until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


‘Crazy impressive’: Great IndyCar 2023 story getting even better

by Jack Benyon
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Having a double IndyCar champion and freshly-crowned Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden call you “one of the most impressive drivers I’ve ever seen” is quite the compliment.

There’s no doubt Agustin Canapino has shocked the IndyCar world with his performances this season for Juncos Hollinger Racing.

Much of the surprise was born out of his opening test where he was some way adrift of the small number of drivers, which Ricardo Juncos later told The Race was mostly the team’s fault.

While it appeared to convince those on the outside that Canapino was in for a struggle, internally it convinced the team Canapino had the skill to excel in IndyCar.

Given he’d barely driven a single-seater before the start of this season, and was jumping into one of the most competitive elite open-wheel series in the world from tin-tops, it’s been a phenomenal start.

He’s only finished last in two race weekend sessions out of 33.

He has three top-15 finishes, and is currently ahead of Indy 500 winner and IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud in the points, as well as two of the three other rookies in the field – who have years of American and oval experience between them.

Agustin Canapino Indianapolis 500 Practice By Joe Skibinski Referenceimagewithoutwatermark M81964

Last weekend in Detroit he added a 14th place, his second-best street course result which also included his best road and street course performance.

“I think it’s been so impressive to see Canapino,” said Newgarden in the build-up to the Indy 500. Newgarden has first-hand experience of watching a driver switching from tin-tops to single-seaters with team-mate Scott McLaughlin making the switch at the end of 2020 and excelling thereafter.

“He’s been one of the most impressive people this year.

“I think most people sort of wrote him off in the very beginning and said he wasn’t going to be worth anything in an IndyCar, and he’s been the exact opposite.

“He’s never driven an open-wheel car before from what I understand up until this year [Canapino did have an F3 Sudamericana one-off a decade ago].

“One of the most impressive drivers I’ve ever seen.

“It’s very different to what he’s used to, he’s used to a touring car which I’m assuming has power steering, IndyCar has no power steering and a lot of downforce – which is different, the physical loading you’re susceptible to is probably twice what he’s used to in the past.

“Just being able to drive the car at a high level and also being able to physically also get used to it is a huge challenge. Someone like Canapino, I’m so impressed, crazy impressed.”

Even on the ovals where Canapino had a single test day and a single practice before qualifying at Texas, he showed his racing intelligence by taking 12th, mostly staying out of trouble and keeping his dizziness in check to equal his best finish of the year.

The 12th at St Pete may be his best road/street course result, but in some ways Detroit’s 14th was more impressive.

With much of the field wiped out at St Pete, here in Detroit Canapino qualified 20th and moved forward quickly, and his fastest laps were more representative of the drivers around him. Not that he didn’t bring skill to St Pete, but he was clearly helped by many retirements. Here in Detroit they didn’t affect him as much as it was mostly drivers behind him falling by the wayside.

Two questionable instances of blocking Colton Herta show Canapino has work to do on his racecraft, which will surely improve as he’s racing other top drivers on merit. That’s something you can’t afford – making questionable decisions on when you’re in the midfield in IndyCar.

Elsewhere his qualifying form might look like the one area that hasn’t been great, with only Rahal’s Jack Harvey and Coyne’s Sting Ray Robb behind him in terms of the full-time drivers when it comes to average starting position.

Agustin Canapino Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented By Lear By James Black Referenceimagewithoutwatermark M83725

But even this is better than it looks. Canapino’s team-mate Callum Ilott has also struggled this year and suggested pre-season the team would be better in the races.

On average Canapino starts only two spots lower per race than his team-mate, who had delivered a number of stunning qualifying performances last year when the car was better suited, including a front row start at Laguna Seca.

If you delve deeper, there are more areas to be impressed with.

This year The Race has taken each driver’s best in-lap and out-lap from each race, ranked them in order and worked out an average for the full-time drivers.

Canapino ranks 19th for in-laps – that means he’s better than eight other drivers, including established names, in the series here – and 23rd for out-laps, which is so hard in IndyCar because it’s done with cold tyres (no tyre blankets) and a full tank of fuel.

We’re not even halfway through the season but already Canapino’s season has to be deemed a success based off of his experience and in a team that expanded for this year and is only in its second full season of competition.

He’s proved yet again that if you’re a proper driver, you can make an impact in IndyCar regardless of your experience level.

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