Helio Castroneves has been on the six counts of tax evasion alleged against him, and is expected to make a dramatic return to action at this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The Brazilian had faced as much as six years in prison had he been found guilty of not paying tax on money earned from sponsorship and licensing deals, but was acquitted by a Miami jury, along with sister Katuicia and attorney Alan Miller. There was a hung jury on the charge of conspiracy that accompanied the evasion accusations. The Indy Racing League and Team Penske held a hastily-called press conference on Friday afternoon to confirm Castroneves situation - adding to an already busy day for major driver/team announcements - and to announce that the Brazilian would be back in harness for Long Beach.
Team owner Roger Penske had promised Castroneves, last season's IRL runner-up, a race car from the moment he was acquitted, and kept to his word despite the Brazilian's stand-in, Will Power, going fastest in Friday's practice session in California. Castroneves will now be back in his familiar #3 Dallara with a full set of Firestone tyres for the weekend and the chance to run in both practice groups on Saturday morning, while Power switches to a third Team Penske entry, carrying the #12 and Verizon Wireless sponsorship. He will continue with the tyre allocation he began the weekend with, but will also be afforded extra practice time on Saturday to allow him to become acquainted with the new car. His pit space will be at pit entry.
Power will also run the #12 in next month's Indianapolis 500, again with Verizon backing, according to team president Tim Cindric.
Cindric would not comment on Castroneves' trial or any possibility of a retrial on the conspiracy charges.
"I'm a racing guy," he insisted, "That's technicalities and that's for someone else at another time."
Castroneves, who has raced for Team Penske the past ten years, has not been in a race car since last October. His FIA racing licence was renewed by ACCUS, allowing him to race this weekend.
"It's still work in progress in getting him back," Cindric said of the logistics of getting Castroneves to Long beach from Miami, "but Roger's resources are beneficial in situations like this. If anyone could get Air Force One, it would be Roger. The basics are that Roger dispatched a plane from Detroit for whenever Helio will be ready. He'll be here this evening in one of Roger's planes.
"Everything looked like a decision was coming, and we had to have a contingency and reward Will for all he has done, but Helio's best medicine is to be back in the race car. If I didn't know him that well, I'd question is this the right move. His focus and concentration is among the best - I put him up against the best of them for being mentally prepared."
Penske spent Friday in Phoenix with his NASCAR Nationwide Series team, but was due to fly to Long Beach after Friday night's race and spend Saturday with the IndyCar team, before flying back to Phoenix for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race, returning to California Saturday night.
additional reporting by Lynne Huntting