06/02/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
Plenty of women would love to go racing alongside Helio Castroneves—but not his big sister Katiuca. After the dashing Brazilian won his first Indy 500 as a rookie in 2001, "We were going to the airport, and he was going really fast," says Katiuca, 29, who's also his financial manager. "He was like, 'Don't worry, you're with the Indy 500 winner.' I said, 'No, no, no; you're just my brother and you're the youngest. So slow down.' He's like, 'Okay, you win.' "
That seems to be about the only way of putting the brakes on Castroneves, 28, who has snared back-to-back titles at the world's most famous auto race the past two years. On May 25 he guns for an unprecedented third consecutive Indy crown, already in the driver's seat after nailing the pole position May 11. (He averaged 231.725 mph.) "I'd say his chances are pretty good!" says pal and fellow driver Jeff Gordon. "Off the track Helio's this guy that bounces around, full of energy. On the racetrack, he's able to rein that in and have a very intense focus to get the most out of the racecar."
Castroneves credits his enviable track record (his career earnings already top $6 million) to a combination of hard work, luck, faith—and an almost mystical love of driving. "The car is part of your body, and that's pretty cool," says the ebullient bachelor, whose post-victory climbs into the grandstand to celebrate with fans have earned him the nickname Spider-Man.
Should Castroneves triumph again, he promises to throw his sister a lavish 30th-birthday bash in Brazil. Last year he bought her a Lexus and after his first Indy win a condo in the same Miami luxury complex where he lives. "Every year we bet something, and then he wins the race," says Katiuca. "So I guess it's working."