BRASELTON, Ga. - Helio Castroneves was back behind the wheel Saturday, a day after the two-time Indy 500 winner pleaded not guilty on tax evasion charges.
Out on $10 million bail after he was indicted on charges of conspiracy and six counts of tax evasion for purportedly failing to report to the IRS about $5.5 million in income between 1999 and 2004, the "Dancing with the Stars" champion was in suburban Atlanta for the American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta.
Not only was he back on track, but he was back in the winner's circle, as well.
Castroneves and teammate Ryan Briscoe outpaced the rest of the cars to finish first in the Le Mans Prototype 2 Class, while Allan McNish, Rinaldo Capello and Emanuele Pirro teamed to win the P1 and overall titles in an Audi.
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"It has been a difficult two days, but to finish first, it turned out to be a good day," Castroneves said. "It was a great day, and we're going to continue to move forward."
Terms of Castroneves' release allowed him to race at Petit Le Mans, and other races in the United States but not abroad, meaning he will likely miss a race later this month in Australia, said his attorney, Mark Seiden.
"Having Helio here today was important, especially in the situation he's in," team owner Roger Penske said. "He was focused all day, and that's what's important to us."
Briscoe started the 10-hour, 1,000-mile race, but the native of Sao Paulo, Brazil took the driver's seat during the third-hour at 2:19 p.m.
At the time, the duo's No. 5 Porshe RS Spyder was the overall leader, and led the Le Mans Prototype 2 Class.
At one point, Castroneves was as far back as fifth place, and after driving for a little over two hours, he gave the reins back to Briscoe. Briscoe vaulted up the standings, going head to head with Romain Dumas for the lead in the LMP2 Class.
Castroneves didn't think that his legal woes were a distraction, if anything, racing helped him forget about everything.
"When you're out in the car you're the only one," he said. "That was perfect for me. ... The fans kept me going. They gave me an immense amount of support. I was very touched."
As for the impending legal battle, Castroneves said he'll fight it like it's his job.
"This problem is like a race," he said. "And we're going to win."
Also facing charges are Katiucia Castroneves, the driver's sister and business manager, and attorney Alan R. Miller of Birmingham, Mich. They did not enter pleas Friday but were ordered released on bail of $2 million and $250,000, respectively.
Castroneves, a native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, finished second this year in the IndyCar Series points standings. He and partner Julianne Hough won the 2007 "Dancing With The Stars" reality show competition on ABC.
Miller's attorney, Michael Tein, sharply criticized federal prosecutors for bringing the case. Tein contended that Castroneves' fame was the main reason the three were charged with crimes.
The indictment charges that Castroneves illegally concealed income from Penske Racing Inc. and the Brazilian firm Coimex International S.A. Neither company is charged with any wrongdoing.
In Penske's case, prosecutors say Castroneves was to be paid $5 million in exchange for rights to use his name, likeness and image. The money was initially supposed to go to a Panamanian shell corporation, but then was diverted to a Dutch entity called Fintage Licensing.
Fintage was set up as a "deferred royalty plan" in which U.S. tax payments can be delayed, which is only legal if Castroneves had no relationship or control over it. Prosecutors say he did have control and that false statements were made to Penske about the relationship.
Coimex paid Castroneves $600,000 between 1999 through 2001 for sponsorship contracts, but he only paid taxes on about $50,000, prosecutors said.
Katiucia Castroneves transferred some of the hidden money to a Swiss bank account she controlled with her brother, court documents show.