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February 27, 2008

Helio Castroneves

THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with our Helio/Danica press briefing. Danica is feeling under the weather. We will try to schedule that tomorrow as well as scheduling the photo-op we were going to try to do with Helio and Danica.
Helio, let's start with you, the news of the day, your comments on unification.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, welcome, everybody. Extremely excited about the news. Obviously having one series again, I always been outspoken about that. One strong open-wheel series always going to be the best for everyone, not only for the drivers, not only for the team, not only for the press, but especially actually for all the fans.
I'm extremely happy. It's better late than never. Now we just need to continue working. It's not going to happen just because we allow the merger to happen things going to happen like suddenly. Everybody, including the drivers, everybody, needs to start working together to make sure that we make this strong series like used to be in the past.
THE MODERATOR: Starting the season with a new teammate, talk a little bit about you and Ryan.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Ryan is a fast driver, no question about it. He proved himself, proved to everybody actually he's a fast guy, a winner. We're extremely excited to have him on board.
He's not new on the team. He was racing last year on ALMS, which is great. He knows the system. We know him. He knows the system and the team. So it's great.
Again, he's a guy that used to -- born in Australia, lived in Italy, here in America. Basically obviously, you know, communication is great. I feel that we're going to have not only a very good combination year for both cars but we're going to have fun, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Did he work closely with you and Sam last year at the 500?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, he was the third car. But basically he was kind of the teammate. I worked with him this year on the Daytona 24 Hours, which was awesome. Again, it's a big deal this year, especially for Team Penske. Last year we learned a lot. We unfortunately had a lot of bad moments. But it's part of racing. So we are really looking forward for 2008.
THE MODERATOR: Three questions, I didn't ask about Dancing With the Stars.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Pretty good (laughter).

Q. For folks who might not be that knowledgeable from Champ Car drivers, who coming over from that series do you think will make the biggest impact here?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Name-wise, Paul Tracy. Obviously he's a guy that's been a talented driver. It will be great to race with him again. Also Jimmy Vasser. I think he already made a statement, he's going to be around. He's also a guy that has been over there. Bruno Junqueira, you know, a guy that not only raced with us, Indianapolis 500, but you know he's going to be fast as well.
Obviously, it's hard for me to say who is going to be. The guys that I used to race, that's the guys that I can talk about. But I know there are new guys, young rookies, new drivers. Even Alex Tagliani, drivers that I was not able to drive with them.
I'm sure everybody's going to have fun, enjoy it. Everybody's finally -- they going to take time. When I say "take time," it happened to us once. We went to the IndyCar Series. We took one race, we learned. Second race we finished first and second Indianapolis. Good team, good drivers, they will adapt quick. I'm sure it's going to be a good show.

Q. Helio, generally you're a guy with a lot of energy. You go, go, go. But in years past you've always had the off-season to recharge your batteries, lay around on the beach, work on your tan. You've had no downtime at all since you stopped racing last September. Coming into this season, are you worn out? What is your physical condition?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's a good question. I thought I would be worn out. But I would say that it looks like 2007 for me did not finish. You know, it's been so many things happening in my life. But it's a good thing. Honestly, I stayed the first time actually a weekend off home. I was already like, Where do I need to go here? I think I got so used to keep going and to keep pushing.
Definitely when I start racing I think it's going to slow down. Maybe that's a good thing because sometimes when you're trying too hard to get something that you want, it might not happen. So, I don't know, but I feel a good vibe for this year.

Q. What type of track do you think the Champ Car guys are going to have the most trouble adjusting to? The short ovals like Richmond? What are you most looking forward to where you can make a gap on them?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Probably Richmond and Iowa are the two short ovals we have here. They might take the beginning half day. It's the same for us. I remember the first time when I drove those tracks, it was kind of a first impression, Wow, this is fast, this is crazy. But, again, when you finally realize, get the setup of the car, get going, it was actually fun.
Other than that, you also have to remember we also going to have to adapt to the new system with the paddle shifting. I remember the first time when I tested here, when we had the system, I went straight for the gear leverage and didn't have it any more. It's funny because some tracks, most of the tracks we're going to, we gonna have to adapt. It sounds simple, but it's not. There's a lot related to what your mind prepare in the past.
But I do feel that nobody will have any advantage on that. Good drivers, good teams, they will adapt quick no matter what.

Q. You're going to have to adjust to higher car counts, especially at the smaller tracks. Will that be an issue? Secondly, the Champ Car guys, aspirated engines and a new chassis, how much of a learning curve?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think for them it's less difficult, you know, coming with an aspirated engine. I remember that sometimes you're feeling you're waiting a little bit till the turbo kicks in, and it didn't happen obviously because we didn't have it.
For that point, I think for them, especially on the oval, they might feel it will take a little longer. On the road course, it won't be any issue.
What was the second question?

Q. Higher car count.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think it's great. It's a great problem to have, I would say. If you going to have more cars to pass, that means more competition. That means if you're leading the championship, you know you can mix it up, points that you're looking for. I think it's very positive. I think it's going to raise the level, as well, of driving and the teams and everything.
Competition always makes you better. I just see a positive side on this area.

