Helio Castroneves insists that he would be ready to jump back into the cockpit of his #3 Team Penske entry at any point should the outcome of his pending tax evasion trial go in his favour.

The Brazilian - a Penske veteran of nine seasons - is facing charges that could see him wind up doing a spell behind bars, but remains hopeful that he will be on the grid this season, even if not necessarily for the opening round in St Petersburg. Castroneves' court appearance is slated for 2 March, with the season-opener just a month later.

In order to cover any possible eventuality, and to give Castroneves the chance to focus on the case rather than be distracted by on-track commitments, Penske has drafted in Will Power to partner fellow Australian Ryan Briscoe for pre-season testing, with a view to him racing the #3 should its previous incumbent be sent down.

Despite being forced to face the prospect of seeing someone else driving his car, however, Castroneves remains his usual optimistic self.

"No question, it's a little bit strange to be in this situation," the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner admitted, "but one thing I have to say, Roger [Penske] and [team president] Tim Cindric, they back me up all the way. It's pretty good to have friends like that, first of all, and a good organisation behind you like that, as well.

"We're all together. They say the tough times are when you find real friends. I've been very fortunate to see a lot of people responding, being supportive. You guys that know me, obviously I love racing. That's what I love to do. I guess, unfortunately, when you go through that in life, it's just to make sure that you're strong enough. The only thing in my mind right now is to get these things over and back to the race car.

"My life, it's definitely about racing. The way I end up with Team Penske is also a very difficult spot, but I feel very confident the whole thing is going to be over. I can't wait for this thing to be over, for me to be back in the race car, do what I love most, which is racing."

Castroneves confirmed that he has continued to prepare for the season as he would any other, and expected to be ready to jump back into the #3 at short notice once the outcome of his case is known.

"Obviously I've been working out, making sure that I'll be as fit as I can and as prepared as I can," he noted, "I try to educate myself on what's going on [with the case] but, clearly, it's a language that I'm not familiar with. Even in Portuguese, I wouldn't be able to understand it either.

"It's a very interesting situation but, right now, I'm just focused on this issue one step at a time. Like I said, Team Penske and I were able to talk about it. It's best for everyone. Those are my friends. Roger has really been an incredible person in my career - for me, having him give me tips, making me understand a lot of things, no question it's the best advice I can have. Right now, I'm just going to continue doing that as well. As soon as possible when this is over, I'll be ready for the 2009 season."

The Brazilian revealed that he expected the court date to last for approximately three weeks, but admitted that even his legal advisors had been hard-pressed to commit to either a duration or outcome.

"[A trial like this] they say is about 20 days, [but] the things always change," he pointed out, "In my opinion, to be honest, they are saying strongly that they never saw a case like this. They're very surprised. We're going to present ourselves the best way we can present but, in terms of time-wise, that's what the indictment says, about 20 business days. That's what we're counting on. We're going to go for it [and] after everything is over, like I said, I'll be more than ready."

Cindric confirmed that the Penske operation was taking things on a day-by-day basis, but had had to commit to a replacement in time to land one of the bigger names in IndyCar Racing. Without committing to details of Power's agreement with the team, the president admitted that he would jump at the chance to have Castroneves back in the #3, be it this year or in the future.

"We're very fortunate to have someone like Will available to join the team [but], the way I look at it is [that] we have three drivers," he insisted, "There's three drivers for Team Penske in 2009. We'll determine who drives which one of those two cars depending on how everything sorts out. We'll kind of take it a day at a time. That's what we've been doing to this point.

"It's one of those things where you look at it and say you need to make sure that we, as an organisation, can go out and test and we can go out and do all the things we normally do, let [Castroneves] remain focused. There really wasn't any definite timeline. It's always been something we've kind of taken day to day.

"There's nothing more than I'd want to do than come back to Indy next year and run [Castroneves] at the 500. Why wouldn't you want to? [However], I think, right now, we just have to, again, take this thing a day at a time. We're not going to make any commitments other than we're going to stand behind Helio and, in the meantime, we're going to get ourselves prepared as we can be to go win races this year.

"If Helio is ready to go at St Pete, he's in a situation where he's ready to go for the rest of the year, the #3 car is his. For us, we need to do everything we can to stand behind him. If he's ready to go in St Pete, then he's still our guy. If he's not ready to go in St Pete, then obviously Will's going to be ready to go in St Pete. Anything after that really is a matter of how everything plays out day to day."

Cindric would not be drawn on Power's longer-term future, perhaps letting slip the team's wariness over the outcome of Castroneves' case.

"At that point in time, we'll decide [whether he would be released to go elsewhere]," he admitted, "We'll decide what makes sense for all of us. I know that this isn't anything new to Will or to Helio or anybody else. I think everybody sitting up here understands exactly what the game plan is. We want to make sure that we're as up front as possible.

"The easy thing to do in this situation might be to say, 2010, Helio, we'll talk about it then, just get on with 2009. But we didn't feel like that was the right thing to do. The guy has been with us for nine years. He's done a great job. He's won a lot of races. He's great for the sport. I think the best way to put it is that Will's committed to us, we're committed to him. He knows that, if Helio is back in the car, we'll sit down and talk about it at that point in time. We'll do the best we can for both of us. The specifics of it are exactly that.

"[Castroneves] is going to stay focused on what he's doing until he's done doing all that. Once he gives me the call and says 'hey, here's the story', then we're going to do everything we can to get him back in the race car - provided it's before St Pete. At that point in time, we just have to sit and see where are we in the season, what's the situation, what's going on. We'll be a lot smarter at that point in time than really making comments now that three or four months from now may or may not make sense."