until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Canapino must back up his welcome change of tone

by Matt Beer
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Agustin Canapino’s absence from the Juncos Hollinger IndyCar team for last weekend’s Road America round was only billed as a temporary ‘leave of absence’ amid the escalating situation around the social media abuse and threats some of his fanbase had sent to McLaren’s Theo Pourchaire following their Detroit collision.

But it was telling that Juncos felt the need to announce on Wednesday that Canapino would definitely be back for the next round at Laguna Seca and would complete the full season from there, as The Race understands there had been growing questions over whether he would actually do so.

And Canapino’s return has come with a very clear change of tone too.

It was ludicrous enough that Pourchaire received such threats for a move that, while certainly clumsy, was relatively innocuous by IndyCar street race standards and probably not among the top five worst of a messy Detroit afternoon.

The joint statement from Juncos and McLaren condemning it would probably have been the end of the matter, had Canapino not then sounded off at what he perceived to be "outrageous" and unfounded accusation against his fanbase, adding that he hadn’t seen anything he would construe as a death threat.

It was that intervention that took the furore to the point where Canapino and the team made the last-minute decision for him to step out of the car for Road America for the sake of his own mental health - a call team principal David O’Neill told Racer was made when he saw how Canapino was coming across at the pre-event autograph session. By that time, McLaren had ended its partnership with Juncos and there were suggestions it could ultimately lead to a split between team owners Brad Hollinger and Ricardo Juncos too.

Canapino’s video statement confirming his return for Laguna took a very different stance to how he’d approached the abuse in the wake of Detroit.

“I will reiterate, as I clearly stated before, to all fans around the world, that we need to be aware of the damage that an insult or aggression on social media can cause, regardless of where it came from,” he said.

“I insist that we learn and work together to build a better community.”

And he expanded on his wider thought behind that in an interview with Racer, where Canapino argued that in the sporting culture in his native Argentina, abuse such as that Pourchaire received is more casually shrugged off by competitors as such a passionate outburst without real harmful intent.

Those cultural differences were discussed in a meeting between Canapino and the team on Monday, in which a breakthrough was made on both sides with colleagues getting a better understanding of why Canapino reacted as he had and Canapino acknowledging that he couldn’t carry on doing so now he was racing in America.

“We are in American racing, of course, but we have international drivers with different types of fans and different types of cultures,” Canapino told Racer.

“So the good lesson for me is the way to react and the way to understand the situation. We need to still work together, trying to avoid this situation again. I am here in America, and I have to improve my way to see the situations happen here. We need to stop and avoid the abuse and hate on social media.”

If he can stick to that and the section of his fanbase in question heeds the message, Canapino and Juncos have a chance to turn the focus back onto what actually should be a brilliant against-the-odds sporting story, rather than the unpleasant one it was becoming as the Pourchaire incident reaction and similar fanbase flashpoints around Canapino’s 2023 team-mate Callum Ilott soured and overshadowed what was actually happening on track.

It was making it too easy to forget that what Canapino has done in IndyCar is absolutely remarkable. For a driver in his 30s with a background entirely in Argentinian stock car racing to make such a respectable impression in such a competitive international single-seater series from the outset, with an underdog team, is outstanding.

And it wasn’t just Canapino’s driving being overshadowed by the off-track situation he’d allowed to develop. His new team-mate Romain Grosjean had a very strong race to seventh for Juncos at Road America, as a driver/team relationship that initially seemed on paper like it might be too combustible to work shows that it might pay off pretty well.

Canapino’s tone adjustment, efforts to get the situation back under control, and the fact he’s definitely going to complete the season are all welcome. Some form of apology for his role in inflaming the situation so far would have been too, but the most important thing here is to stop a repeat. It means the focus of his IndyCar story should now be able to go back to what he’s actually achieving in the car.

Given his pedigree, Canapino will want more from his IndyCar tenure than the results it has brought so far. His fanbase will want more, too, and clearly backs him to achieve that.

But any form of a sustained IndyCar future will come with more contact, more on-track acrimony and, given recent form in IndyCar, more off-track sniping.

That's part and parcel of life in a series as competitive as this. But it means next time anything flares up - and there will be a next time - it's up to Canapino and his fanbase to show lessons were indeed learned.

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