If carrying the colors of the Argentinian flag wasn’t enough pressure for Indy 500 rookie Agustin Canapino, the white and baby blue livery on his No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevy also doubles as the colors of the country’s World Cup-winning squad led by Lionel Messi. Throw in the team’s origins — founded by Canapino’s countryman Ricardo Juncos — and this special car is steeped in Latin American patriotism.
“Anytime a car has a national soccer team on it, it’s really, really unique,” Canapino told RACER. “It’s really special and I think it’s the first time for Indianapolis. These guys are the world champions. I am really happy to be here, with these colors, with this livery. It’s a big motivation. But of course, it’s a big pressure.”
The IndyCar rookie, and oval racing rookie, was a revelation on Wednesday as he ran as high as 10th during opening Indy 500 practice. Coming off an Indy Open Test where car problems plagued his car and that of JHR teammate Callum Ilott, Canapino’s first proper day of running at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway took place on Wednesday and he dove straight into the most harrowing activity imaginable by running in fast packs of veterans.
Canapino flew through his Rookie Orientation Program in April, but had few opportunities to throw himself into the big swirling clusters of weaving and dive-bombing cars towing each other around the 2.5-mile oval. Harrowing on the best of days, the 33-year-old was unfazed by the 235mph insanity enveloping the No. 78 Chevy. He’d end the day in P22, faster than 12 other drivers, including Indy 500 winners Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves.
If anything, bearing the weight of an entire country’s sporting dreams at the Indy 500 has helped Canapino. Thinking about an entire nation following his every move would be crippling, so he’s put blinders on this week and will keep them affixed until he’s safely in the field.
“This is the most important topic for me — to try to avoid that,” he said. “I will try to keep my mind really focused and try to do my best without thinking about that. Because if I think that way, about the livery with the car, with the pressure of my country, I can’t drive, so I need to forget that. I will keep my mind on my job, do my best right now. This is the best plan for me.”