Helio Castroneves says he's a good friend of Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr., but he would just like to do a little better than Sam.
BROOKLYN, Mich. - There's no back seat in IndyCar racing, but over the last few months, two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves has found himself away from the spotlight and out of the media's crosshairs.
The bulk of the attention has gone to Castroneves' Marlboro Team Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr., the talented American oval racer who won this year's Indy 500 in stunning fashion and who currently leads the IndyCar Series points race.
That makes Castroneves, a Brazilian who has made his home in the Miami area for some time, the most highly decorated second fiddle in the business.
"I don't mind people making a lot of fuss over Sam because besides being a good friend and teammate, he is a very talented race car driver who has earned everything he's got," Castroneves said. "I want to see him do well - I just want to do a little better."
So far, Hornish has the edge in the points race, but Castroneves has matched the Defiance native with three wins, and Castroneves has earned one more pole this season than Hornish, with four. Castroneves is in third place in the points standings, just 30 points behind Hornish and only five points behind second-place Scott Dixon. The two Penske drivers have achieved a balance of cooperation and competition.
"Everybody on the team, they want to have both of our cars first and second in every race, but Sam and I, we care about who is first and who is second," Castroneves said. "We're always talking and helping each other out, but we're both still real competitive guys who naturally want to win. We'll help each other get to the front, and then battle it out for who gets to finish first."
Castroneves, who is in his ninth season of open-wheeled racing in the top U.S. circuit and his seventh year with Penske, said he has seen Hornish grow comfortable with a high profile in his third season with Penske. Castroneves said a more-at-ease Hornish has evolved into an even better racer.
"Sam has matured a lot this year, and his approach has been a little different," Castroneves said. "He's more relaxed now. It's made him better, and that's why he won Indy."
Hornish, who won two Indy Racing League season championships with Panther Racing (2001, 2002), said he and Castroneves are very different away from the track, but quite similar once they climb in the car.
"Most of the time, I'm probably quieter and more serious than Helio is, because he's always had that real outgoing type of personality. But once we put those helmets on, I don't think there is much different about us at all," Hornish said. "We're both very focused on doing anything and everything we can to win races. Our personalities are different, but we're a lot alike when it comes to racing."
Castroneves, who won at Motegi, Texas and St. Petersburg earlier this year, joined pole-sitter Hornish on the front row for the start of this year's Indy 500, but got involved in an accident that pushed him back to a 25th-place finish. He has been strong since then, allowing Team Penske to collect six wins in the first 10 races of the season, and Castroneves hopes he and Hornish battle it out here tomorrow in the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
"The relationship between Sam and I is incredible this year, and you see the results - obviously Team Penske has been awesome," Castroneves said. "This is his territory, I guess, his area because not only does he live around here, but there's a lot of attention coming his way because he won Indy, and everything seems to be coming his way. I'm happy for him, but that doesn't mean I'm going to let him win."
Hornish was honored with a parade in his hometown this week, and a monument recognizing his victory at Indy was unveiled in Defiance. He also flew to Washington recently to meet President Bush and receive his congratulations.
But Castroneves, with two Indy 500 wins, hasn't had a parade, doesn't have a monument, and has yet to meet the President.
"I think I'll go to the White House when I marry an American girl and become a citizen," Castroneves said.
Now, he's content to push his American teammate, and remain in position to challenge Hornish for the season championship with just the four races remaining.