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Special feature

Canapino returns to IndyCar ride with JHR, and what comes next

Agustin Canapino will return to his IndyCar Series drive with Juncos Hollinger Racing at the next round at Laguna Seca and for the remainder of the 2024 season.

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, Santino Ferrucci, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, Marcus Ericsson, Andretti Global Honda, Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, Christian Rasmussen, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Romain Grosjean, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Start

The decision comes after the 34-year-old Argentine driver sat out last weekend’s race at Road America, with mental health cited following a controversial week.

A collision earlier this month in the Detroit Grand Prix between Canapino and Arrow McLaren rookie Theo Pourchaire sparked vile remarks on social media aimed at the 20-year-old Frenchman. The situation escalated further when Canapino ‘liked’ several controversial posts on social media and made a statement rejecting claims that his supporters threatened rivals.

It led to the termination of Arrow McLaren and JHR's strategic alliance last Thursday, which originally formed last October. Additionally, Canapino took a leave of absence and the team leaned on Indy NXT regular Nolan Siegel to substitute at the 4.014-mile, 14-turn road course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

In confirming the news, team founder Ricardo Juncos said: “We are a team with shared goals and objectives, and will always focus on prioritizing and supporting what our drivers need. From now on, our focus is on Laguna Seca and the rest of the 2024 season.”

Canapino made the following video statement on X:

 

In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com, the co-owner of Juncos Hollinger Racing, Brad Hollinger, details what led to Agustin Canapino taking a leave of absence for Road America, and what happens now he’s been confirmed for the remainder of the season...

Can you give us your perspective of the scenario that played out with Agustin from the start?

Brad Hollinger: “It was an unfortunate racing incident. Happens all the time, as we know in IndyCar. This year has been no different than others, although maybe people are a little bit more aggressive overall than historically. But there's fierce competition. These guys are all great race drivers and accidents happen, and that's life.

“Unfortunately, there were things in social media that fanned the flames and that's unfortunate. There is no place for that in not only motorsports, but all of sports. But it occurs from time to time. Agustin, clearly, it became very emotional for him. He felt like he had become the villain, and that's unfortunate.

“Some things were put on social media that certainly I think having to do it over again might not have been the best way to go. Leading into practice on Friday, we felt that Agustin was not in a position from an emotional perspective to get behind the wheel of the race car; that it would be helpful just to let the dust significantly settle, allow him to synthesize through the events of the past week and get clear on the direction from this point on.

“Our driver safety is utmost important to us and myself, and certainly the safety of other drivers as well. I think we made the right decision in that regard. Allowed him to cool down in many ways. That was the decision we made, and I stick by that decision. It was the right thing for him as a human being and not just a race car driver.”

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Obviously, you being the co-owner of the team, you are in constant communication with Ricardo (Juncos, co-owner) and David (O’Neill, team principal). At what point did you feel a need to really step in on the decision-making process with Canapino? Although, as I understand it, this was a unified decision, there is a perception there as your quote was the only one in the press release…

BH: “I see. Well, we had, obviously, as you would expect, significant conversations over the last week last, and it culminated in Thursday evening having probably an hour-plus long conversation with Mark (Myers, Chief Marketing Officer), David, Ricardo. And we were very much on the fence at that point in time and very concerned about where Agustin's head was with respect to going into the weekend.

“Felt that Friday and once at the race site and leading into the practice, we would make a final decision. That's exactly how it unfolded. Based upon where we thought his head was Friday morning and early afternoon before practice time made that decision, we collectively agreed and decided this is what had to happen.”

What has changed from then to now with Agustin for you to feel comfortable that he’s got everything together to return to the grid?

BH: “I think that evolved over the weekend. He took a giant step back, did a lot of self-introspective reflection, and had further conversations with David, Ricardo, myself. It was quite evident that he had cleared his head. He was thinking very clearly and very rationally and not emotionally. That makes a huge difference.

“It's like writing a letter that you shouldn't send until the next day, if at all. There was a dramatic difference in his affect in every way. He said, 'Look, I want to race for this team. I love the team and I can make a significant contribution from now until the end of the season. I fully understand that we are a team, we are a company, and the team and the company has to come first. I want to be part of that team.'

“That was music to my ears and made me feel really comfortable that his head is very much in the right direction.”

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

What are the protocols or steps JHR aims to put in place moving forward?

BH: “We reiterated what is pretty much standard fare, whether it's in racing or healthcare or manufacturing or whatever industry or business line you're in, which is, there are very specific policies, procedures, protocols in any enterprise that helps keep it disciplined and in the right direction. And there is a chain of command, right? Really good executives, really good senior management and owners listen to a variety of people providing input. But at the end of the day, the decision and the buck stops at the ultimate individual or individuals.

“Everybody needs to understand and respect that. That's what we've done and that's what we'll continue to do. We need to protect the organization and the enterprise. We have a great team. We've made significant progress. That's how we address the issue and feel really confident and comfortable that going forward, that this won't happen again.

“There will be race incidents. Race incidents that we may cause. Race incidents from other drivers. It is fiercely competitive, which makes it wonderful. And so those accidents are bound to happen and it's all in the way that it's handled from that point on.”

