Indianapolis When uncertainly about his future had Helio Castroneves down in the dumps, he thought about his true love — being in a race car.
Saturday, less than a month after being acquitted of charges of tax evasion, Castroneves was right where he wanted to be, back in the cockpit and on the pole for the Indianapolis 500.
On a cool, windy Saturday full of strategic guesses on when to qualify and when to stay off the track, the Brazilian driver took a big gamble, voiding a fast qualifying effort from earlier in the day and knocking Penske Racing teammate Ryan Briscoe off the pole.
Castroneves’s four-lap average of 224.864 mph on the historic 2.5-mile oval came with less than two hours remaining in the six-hour opening round of time trials for the May 24 race.
Castroneves said his third Indy pole in seven years is more special because of the uncertainty he faced from the time he was indicted last October until the end of the trial April 17 in Miami.
“Many times during the trial I was thinking about it,” he said. “I knew what I loved (is) racing, but I realized even more that’s my life. And just to be here is a dream come true, and I appreciate that every day when I wake up in the morning.
“I enjoy life. Now I enjoy it even more. But I have to say that what I learned from the trial, probably my mind is much stronger and my skin is a little bit thicker now.”
Castroneves stood by his car in the pits as Briscoe and several other challengers, including former Indy winner Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Marco Andretti and 20-year-old Graham Rahal, took shots at knocking him off the top spot.
“This place is magic,” said Castroneves, a two-time Indy winner. “It’s just amazing. ... We just had to keep working through the weather, working through the day. Ryan and I were really strong. When he went out there at the end, I was thinking I didn’t really want to have to go out (again).”
Castroneves, who previously won poles in 2003 and 2007, gave boss Roger Penske a record 15th Indy pole. But The Captain was just happy for the driver, who he strongly supported throughout his legal ordeal.
“There’s no question the emotion around him,” Penske said. “He’s one of the most electric guys in racing, and everybody likes him. And the good news is he puts the numbers on the board. He doesn’t say it, he does it with his foot.”
Penske also was proud of Briscoe, who made the decision to withdraw a 224.131 run from earlier in the day and try to take the pole from Castroneves in the final 10 minutes of the session.
“That was a call that Ryan made,” Penske said. “He wanted to go for it. I’ve got enough confidence in him that he isn’t going to make a mistake out there.”