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Edition

Australia
Interview

Q+A with Canapino, touring car ace turned IndyCar rookie

This week four-time Turismo Carretera champion and two-time TC2000 champion Agustin Canapino will make his IndyCar race debut, as Juncos Hollinger Racing expands to two cars to pair him with series sophomore Callum Ilott. Federico Faturos caught up with the excited rookie.

Agustín Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet

Photo by: IndyCar Series

The touring car legend has no open-wheel experience and is already 33, so faces a daunting task to get up to speed after just four days of testing. Yet he was impressive at preseason testing at Thermal Club in California. Despite it being a 100sec lap of just over three miles, Canapino was 0.78sec off Ilott on Day 1, 0.86sec behind on Day 2, and both days he finished in 21stst out of 27 entries.

Yet he modestly – realistically – admits there are huge barriers for him to still overcome.

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing-Chevrolet

Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing-Chevrolet

Photo by: IndyCar Series

FF: Do you arrive in St. Petersburg where you wanted to be in terms of preparation?

AC: Most IndyCar drivers say there is never enough training, so imagine for me. It's IndyCar, it's the most physically demanding series in the world. From December to now it's been two months since I've been fully involved in training and I've totally changed. I train every day, and at the same time I'm really far away because the other day I went in [to the gym, Pit Fit], (Scott) Dixon was there and he was so much better than me that made me look as small as a dwarf! That's when I realized how far away I am.

But at the same time I look at myself from two months ago and I'm doing much better. It's a whole process that I'm going through and that I'm going to go through. But well, I don't know yet because I didn't run any races either. My goal is to do the 100 laps in St. Petersburg, no matter the position, the time or anything else.

To finish the race for me is to win and that will be difficult, so I don't know. I think that only after St. Pete I will have a more concrete notion of how far or close I am both in times and physically.

What are you most worried about going into the first round of the championship?

Actually it's everything because everything is new. Although I have raced on street circuits, I have raced on permanent circuits, I have never raced in an IndyCar, so everything is new. I'm experiencing sensations and situations like when I started racing. It's something unexpected and unusual for me.

I'm 33 years old, I'm not a kid, I'm in the second half of my career rather than the first, so it's very crazy for me. And I love it, because although it's a totally different world, unknown, it's the most difficult world there can be because IndyCar… is the most difficult series for a driver, but at the same time I love it because that's what I am here for, that's what I am a driver for.

That's how I like to take everything in my life and that's why I also accepted this challenge presented to me by Ricardo [Juncos], and if it wasn't for him none of this would be possible. He is the architect of all this.

Canapino with team founder and co-owner Ricardo Juncos.

Canapino with team founder and co-owner Ricardo Juncos.

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Despite the unknowns, you seem very happy and enjoying it.

Of course! For me this is like reaching the sky with my hands. I never had the chance to race outside my country. To get it and at this stage of my life and in IndyCar is crazy. I never imagined it.

Everything has always been very difficult for me. What I did I did from nothing, I never raced karting, I started when I was a big boy already, I was lucky enough to succeed in my country, to win championships and to make a living from motorsport and now I have this chance in IndyCar. So I'm happy because I looked at myself 15 years ago and I had no chance to race, not even on the bike on the corner of my house. Imagine coming to IndyCar. And after losing my dad two years ago [Alberto Canapino was a successful racecar constructor in Argentina who died of COVID-19], it's a lot of things together and to be at this level and at least participate or try to compete is a lot for me.

That's why no matter how it goes, no matter if it goes very well, well, more or less or badly, I win anyway, because for me this is an adventure, it's a challenge that I don't know how it will end. But however long it lasts, whether it lasts two races, two years or six months – I have no idea – but however long it lasts for me is a lot.

I spoke to Callum Ilott recently and he was very complimentary about you. How much does that say about you as a driver and also about Argentinean motorsport?

Yes, I saw the interview and I thank Callum very much for his words because obviously [the test at Thermal] went a lot better than I imagined, than everyone imagined. And it was nice, honestly it was nice, because I was able to collaborate with the team, I was able to be in reasonable times, logical times, I was even able to be in the middle of the pack at times and in cumulative times I was pretty good.