But any safeguards from it being a continuation or happening again?

BH: “We've reiterated and strengthened our public relations policy, which is for every race there are one or two people that can speak to the press. And everything needs to flow through, literally everything, that has to do with you and your fellow journalists and staff writers is you go through Mark Myers, who is the consummate professional and he can set up interviews, he can set up the times and ensure that we're all speaking from the same microphone and have the same message going into every race.

“I think that's a significant guardrail for us, and one that I believe we will do a really good job going forward ensuring that everybody on the team, from mechanics all the way up to the drivers, fully understands this is how it has to be to ensure that we are functioning as a professional team and not allowing ourselves to get off the path.”

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Art Fleischmann

I guess the flipside to that is some of the incidents that involved Canapino on social media between liking posts or a statement that may have not been approved by the team, how does that work from JHR’s perspective moving forward because that goes past the journalist point?

BH: “I think it's very straightforward, which is drivers and other staff members from mechanics all the way up through top engineers and senior management, this is the messaging we have for this weekend. If there is a racing incident, the appropriate person or persons – Mark, probably Ricardo or myself – will prepare, we make a quick statement and that's that.

“If, in fact, we're comfortable with a driver, whether it is Agustin or Romain or another driver, we would give them, 'This is the message, and we want you to stay on script'. Period. There's just no let for that. And as you know, in the absence of that, then things happen that I think we all regret and that's not appropriate.”

I think one of the more beautiful things about our sport is also in some ways kind of the curse; IndyCar is the most diverse series on the face of the planet with so many drivers representing numerous countries. In turn, there are cultural clashes with that. How does Agustin and JHR educate the fans on the cultural and social differences and strengthen the ties between fan bases?

BH: “Well, I think you hit the nail on the head, which is I think it's a wonderfully diverse group of individuals in the sport in IndyCar. Multinational across the globe, really. And I think that's strength. It's strength in the cultural differentiations and it strength in creativity because different people are educated in different ways. That strengthens an organization and strengthens IndyCar, for sure.

“But it's important that at the end of the day, we all recognize, every person in IndyCar recognizes that it is an American league, and it is an American team. We all are at the end of the day American teams. While we're American teams, we have very diverse staffs, very diverse people from around the world. That, to me, is a really good thing. That diversity adds strength, creativity, and I think new and different ideas and thoughts.

“To your question about education, it starts within, and it starts from the very top where we say, 'Listen, we have different personalities here. People see things slightly different. Our paradigms are all different,' even in the United States as you know, Joey, from the north to the south, from the east to the west, and so on and so forth. And so, it's important for us to embrace our differences and realize, 'Hey, there's strength in that.

“If we're all the same and think the same, nothing new and different happens. That's really incumbent upon us, the senior executives of a team or of a company to convey that philosophy in that message and embrace the difference in cultures. Obviously, food is wildly different, by example. That's something that everybody can see, but our thought processes are different as well and that's a good thing. We just need to understand that people can see the exact same thing and interpret it very differently.”

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet pit stop competition

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet pit stop competition

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

Is there a plan to activate with a charity or foundation that represents mental health, online abuse or something like that in the future?

BH: “That's something we will definitely do, yes. I'm in the hospital business. We do many things on the rehabilitative side. I'm talking about physical rehabilitation, brain injury, spinal cord injuries, so on and so forth. And so it's something that we are quite familiar with and mental health is a big component, a very big component. I think it would only be appropriate for us to participate in that endeavor from a charitable perspective.”

Regarding Nolan Siegel, who came in to substitute for Canapino last weekend and in doing so also withdrew from the Indy NXT round despite being in the thick of a championship fight sitting third in the overall standings. In what ways does he come into the mix moving forward, if at all? How do you make it up to him for essentially abandoning his championship?

BH: “He's a delightful young man and has, we all believe, extreme talent and quite a bright future. What he was willing to do at the 11th hour was really pretty amazing because he clearly made a decision that impacted him in the moment from the championship a bit negatively but hopefully, he saw it as a huge positive. He got to see our team in practice and our team in a race situation and hopefully, that experience was excellent for him.

“We would really like to continue to foster his career. That's yet to be determined in terms of exactly how we may work together, but I would love to see us accomplish exactly that. And the best way we could reward him is to see that his future is catapulted as a result of this because it demonstrates his character, which is obviously outstanding, but it also indicates to us that he's an exceptional driver with lots of talent as a very young guy.

“His future is great, and we'd like to see how he could fit in the mix for JHR, for sure.”

Any final points you care to touch on that we may have not have covered?

BH: “There was one element that I think we just want to make clear is that we absolutely embrace and respect all of the people of Argentina. There was some concerned that, 'Well, was this an economic decision?' And the answer is no.

“From an economic perspective, all of our 2024 sponsors are US sponsors. We don't have an economic tie at this moment, with respect to Argentina. And that's fine, that's 100 percent fine. We have really good relationships with several former sponsors of Argentina, including the Argentine government.

“But in terms of 2024, I think it's important that people understand this was not an economic decision in any way because there's not that issue.”

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