Q. What is your vision for the new Indy Racing League series? This is going to be a transition year, but in 2009, going forward, mix of street courses, ovals, international races versus domestic races? How do you see the series?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I see the sky's the limit now. Finally we made the biggest move we were always looking for. Took like, what, 12 years to make it happen, but we did.
You're right, maybe this year will take a little time. But 2009 definitely, probably 2010, we're going to start finally collecting what we want, which means success.
But it's not going to depend only on us. It's you guys, as well, gonna to have to check it out, have to see what's going to happen and write about it. I think that's what we're waiting for. This is the time that we're waiting for, for the open-wheel to come back the way it used to be. We're not competing against NASCAR. We're just a different type of racing. Hey, some people might like it, some people don't like it. I do feel that now we just have good things to show to everybody.

Q. Helio, in the unification press conference, Kevin Kalkhoven and Brian Barnhart mentioned that Champ Car teams would basically be paired with existing IndyCar Series teams to work in a collaboration to get them caught up. The Kalkhoven/Vasser team said they're working with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Rahal Letterman Racing is going to be working with Newman/Haas/Lanigan. Do you know who, if anyone, you're going to be working with from the Champ Car side?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I have no idea about that in our case.

Q. You're more famous now. What is it like seeing yourself in the supermarket rags, Entertainment Tonight? Do you get recognized more out in public?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Just a statement, man, me and Julie Ann, we're not together (laughter). That's the most questions I've been asked. And if I going to go back dancing? Right now I retired my dancing shoes for a moment.
You know, it's fun. I do feel we reach a very different audience that never would have been in racing I think. That's why I think the initial goal was that, you know, trying to get different fans, especially that have no idea about racing. I think we did that.
Now it's all about up to us, which I'm very glad that the merge has happened because now we need to make the show better because when those new fans tune in to the TV, go to the racetrack, we need to make that show, which has always been exciting and fun, obviously informative to everybody that want to know more about the IndyCar Series.
It's all about combination. I used to be a driver that can dance, now I'm a dancer that can drive. Hopefully with that new status, I'll be able to make that happen (laughter).

Q. There's obviously a lot of marketing efforts that are going to have to be made to try to entice new fans into this unified sport now. You as one of the most recognizable drivers here I think would be called upon to be a big part of that, which would be a lot more demands on your time. Are you prepared and willing to do that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, that's what I've been doing basically my off-season. I've been so many numerous shows, appearances, charity events. I'm trying to make the word out there, Hey, it's going to be a great season. I'm taking advantage, as well. It's not only good for my name, but it's good for everybody involved, you know. Wherever I'm going to be, the IndyCar Series, which it is right now, it's just a great way of, Hey, I'm here.
It's just a matter of obviously the series also to take advantage. Obviously, my associate sponsors, we're doing everything we can. I feel we're in the right direction. Right now I have plenty of energy to do whatever it takes.

Q. Helio, first of all, the IRL traditionally has had very talented drivers. Now with the merger, does this make better racing for fans to see where you have the world's best drivers from the two series now in the one?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Best drivers, best teams. Along with that, we're going to have great partners. Yes, definitely.

Q. Going back to your Dancing with the Stars. Those of us that follow the Dolphins, Jason Taylor, he's going to be on the show. Have you talked to him? If you have, what tips have you given him?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: We had a dinner right before the Oprah show in Chicago. It was hilarious because I can see how nervous he is, how excited his wife is. It's a funny thing to see. When I started, I was nervous, but not that nervous because I wasn't expecting anything. I was just expecting hopefully not be the first one to be voted off.
But you can see that he's very nervous. But he's doing everything he can. He's going to be living in L.A. with the kids and the wife. He's already practicing basically. We exchanged phone numbers to make sure any doubts he'll be calling me.
I gave all the negative sides, you know, of the dancing situation, which is going to be working very hard, you're going to be waking sore. But he seems to be willing to work as hard as he can. I'm very happy to see that he's taking this seriously.

Q. It's been a heck of an off-season. The league lost Dario and Sam to NASCAR, everything negative that went with that. Then the publicity of you with Dancing With the Stars, Danica being in the swimsuit issue. Now you have the merger. Can you talk about the positive rebound from the merger and how maybe this puts everything in perspective given what happened with Sam and Dario especially?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know, that's a good question. The way I see with the merge right now, it's actually in the future. We talking about probably five years from now you gonna see new young kids. Today NASCAR is so popular. Those new young kids want to go to NASCAR. From five years from now, I do feel we're going to see the same way used to be in the past: those kids looking to go into the open-wheel series. It's going to happen, new talents, new drivers. It's going to be stronger than the way it used to be.
Not because we lost Dario and Sam. We didn't lose. I mean, they decided to go to a different challenge. Oh, boy, it's all over. No. I feel in the future we're gonna have new talents, new Sam Hornishes, new Darios, whatever. That's why it's very important for us to keep the way we're going because if we do that, that's going to happen naturally.
THE MODERATOR: Helio, we appreciate your time. Good luck out on the track today.

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