The Portuguese auto racer is a semifinalist on Dancing with the Stars (ABC), and he spoke to us about his fancy new steps

By People Staff
November 14, 2007 04:10 PM

Portuguese racecar driver Helio Castroneves has become a hit – and a semifinalist! – on the dance floor of Dancing with the Stars (ABC).

The 32-year-old driver is the youngest-ever winner of the Indy500 and the fifth winner of the race two years in row, in 2001 and 2002. And as he was revving up to compete at Fall Auto 2006, the chance to be one of 12 participants on Dancing with the Stars came a-knocking. “This opportunity came at a good moment because it’s not a stress on, or an obstacle for my career,” he explained.

Between laughs, Castroneves chatted with us over the phone about where his career has taken him and the tough dance lessons that prep him for the show. “I really have to say that they’re a challenge. I never thought doing this could be dangerous…Julianne Hough (his professional dance partner), 19, is incredibly talented. Before starting the show, we practiced for four hours, and now that the show is on we practice much more,” he said.

Castroneves began his auto-racing career at Kart, a racing competition where most drivers get their start. After winning his first Indy500 in 2001, he became an internationally-recognized force. It was at that race when he earned his nickname Spiderman – now his professional name – when he got out of his car and, in the rush of victory, climbed over the divider that separated the track and the audience.

Known for his happy demeanor, Castroneves has joined the ranks of the competition’s best dancers, debuting with an almost perfect score of 25/30. And all without any prior dancing experience: “Yes, it’s a really new thing and a great experience. Awhile ago I was going out with a girl who is a professional dancer, and I didn’t understand why she enjoyed dancing so much; now I understand, and I’m enjoying it a lot.”

The racing star’s big competition on the show right now is Cuban-American jewelry designer Aliette Vázquez, 28, who’s admitted that she’s a little jealous of the beautiful contestants who constantly surround her.

The bad news is that Castroneves isn’t looking to have a professional dancing career, but if he wins (which is definitely a possibility), he plans to dedicate the trophy to himself and his partner, because they definitely will have earned it.