Indy Racing League’s IndyCar driver, HELIO CASTRONEVES is in the air even as we speak flying from Miami FL back to Long Beach after he was acquitted Friday of Federal tax evasion charges. The popular Brazilian racer had been on trial, along with his older sister/business manager, KATUICIA, and attorney ALAN MILLER. All three had been acquitted of their respective tax evasion charges, and the jury hung on the conspiracy charges against the Castroneves siblings and acquitted Miller on his conspiracy charge.
IRL and Team Penske held a hastily-called press conference Friday afternoon, following two other major driver/team announcements, with Team Penske president TIM CINDRIC: IRL president of competition and racing operations, BRIAN BARNHART, and Team Penske drivers RYAN BRISCOE and WILL POWER, who left after the conference for Friday afternoon practice. Power was fastest and Briscoe was ninth in the session, and the media joked with Power that it was his audition for a full time Penske ride.
Cindric would not comment on the trial or any possibility of a retrial on the conspiracy charges. “I’m a racing guy. That’s technicalities and that’s for someone else at another time.”
Castroneves, who has raced for Team Penske the past ten years, has not been in a race car since last October. His FIA racing license was renewed by ACCUS and he’s good to go. NICK CRAW, President of ACCUS, said it is a full service operation, 24/7. IRL already had Castroneves’ medical, ACCUS had the paperwork, and the license was ready to issue.
Cindric said that Castroneves will sleep better Friday night than previous nights. He’s got energy. Because of the uncertainty of the days’ events, Cindric didn’t know when Castroneves would be available for comment. Cindric hadn’t personally spoken with him since the verdict, but they had exchanged text messages. Cindric said “We’re ready” and Castroneves said “I’m coming.”
Cindric spoke to the logistics of returning Castroneves to Long Beach from the trial. “It’s still work in progress in getting him back. Roger’s resources are beneficial in situations like this. If anyone could get Air Force One, it would be Roger. The basics are – Roger dispatched a plane from Detroit for whenever Helio will be ready. He’ll be here this evening in one of Roger’s planes.”
As promised, Team Owner, ROGER PENSKE, will have a race car for Castroneves. Saturday he will be in No.3 with a full set of Firestone tires – six primarys (blacks) and three alternatives (reds). Castroneves will race No.3 this weekend and going forward. Barnhart said IRL would grant concessions to Team Penske for Saturday morning practice. Castroneves will be allowed to drive in both groups.
Power will finish Friday in No.3. Saturday he will switch to a third Team Penske race car, No.12 with Verizon Wireless sponsorship, taking with him the tires assigned to him. His pit space will be at Pit Entry. Power will be allowed extra practice time Saturday morning in No.12. His race strategist will be JOHN ERICKSON, from Team Penske’s sports car team.
Power has been filling in for the absent Castroneves, starting with the pre-season testing and the season’s opener race at St. Petersburg, where he started and finished sixth, in No.3. Power drove No.3 in the Friday morning session, finishing fourth overall in a field of 22 drivers.
Power will also race No.12 with Verizon sponsorship in the Indianapolis 500. He only learned of his Indy 500 ride last night, according to Cindric.
Penske is currently in Phoenix with his NASCAR Nationwide Series team. He will fly to Long Beach after Friday night’s race and spend Saturday with the IndyCar team, before flying back to Phoenix for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race. Then, Saturday night Penske will be back on the plane to Long Beach.
Cindric said the team has been dealing with various contingency plans for Helio since before the St. Pete race. “Everything looked like a decision was coming, and we had to have a contingency and reward Will for all he has done, but Helio’s best medicine is to be back in the race car.
“If I didn’t know him that well, I’d question is this the right move. His focus and concentration is among the best, the trust I have in him at Indianapolis. I put him up against the best of them for being mentally prepared.”
Because of the uncertainty of the times, Cindric couldn’t say what other driving opportunities might be available for Power and Team Penske. The only oval race between Long Beach and Indy is Kansas, and at this point Cindric said there were no plans for Power to run that race. “But with us you never know. as we sit here today. always subject to change. This time last year at this time we were focusing on Helio’s dancing, and this year we were focusing on Helio’s trial. I hope next year at this time there’s something more positive on which to focus.”
“We haven’t run three cars for quite awhile. It’s been a bit of a mixed bag and a moving yardstick for us. I’ve heard nothing but support for Helio. I can’t say enough about Will and the task he’s had with all the maybes and what abouts. I don’t want to speculate on what will happen with Will.”
Cindric wasn’t sure about further Verizon sponsorship. “Our plate if pretty full right now going forward. Lots can happen between now and May. We’re playing it a race at a time and focusing on May. Look at Will – our position is that if he was going to run for us, it’s an opportunity for the team to get to work with the guy and the growing pains before we get into May. This year is a short schedule the first week. It is a big advantage for all of us preparing for a third car at Indy.”
Cindric said “We’re ecstatic about the outcome. It’s been a very difficult time for all of us, especially Helio and his family. It’s good to know he can go on with his life, business as usual. His usual business is different. I’m looking forward to having him back as a driver in our organization.”
Barnhart said “We couldn’t be happier for Team Penske, Helio Castroneves and his family and look forward to having him back on the race grid at Long Beach. Helio has played an integral part in the growth of the IndyCar Series on and off the race track the past few years and has an incredible legion of fans. He is a true star in every sense of the word and his infectious personality, popularity and success on the race track is welcomed back.” Barnhart joked about looking forward to the driver’s meeting and all Helio’s special questions will begin again
Briscoe said “I’m looking forward to having him back and excited to continue that going forward. Will is in similar shoes as I was couple years ago. Will impressed us all. I’m happy for Helio.”
Power said “I’m very happy for Helio and his family. I can’t imagine what it might be alike. I’m excited to be driving the 12 car and in the Indy 500. The team has made me feel welcome. It’s a first class team, and I loved working with these guys.”
“I knew the situation and none of this is a surprise, they keep me well informed. I appreciate the way it’s all played out.”
SCOTT DIXON/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 2008 IndyCar Champion said “It’s cool, a nice surprise for everybody. He’s a huge guy for our series, one of our better personalities. It’s unfortunate he went through what he did.”