Castroneves, Tracy have something to prove

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 4:21 PM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- Helio Castroneves came to the 2009 Indianapolis 500 with something to prove.

First, that he wasn't a tax cheat and, second, that missing the first part of the IndyCar season hadn't adversely affected the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion chances of winning his third Borg Warner trophy tomorrow.

The tax cheat case was taken care of by the U.S. courts, which found the 34-year-old Brazilian innocent of charges he tried to evade paying taxes on some $5 million US. Federal prosecutors dropped the remaining charge against him yesterday.

And so far at Indianapolis this month Castroneves appears not to have missed a beat on the track, even without the benefit of winter testing.

Yesterday, he solidified his claim as the favourite to win tomorrow when he posted the fastest lap in the final practice session of 223.920 m.p.h. in the No. 3 Penske Racing Honda-powered Dallara.

Castroneves admits there were times during his six-week long trial in Florida that he thought he'd never get back to racing. But being back behind the wheel of an IndyCar has cast aside any of those lingering doubts.

"I'm very confident and comfortable in the car," he said. "It felt really good. It felt awesome. It was nice to have that right before the race."

Castroneves also is banking that tomorrow, like yesterday, will be hot and sunny.

"The weather on race day is going to be very similar to what it was (yesterday)," he said. "I feel very confident. I can't wait for (tomorrow)."

Penske teammate Will Power -- who was brought aboard as an insurance policy had Castroneves been found guilty and jailed -- had the second fastest lap of 223.560 with KV Technology Racing's Mario Moraes making it through the timing lights at 222.951.

Dan Wheldon at 222.386 and Ryan Briscoe at 222.374 rounded out the top five.

Toronto's Paul Tracy, Moraes teammate at KV, was 12th fastest yesterday with a lap of 220.979.

He was happy to improve on his earlier times but felt he left some speed on the track.

"We did a few setup changes during practice," Tracy said. "I wasn't too happy with it to start out, but we got it better at the end."

Tracy said that the results show the team is ready for tomorrow.

"The whole team (with third entry Townsend Bell) were in the top 12 in final practice," he said. "We did some pitstop practice, and everything's good, so we've just got another day to wait."


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