Helio Castroneves's Sao Paulo Food Picks
Indy Car legend and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves blames his sweet tooth on his Brazil upbringing. The man who famously climbs racetrack fences after capturing (and recapturing) championships, plays tennis, boxes, swims, and dances with the stars in order to stay fit, despite his cravings. His favorite indulgence, dessert pizza, pairs rather well with his favorite beverage, a bottle of milk in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's winner circle.
São Paolo, Brazil, where Castroneves grew up, is actually renowned for its pizza, which the 38-year-old driver claims – rather controversially – is better than New York's. An ingredient pizzerias in Greenwich Village lack: catupiry. The creamy cheese is commonly used as a filling in Paulistano pizzas, which are sold in some 6,000 parlors. Castroneves says the spread, which is common throughout Brazil, gives pies a bit of extra flavor.
But the IndyCar Series record holder for top-10 finishes, who now lives in Fort Lauderdale, doesn't fly all the way to Brazil just to hang out with family and split "simple white pizzas." He heads to Cristal, a famed pizza joint where his final course is inevitable a pie boasting "banana and Nutella and caramel icing."
"Brazilian food is very rich and sweet," says Castroneves. "They love sweet. And when guys come over for the Confederation Cup or the World Cup next year, I guarantee you they're going to gain some weight, no question about it."
Other uniquely South American takes on Italian cuisine are also increasingly popular in São Paulo. Castroneves is a repeat customer at Gero, a contemporary, upscale restaurant with almost as many accolades as its regular, where he indulges his high carb cravings.
"There's a plate called Dulce Vita, it's just phenomenal," Castroneves say. "Peas and crème sauce, little favorites, it's just one you've got to try."
But Castroneves isn't always about indulgences. When it comes to driving, he is perpetually hungry for the next win. He remembers losses at the Motor Speedway as well as he remembers the wins. He knows how hot the track was during qualifying runs and he tracks the weather so he can make slight adjustments to his car up until the last second, when he straps in and blots out the world beyond the asphalt.
"When I'm out there I don't hear the crowd," he says. "Just the engine."
He can always get himself a treat after he wins.