Indy 500: Helio Castroneves survives aerial flip in practice

    Veteran Brazilian driver Helio Castroneves races for Team Penske in the U.S. IndyCar Series.

    (CNN)Helio Castroneves can laugh it off now, but the three-time Indy 500 champion feared the worse when his race car lifted off the track at top speed and performed a spectacular aerial somersault.

    The Brazilian driver was taking part in Wednesday's practice runs at Indianapolis' famed Brickyard circuit when he made a minor misjudgment which -- at 230 mph (370 kph) -- had major consequences.
    "I just brushed the wall and unfortunately the car just took off," the 40-year-old told CNN.
      Castroneves, a 14-year veteran of the IndyCar Series, had been involved in similar incidents before -- but he quickly discovered this was on a different scale.
      "I was not planning on getting my pilot's license, it was something completely out of the ordinary," he said.
      "I remember seeing the sky and I closed my eyes."
      Fearing what he called "the big shunt," Castroneves braced himself for the impact, but amazingly his Team Penske car landed on its four wheels for a smooth landing.
      "The team asked if if I was okay and I responded in the affirmative," he said, though he was taken to the infield medical center for further checks.
      "It's very unusual to have a crash at that speed and come out of it without a scratch," he revealed. "I also can't believe I'm not sore from the impact."
      The on-board video footage has quickly gone viral on social media, and many wondered why Castroneves is seen taking his hands off the steering wheel as the car went end over end.
      "In those circumstances it's instinct. Experience plays a big factor, there's no reason to have your hands on the steering wheel," he explained.
      "You are out of control and you might as well protect your arms and yourself."
      Castroneves has been cleared to take part in this weekend's qualifying runs for the the 99th staging of the Indy 500 race on May 24, when he will bid to add to his victories in 2001, 2002 and 2009.
      His team is still examining the data to find the exact cause of the crash, but Castroneves said it had been pushing the limits with new aerodynamic features.
      Team owner Roger Penske told the Indianapolis Star: "We think the wicker that's on the front of the car pinned it down as it was sliding. When the rear end got a little air under it ... it caught the air and then went up."
      For now, Castroneves is just relieved to be in one piece and ready to race at the circuit which has been the scene of his greatest triumphs.
      "My mum's prayers are paying off and I thank the Lord, " he said.
      It was the first of two such flips this week -- on Thursday American driver Josef Newgarden also went airborne in his CFH Racing car, and escaped with just minor bruising despite landing upside down.