Matteo Nannini erupted out of the cockpit with pure jubilation after winning the INDY NXT by Firestone round at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Saturday, May 13.
While race results will show the 19-year-old Italian started on pole and led every lap en route to his maiden victory in the development category for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, it wasn’t easy. Far from it.
The driver of the No. 75 Juncos Hollinger Racing (JHR) machine was stalked and then hounded by Andretti Autosport’s Louis Foster throughout the last half of the 35-lap contest before winning by .3909 of a second. The outcome was even more impressive considering Nannini was forced to defend throughout the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course without push-to-pass, while Foster had some of the boost remaining through to the final lap.
“We had no idea we had no more push-to-pass because the idea was to start using it evenly so we can finish every lap with a push-to-pass,” team co-owner Ricardo Juncos said. “But unfortunately, I found out with a lap to go that we had zero push-to-pass. It was a shocking moment because that was exactly what you don't want to be the case, so now he needed to defend himself against Foster when he has all the push-to-pass, and he did a great job, to be honest.
“He put everything right, perfect line, perfect braking points. I mean, he shows that he knows what he's doing, and it makes me feel good because we have a good combination. We believe in him. We trust in him.”
That faith is evident after the rookie was left with a pair of 15th-place results to start the season. Nannini’s race ended after just 13 laps in the second race of the season, April 30 at Barber Motorsports, after contact with Jacob Abel. That incident left Abel publicly questioning Nannini’s racecraft.
The learning curve has been nothing short of challenging for Nannini, who previously raced in junior formula categories throughout Europe, winning races in both FIA Formula 3 and FIA Formula 4 UAE, where he won the 2019 title, before moving to North America to compete in the development championship for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Through it all, Nannini has remained steadfast and positive with his approach, gaining experience with every lap turned in every test and every session on a race weekend.
“Yeah, I think racing here is quite different because it's a lot physical, as well,” Nannini said. “You can be very fast, but if you get tired very easily, then of course you don't get to the end of the race. That's a part I had to improve compared to Europe and increase my training at the gym, for example, to make sure I could last through the end of the race. And we had the speed in St. Petersburg, not really in Barber, but the result didn't come for many circumstances; that can happen. Racing is very unpredictable, so we just needed everything to go smooth according to plan, and everything worked well.”
After the chaos that surrounded his early results, Nannini felt obligated to set things right at IMS during the GMR Grand Prix weekend.
“Yeah, I wanted to give a boost to my team, as well, because my mechanics, my engineer, all the crew, they were doing a lot of effort, and ending races that way for any reason, it's never good,” Nannini said. “So, we did a lot of work at the racetrack behind the scenes in the team. Everything worked out.”
The victory at the Brickyard – which vaulted Nannini to fourth in the standings – also was especially needed after JHR lost fellow rookie Reece Gold, who left to join HMD Motorsports before the event. Meanwhile, JHR brought in Rasmus Lindh, who coincidentally started the season with HMD Motorsports, to team with Nannini for the weekend. Lindh’s status for the rest of the season remains uncertain.
“It's exactly what we needed,” Juncos said. “We always felt that we were really good. We know what we're doing. It is not always perfect, but it's OK. It's fine. And we are building the team. I think with the INDYCAR (team) now going the way we are doing with the two-car team and all that, I think it's very important for INDY NXT also to start shining the way we normally do it. To build the foundation of a very good team in the future and be the springboard system for our team, as well. So, that idea we have with Juncos Hollinger is working really good.”
Lastly, Juncos reiterated what Nannini has meant to the team through the challenging moments.
“He always believes in the team and makes us feel that way,” Juncos said. “And now we as a team, we win together. We lose together, and we win together. That's exactly what you want to see. You want to see people believe in each other, and you can fly very high if you have that.”