HELIO TO DARIO: YOU KNOW MY PHONE NUMBER
You may recall that in my Monday morning blog entry, I mentioned that Milwaukee IndyCar winner Dario Franchitti had torn a strip off Helio Castroneves for what he said was blocking during the race.
I had a telephone chat with Castroneves earlier today (Tuesday) and he was not amused.
"He's a champion and he should act like a champion," snapped the three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, suggesting that criticizing losing drivers after the fact might be a little much.
We were chatting about him racing in next month's 25th anniversary Honda Indy Toronto when the subject of Franchitti's criticism crept into the conversation, which was unfortunate, because the usually-always-cheerful Castroneves had been talking about how much he liked Toronto and how he's planning on bringing his girlfriend and new baby daughter to the city with him for the July 8-10 event.
The call-out by Franchitti was on live TV at the conclusion of the poorly attended Milwaukee race on Sunday afternoon. Said the Target Chip Ganassi driver, who’s won the IZOD IndyCar Series championship the last two years:
"Racing with Tony (Kanaan) is a pleasure. An absolute pleasure. Just inches apart, giving each other room and respect, and then Helio joins the party and does his usual blocking crap . . ."
Castroneves, of course, had a victory taken away from him at Edmonton last year when it was ruled that he’d blocked Will Power on a late-race restart and so the subject of blocking is a bit of a sore point. (I originally wrote that he'd blocked Scott Dixon. My bad.)
Asked how he felt being criticized by Franchitti for something that IndyCar officials had either missed or else didn’t consider serious, Castroneves – who’s finished second twice in the IndyCar championship, always for Team Penske, but has never won the title – replied:
"I’m very sorry he felt that way. I want to talk to him to understand why he’s thinking like that. The guy has had such great success, he should enjoy his victory.
"I don’t agree with what he said. If he has something to say, he knows my number. He knows where I am and I’m just one phone call away.
"Right now, winning the race as he did, he should look more to what happened in his race and he should be happy that he finished first. I feel very sorry about the way he felt. I don’t agree with it and I will have a discussion with him and ask him why he says that."
Castroneves, a.k.a. Spiderman because of his fence-climbing antics after he wins races, first came to Toronto in 1996 when he was racing in the Firestone Indy Lights Series. In 1997, he won the Lights race, which has turned out to be his only trip to a Toronto Victory Lane to date, something he wants to change in July.
His last two visits ended in crashes – first with Paul Tracy in 2009 and then with A.J. Foyt’s driver, Vitor Meira, last year.
When he and Tracy piled into each other in ‘09, Castroneves was booed by fans along the main pit straight.
"I certainly understood that (the booing)," he laughed. "A local hero, a Canadian in a Canadian race, you don’t want to tangle with a guy like him. He and I have a long history together, so its kind of funny that it happened that way.
"But last year, I noticed that people had kind of moved on and it was great."
He bemoaned the crash with Meira, however.
"We always start good in Toronto and then we make mistakes," he explained. "I was so excited about the car last year but I should be a better judge of some guys. I should have been able to make a better pass (in Turn 3 at the end of the Lake Shore Blvd. straight) and keep going to the front but when you try hard, sometimes you make mistakes and that’s what happened."
Castroneves thinks IndyCar’s mandated double-file restarts, which have been roundly criticized by some drivers, including Franchitti, will stand through Toronto but might be re-examined during the off-season.
"It’s great to try," he said, "but it’s already been proven that double-file restarts on road courses, or street courses, are very difficult. Street courses are very narrow and it’s difficult to avoid accidents.
"I don’t think they’re going to change (for Toronto), I think they’ll leave it the way it is, but for next year I hope they change it and leave it for the ovals and not have double-file restarts on the street courses so you can at least finish the race.
"At the very least, it’s going to be an interesting scenario. Of course, I’m going to try to be in front and that way we won’t have any issues . . ."
Speaking of issues, Castroneves’s familiar No. 3 car is no longer decked out in the traditional red, white and black colours of Team Penske and that’s created some problems for his team.
"Sometimes my guys, they look for me on the track and they say, ‘Hey, where are you?’ " Castroneves laughs. "They can’t find me because everybody’s so used to the one colour (which is now the yellow and orange of primary sponsor Shell)."
But Castroneves, as usual, always looks on the bright side.
"It’s a great opportunity for new sponsors, new partners to be involved in the IndyCar series," he said. "Shell, AAA – for years they were in NASCAR but now they’re in IndyCar – it shows the great value of this series, particularly with an incredible organization like Team Penske."
Castroneves and his girlfriend, Adriana, have a daughter, Mikaela, who’s 1 and he says having her around has changed his life.
"So far, it’s been a difficult season and to be able to come back home and, before, I used to be very upset, not sleeping for two or three days, and now it’s just great therapy having her and you just forget about the trouble.
"It’s been an incredible experience."