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IndyCar Laguna Seca

How Canapino should deal with the anti-social side of media

OPINION: IndyCar racer Agustin Canapino is back this weekend at Laguna Seca after he was benched for mental health reasons, but how should he handle his social media now?

Agustín Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

The good thing about social media is that it gives a voice to many that have gone previously unheard; the bad thing about social media is that it gives a voice to many that have gone unheard for good reason…

Following one of many collisions at the shambles known as IndyCar’s recent Detroit Grand Prix, Arrow McLaren’s Theo Pourchaire revealed that he’d received online abuse, including death threats, for his clash with Agustin Canapino.

“I’m sad I received so much hate and death threats in the last 24 hours for such a small incident in the Detroit GP," wrote the Frenchman, who was penalised for avoidable contact, on his social channels. “I hope people can understand that we are all humans and we can make mistakes. But it’s not normal to abuse people online.”

This followed a pattern of incidents previously towards Canapino’s then team-mate at Juncos Hollinger Racing, Callum Ilott, after they made contact at Long Beach and Laguna Seca. But what happened next was a counterclaim that kicked off a cluster-loop of epic proportions.

It led to Canapino being pulled from his IndyCar ride just 30 minutes before opening practice at Road America, with rookie Nolan Siegel parachuted into his seat – having been radioed-in to pit and bail from his Indy NXT session!

The cluster-loop evolved thus: Both JHR and Arrow McLaren, which had a strategic alliance to help bolster their fortunes against the powerhouses of Penske, Ganassi and Andretti, put out a statement about the “stark reminder about the necessity for respect and civility in our online interactions”.

But this fire-dampening action was negated by Canapino’s own social media account ‘liking’ a post on X by Martin Ponte, an Argentinian racing driver and commentator on IndyCar races in Latin America, which reposted the words “Callum Pourchaire” to Pourchaire’s statement.

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: Geoffrey M. Miller / Motorsport Images

Then Canapino poured a can of petrol on it by releasing his own statement, which rejected the claims made against his Argentine fanbase. It read: “Of course, I am against abuse and hate. Those who engage in such behavior are certainly not part of our community and are not welcome here.

“Also, we Argentines are passionate and euphoric, but that doesn’t mean we should be accused of something we are not. Therefore, I strongly reject being generalized and placed in a category we don’t deserve.

“I have not seen a single death threat directed at those who claim to have received them. From last year to today, no one in their right mind would do such a thing. It’s outrageous to be accused of this so lightly, and I won’t allow it anymore.”

He later added: “I constantly receive abuse and hate, and I have learned to live with it as many people do, choosing to ignore it. There’s nothing sadder and more miserable than hiding behind social media to insult others.”

I’m aware that English isn’t Canapino’s first language, but it’s flawed logic to say that something couldn’t have happened if he didn’t see it. And to then double down on that by saying Pourchaire should swallow it because he ‘constantly receives abuse too’ is nonsensical.

The spiral led to Arrow McLaren terminating its agreement with JHR, before Canapino was sensibly benched for the round that followed. I’m told this is because he was clearly distracted by what was happening on his social media channels and he could barely tear himself away from his cellphone.

This temporary leave of absence was an excellent decision, giving time and space for him to gather his thoughts. I was genuinely concerned about his future until I read team co-owner Brad Hollinger tell Motorsport.com what Canapino did next…

Hollinger revealed: “[Canapino] 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 should Canapino do next?

To action his pledge that “the team and company has to come first”, my advice to Canapino is to stop reading the comments, delete the social apps from his phone and concentrate on what he’s best at, which is driving an IndyCar.

He’s generated a ton of respect in the paddock, and his hard-nosed, physical racing style is really suited to this series – just as Scott McLaughlin proved with his similar switch from touring cars. He’s improving his performances all the time, too.

I get that his followers are passionate, but there’s no excuse for a lunatic fringe to your support – they need to be identified and barred from the discourse if they can’t behave. But it’s not up to him; Canapino needs a media professional or trusted confidante handling this side, to put a harder barrier in place while keeping the line of communication open to his true fans.

In this whole scenario, I most felt sorry for team owner Ricardo Juncos, who is genuinely living his American dream with this team; running Canapino is the peak of a plan that started with just $400 in his pocket 20 years ago. It should be a symbol of Argentine pride, not shame due to a few online idiots.

And let’s not make this about race or patriotism; every nation has its imbeciles – and the sane majority must help here by calling anyone out who crosses the line.

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, podium

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, podium

Photo by: Josh Tons / Motorsport Images

Conclusion

Something that put this starkly in perspective at the most-recent Road America race was winner Will Power’s post-race comments about his wife Liz’s battle with serious illness, after they celebrated in tears together, along with their son Beau, in Victory Lane.

Power revealed that he seriously considered stepping down from his driving duties after she underwent emergency spinal surgery following a serious infection: “In the off-season, when my wife is sitting in hospital, we're just wondering what's going to happen here. She almost died. You start thinking, ‘Yeah, I'm going to have to stop now, take care of my son.’

“The doctor said this can come back at any time. Should I be racing? That was the thing that was planted in my mind last year. You certainly don't perform at your highest level because you don't want your son to have no parents.

“Yeah, tough wrestling with that. Ultimately, if she wasn't getting better, I would stop. I would have to stop for my son. Simple as that.”

More love, less hate. As Will says, it’s as simple as that.

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