole position. Even though the pole doesn’t represent how you will do in the race because the race is so long, you still want to be No. 1. You want to be the guy who accomplishes that goal.
You push the limit. You push that limit for four laps (in qualifying). People don’t realize how difficult that is, and with the new rules, it’s even tougher. You have to qualify once and be in the top nine and then qualify again later on. It’s tough. Last year I played it a little more conservative, and this year, I’m just going for it.
I feel we have a great chance to win the pole position — I definitely believe we will be in the top nine. We may not be the fastest right now, but I believe we are in good shape. Plus it’s going to change a little bit for everyone on Friday when they boost up the turbo. It’s going to be fun.
Certainly some of those (former Indy Lights Series) guys are fast this week. They are doing good lap times and are some of the contenders. We just have to work a little bit and maybe give them a surprise on Saturday.
I prefer being fastest in four laps on one day only — and that’s Saturday! They can have the rest of the week.
Editor’s Note: Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion and Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves will be contributing columns for FOXSports.com during the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season.