South Florida’s Helio: Driver, Dancer and Now a Dad

Helio Wins Third Indy 500

Castroneves won his third Indy 500 last May on his way to a fourth place finish in the Championship standings following the Firestone Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The IZOD IndyCar Series will crown a Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 2, 2010

Helio Castroneves had quite a newsworthy 2009: In the spring, he was acquitted of tax-evasion charges; in May, he became the first foreign-born driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500 three times; and in October in South Florida, he finished fourth in the race for the 2009 IndyCar Series Championship, which again will conclude at Homestead-Miami Speedway this fall (Oct. 1-2).

But the affable Brazilian capped 2009 with his biggest news yet, when on Dec. 28 in Atlanta he and girlfriend Adriana Henao welcomed daughter Mikaella Castroneves. Arriving more than a week ahead of her scheduled date (Jan. 6), she’s clearly picked up her father’s genes in the speed category.

“I am so excited to be a dad,” said Castroneves, a resident of Coral Gables, just 25 minutes up the road from his home track of Homestead-Miami Speedway. “It's truly been the most exciting news.”

…Which is saying a lot for a man who kept the copy editor’s pen busy in 2009. His off-track legal issues have been well documented and cost him the season-opening race in St. Pete last April. For a guy who never has finished worse than sixth in the IndyCar Championship standings, this was not the way to start a season.

“I was not able to compete in St. Petersburg,” said Castroneves, who this spring enters his 11th season with Team Penske. “I missed my first race in 10 years with Team Penske, and it really made things tough.”

Helio instead made his season debut at Long Beach and finished a respectable seventh. He followed that with a second-place finish at Kansas—a showing that revealed to his fellow competitors he was not to be counted out in the hunt for the 2009 Championship that would be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway in October.

And then came the real exclamation point, in May in Indianapolis: Castroneves qualified on the pole at the Indy 500 (almost a mile per hour faster than his Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe); led a total of 66 laps of the race; and captured a third Indianapolis 500 victory (2001, 2002). For good measure, his Penske crew won the pit stop competition on Carburetion Day.

“The entire month was like a dream,” said Castroneves, one of the most popular drivers in IndyCar Series history. “We won the pole and the Pit Stop Competition leading into Memorial Day Weekend, and capped it all off with a win, which was truly an amazing performance by everyone at Team Penske.”

Castroneves won at Texas in June but could not in the next seven races gain enough ground on contenders Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, nor eventual-Champion Dario Franchitti. His second-place finish at Edmonton during that span was his best finish, with his failures to finish at Infineon or Chicagoland in effect eliminating him from title contention.

“I was obviously disappointed I wasn't fighting for the Championship in Homestead; that's certainly what a driver is always trying to accomplish,” said Castroneves, who has won at least one race in each of his first 10 IndyCar seasons. “But at least my teammate, Ryan Briscoe, was there at the end with a shot to bring Team Penske a title.”

With his legal troubles in the distant past, a new baby daughter and now a second teammate in Will Power (who subbed for Castroneves during the tax-evasion trial), the new dad heads into 2010 focused on winning an IndyCar Series Championship—to be crowned at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 2—as well as the Indy 300 race on his home track of Homestead-Miami.

Yearning to bring team owner Roger Penske his 13th open-wheel championship, look for Castroneves to be a Championship contender in 2010. He’ll just have to change a diaper or two along the way. But he’s shown his versatility before, having won Season 5 of ABC’s hit television show “Dancing with the Stars.”

“I'm so thankful everything turned out the way it did,” said Castroneves. “And that I was able to come back and drive the No. 3 Team Penske car for the rest of the season.”

The IZOD IndyCar and Firestone Indy Lights Series Championships will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 1-2, 2010. For ticket information, stay tuned to THEChampionshipTrack.com or call toll free (866) 409-RACE.

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