One of the ways Agustin Canapino hopes to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month is by receiving an offer to drive in his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. The Juncos Hollinger Racing driver believes he deserves it, and the performances he delivered in 2023 support his cause.
Canapino challenged for the Rookie of the Year Award all the way to the season’s final race, and there was a moment midway through the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sept. 10 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca when it seemed he might overhaul Marcus Armstrong for the first-year honor.
But as these competitive races often go, the script flipped, and Armstrong held on. From running solidly in second place on Lap 58, Canapino and his No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet dropped in the order in part because of late-race contact, finishing 14th as Armstrong avoided his own challenges to finish eighth.
At year’s end, Armstrong finished 34 points ahead of Canapino, but that doesn’t detract from the impressions the 33-year-old Argentine made in his first season as an open-wheel driver. Remember, he moved to the U.S. in January with limited English, and he had never been to an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, let alone driven such a car.
“Yes, I feel I did a good job, and we are still a new team,” Canapino said. “But of course, I always want more.”
Juncos Hollinger Racing co-owner Ricardo Juncos has said he is working to bring back Canapino to the Indianapolis-based team for the 2024 season, but the likelihood of that hinges on financial support, which could prove difficult to come by from Argentine backers amid a struggling national economy. According to news reports, the country’s annual inflation rate skyrocketed in August, hitting its highest number since 1991.
Canapino is hoping that an economic rebound at home could lead to more driving here.
“Everyone (in Argentina) is really happy for me and what we’ve done here (in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES), but what happens (with sponsorship) is not up to me,” he said.
There were legitimate questions about Canapino’s ability to adapt, much less thrive, in this series given his lack of time in single-seaters, but the 15-time Argentine touring car champion has been the surprising story of the recently completed season. In the opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a race held on a demanding street circuit, Canapino posted an impressive 12th-place finish. In the second race, he held his own on the high-speed Texas Motor Speedway oval, again finishing 12th despite having no oval-track racing experience.
The highlights kept coming for Canapino: Three laps led in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, a solid 26th-place starting position in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and a 14th-place finish in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear’s return to Detroit’s downtown district, where learning a new street circuit was difficult for everyone not named Alex Palou.
Overshadowed by those efforts was Canapino’s drive in the Honda Indy Toronto. He finished 12th in what most drivers considered the most challenging race of the season. And then he was ultra-competitive at Laguna Seca, where he was trailing only Palou when he made his final pit stop.
“I did a couple of mistakes this year – at Iowa (Speedway) and Portland – and lost some points, but it was a pretty good season,” Canapino said. “I’m very happy with how the season went, but as I said, I always want more.”
The “more” he wants now is another season in North America’s top open-wheel series, and he believes he has earned it. His performances support that.