BRAZILIAN rookie called Spiderman wins Indianapolis 500

Sunday, May 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Team owner Roger Penske climbed into Victory Lane again Sunday at the Indianapolis 500, this time on the back of Brazilian rookie Helio Castroneves.

Castroneves led a dominant pack of stars back to auto racing's biggest event and then celebrated by climbing the fence in his best Spiderman impersonation.

It is his trademark in Indy racing's rival league but a new sight at the 500, boycotted for the past five years by most of the top teams and drivers from Championship Auto Racing Teams.

Castroneves and fellow Brazilian Gil de Ferran gave Penske a 1-2 finish and CART a sweep of the top five.

``It's the best day of my life, redeeming myself like this,'' said Penske, following a record 11th Indy victory.

Castroneves, an Indy rookie, gave The Captain a triumphant return Sunday to the 500-mile race, where his team failed to qualify for the race in 1995, Penske's last visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an Indy-car owner.

The 26-year-old winner celebrated by demonstrating for fans why he is known as Spiderman on the CART circuit. He stopped his red and white car near the finish line after a cool-down lap, jumped up a steel-mesh fence, pumped his fist and signaled for his team to join him.

They did. Marlboro Team Penske raced across the track, climbed a short concrete wall and scaled half of a 17-foot fence, to the delight of the Indy crowd.

``I just wanted to express my feelings and I think everybody liked that,'' said Castroneves, who was cheered by the crowd as he rode atop a pace car during a victory lap, waving his arms and punching the air.

Penske remained in the pits while Castroneves and crew scaled the fence.

``I'm climbing with him tonight, when nobody's looking,'' Penske said.

De Ferran, Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser and rookie Bruno Junqueira took the top five positions, making it a tough day for the rival Indy Racing League, which considers Indy its centerpiece.

Eliseo Salazar finished seventh in the best showing for an IRL regular.

Tony Stewart, attempting to race in the 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C., on the same day for the second time in three years, led for a while and wound up sixth.

Despite seven cautions and a 16-minute red flag for rain, he finished with enough time to get to the other race.

Indy got off to a shaky start when pole-winner Scott Sharp lost control on cold, slick tires and crashed on the first turn of the first of 200 laps.

The green flag came out again on lap seven. But one lap later, Sarah Fisher, the only woman in the 33-car field, crashed in the second turn under circumstances similar to Sharp's. She hit the wall and took out Scott Goodyear's car.

Goodyear, a two-time runner-up, was in good condition at Methodist Hospital with a fractured lower back, the only injury of the race.