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Helio's high hopes dashed by wreck

Despite a fast car and street-course experience, Castroneves exits early and finishes 20th.

By JOANNE KORTH
Published April 4, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - The roar of IndyCars reverberated through the downtown waterfront as pre-race favorite Helio Castroneves strode alone through the paddock toward his motorcoach.

He had so looked forward to the Indy Racing League's first street-course race. It was much too early for street clothes.

Out of his racing suit and into a pair of black slacks and a white short-sleeve shirt, Castroneves shook his head at the hard-to-fathom circumstances that put him out of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg during the 13th of 100 laps.

"It was so early in the race," said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Dallara/Toyota for Team Penske. "We had such a great car and such high hopes."

Castroneves, who started on the outside of the front row, was running third when the leaders came up on the slower car of A.J. Foyt IV in Turn 12 of the 14-turn layout. Leader Bryan Herta had just put Foyt a lap down when Castroneves tried to squeak by through an S-curve on the backside of the track.

The cars made contact.

"I thought I would have enough room," Castroneves said. "Unfortunately, when I got to the corner, I saw there wouldn't be enough room for me and I lifted off. But it was like a funnel. There was no way to get through and we touched."

Neither was able to rejoin the race.

Both drivers were disappointed, Castroneves because he thought his street-course experience gave him a strong chance to win and Foyt because he needed the experience.

"I knew we weren't going to run up front, so we were just trying to survive," said Foyt, 20-year-old grandson of team owner and four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt. "Helio ran up on me at the bad part of the kink and we made contact.

Because it eliminated one of the series' most respected drivers, the incident likely will fuel critics who claim Foyt moved his grandson into the IRL too soon. Foyt IV's No.14 Panoz Toyota, which failed to make a qualifying lap Saturday because of technical problems, started last and quickly fell off the pace.

"We're disappointed," the elder Foyt said. "Anthony moved over and Castroneves came in a little too hard and there wasn't room for two cars. It was just one of those racing accidents."

With the 20th-place finish, Castroneves dropped from a third-place tie to fourth in the points standings after three races. He trails leader Dan Wheldon by 52.

"The good news is, it's very early in the championship," said Castroneves, a two-time Indy 500 winner in his fourth IRL season. "We have a good enough team to bounce back and that's what we need to do."