 

Photo by: IndyCar Series

I didn't expect it because it was my first time with the whole field and on a circuit like Thermal, which was crazy, very fast, long, with long turns. It was the first time I had to go through corners with high downforce, with 4G forces. I had never felt that in my life! So it was something challenging, it was something nice and it means that we started better than we expected and that's good.

Although the expectations are the same, I don't expect to be more than last or second to last in the first races, I'm not going to lie to you. To be at least close to the middle group would be ideal. To not be so far behind is what I'm aiming for.

On the physical side, how is your neck coping with the lateral G-force and also when braking?

My body doesn't understand anything and my neck even less! It's a whole new world. My eyes, my legs... because no matter how much I kill myself in the gym and do an "ironman", this is like a marathon runner. You can have a marathon runner who does a record 42 kilometres and you put him in a soccer match in Argentina and he will die on the first day. Then with time he will get used to it and he will be very good, but the first few times are always complicated because the muscles have to learn the new demands.

That's the process I'm in. After the first day of Thermal I was like RoboCop, I couldn't move. As the races go by and my body feels all that, it will get used to it. I know that's how it's going to be, and in the process I have to try to prepare myself as well as possible. I have to train as much as I can and be as physically fit as possible so that the adaptation and the new experiences are as painless as possible, so to speak.

As for the handling of the car, can you already set it up to your liking?

No, I'm far from that. I'm far from the limits. I was able to help the team by testing some technical things, which was important for me. I was able to do some corners quite well and I was even able to work with Callum, which was nice for me because I didn't expect it for the first time.

But I still don't have confidence in the car, I don't have confidence in the brakes, let alone the aerodynamics. The car sticks to the ground in a way and has a corner speed that I'm still far from knowing the limits of. The tires are completely different. Here you have to warm up the tires, find the right point and when they are cold the car is undriveable.

In Argentina with touring cars that doesn't happen. The problem is not to overheat them, but they are never cold and you don't have to do all that process. They are much harder, they last much longer.

Look, I could go on for hours telling you about things I'm experiencing and learning. I'm a long way from feeling comfortable, from being at the limit with the car. It's a process that will take me a long time. It's not going to be a test or a race. It takes months to start to get close and it takes years to get to the level of the top drivers here.

Were you surprised by the difference in grip between changing from old to new tires, once they are up to temperature?

It's a big change. Here the tires are much softer than I am used to, so the peak performance of the tire is much higher and the degradation is much higher. One thing I'm struggling with and I'm learning is how to get it up to temperature, how to deal with that which is totally new to me and typical of open-wheel cars.

Those two things I'm learning are very different: the rubber peak and the degradation and the temperature. How to combine it with the grip peak and at the same time how not to overheat it. You have a lot of different factors and different processes that are in touring cars also, but I know them very well and I have practiced them a lot of times. Here I am just starting to know them and it will take me some time to start to understand them and then some more time to start to optimize them.

In all the preparation, how much time per day do you dedicate to studying English? How important do you think it is? It's a big sacrifice.

For me all this is a big sacrifice. I was very comfortable in my country speaking in Spanish, racing in my series, with my people, with my fans, with my family and friends. And suddenly it's starting from scratch on a professional level, on a personal level, in another country and with a language that I had never spoken, never practiced or studied.

It's a huge sacrifice; I'm not telling you to complain, but to make you understand what it means to me and I'm happy to face it! So yes, English is another subject I am learning. I did a short course before coming here and I started watching series, movies, I downloaded an app. And I started to speak and make myself understood and I understand a lot. I'm much better now compared to the day I arrived. It's impressive what you learn and with practice I'll get better and better.

Canapino with fellow rookies Benjamin Pedersen (A. J. Foyt Racing), Sting Ray Robb (Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing) and Marcus Armstrong of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Canapino with fellow rookies Benjamin Pedersen (A. J. Foyt Racing), Sting Ray Robb (Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing) and Marcus Armstrong of Chip Ganassi Racing.

Photo by: IndyCar Series

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