Keeping Score

Q&A with Helio Castroneves – Three-Time Indy 500 Champ, One-Time Dancing With the Stars Champ

The driver talks about the race -- "I guarantee you the winner is going to be decided in the last few laps -- and the future of IndyCar

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YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

Brazilian Helio Castroneves of Team Penske, is pictured during the qualifying session of the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 race at the Sambodrome racetrack in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 4, 2013.

On Sunday, at this year’s Indianapolis 500, two three-time Indy winners will line up at the Brickyard: Helio Castroneves, who last won in 2009, and Dario Franchitti, who has won two of the last three Indy races. The race hasn’t seen two three-time winners since 1987; only Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser have won four Indy titles.

A few days before the 500, TIME caught up with Castroneves, otherwise known as the guy who won the fifth season of “Dancing With The Stars,” back in 2007.

So, honestly, do you get recognized more from driving, or from “Dancing With The Stars?”

I have to say, when you’e dealing with 20 to 25 million people watching you every Monday and Tuesday, yes, it’s a lot. The females know you a lot from the dancing. The guys, from the racing.

Are you nervous, going for your fourth title?

Despite who it is, it’s great to see history — and I’d love to be part of that. But it’s a great opportunity for people, the generations that never saw that scenario. Over 100 years, only three guys are able to do it four times. That’s amazing. It’s already an elite group. There are so many drivers, good drivers, that didn’t win once. There’s a lot of  hungry people right now.

What makes Indy special?

The tradition is amazing. For me, every time I come back here, I hit reset the button. OK, start all over again, learn what the car is going to do this year. Even if the car is the same, the speeds are a little bit higher than what they used to be last year. Temperature might change, sometimes we have to bring different tires. That’s the approach that I take. I always reset when I’m starting, so that I know what I need to build on.

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What is the IndyCar series doing to attract new young fans?

A few things. Social media is becoming huge in any company today, and certinaly in the IndyCar series they’re also looking for that. On July 17 the new movie Turbo, a Dreamworks movie, comes out —  it’s about the Indy 500. I do believe that’s the big trampoline for the IndyCar series. Because we’ve seen it help other series – NASCAR , for example, with Cars. If IndyCar can take advantage, we can become what we used to be in the past.

Why would a sports fan want to watch IndyCar over NASCAR? 

IndyCar is much faster. We exceed speeds over 200 miles per hour, 230 miles per hour. The perfect thing is the diversity of tracks – super speedways, short ovals, street courses and road courses. And we also have international drivers, and the competition is extremely hard. There’s one guy in the pole position, in the biggest race of the season, and he’s a one-car team. (ED NOTE: Ed Carpenter is the first owner/driver to qualify for the Indy 500 pole position since 1975) The guy is ahead of Team Penske, Team Gnassi, Andretti Sports among others. And the technology, a lot of the technology from Honda and Chevy especially – it’s smaller engines, more fuel efficiency, and more power. So today we have turbos in the car, with about 700 horsepower.

So what can a fan expect at this year’s Indy that he or she might not have seen in the past?

We have a lot of competition. The cars that are leading, they punch a big air in front, so that means the guy behind is able to get a big draft. So there’s going to be a lot of lead changes during the 500. A lot of people from the back might come up to the front. And I guarantee you the winner is going to be decided in the last few laps.

Is that winner going to be you?

I’m certainly going in with that mentality. And I do have the team. We did it not only twice, but three times. I have a lot of confidence in my team. I can control what is in my power. We’re going to give ourselves the best opportunity we can to win this race.

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