JHR names Canapino for full 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series season, details and how silly season looks now

INDIANAPOLIS — And then there was 1…On Thursday morning, Juncos Hollinger Racing confirmed the months long awaited speculation that Agustin Canapino would take over the second seat for the team. Both Canapino, as well as Ricardo Juncos, hail from Argentina. It’s why Canapino was tapped as the driver of the NTT INDYCAR Series demo appearances in their native land. It’s why Thursday’s announcement came on Argentina time…

Canapino will be the first driver from Argentina to contest a full season in America’s premier open-wheel series since Juan Manuel Fangio II drove in INDYCAR 25 years ago.

Canapino is one of Argentina’s most successful drivers and steps up to INDYCAR after claiming 15 national championships in his homeland – winning multiple titles in the Super TC2000, Top Race V6 and Turismo Carretera categories.

He has previous experience as a JHR driver, having raced for the Indianapolis-based team in 2019 when he formed part of its Cadillac DPi entry at the Daytona 24h and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Canapino got his first taste of the current generation INDYCAR when he successfully completed a private test with JHR at Sebring International Raceway in October.

Speaking about his NTT INDYCAR SERIES move, Canapino is relishing the challenge that lies ahead and is looking forward to continuing his racing career with Chevrolet power – a brand he’s had a successful association with for many years.

He said: “For me, this is a great opportunity, so I am very grateful to Ricardo Juncos, Brad Hollinger, and all the sponsors that are making this possible. I’m going to do my best in every moment to get the best possible results.”

“I’m going in with my mind set on learning and going step-by-step, but I’m also focused on evolving throughout the season. The goal is to finish the races, get to know the car, and the circuits – especially the ovals.” “INDYCAR is the most competitive and difficult category in the world, and the cars are the most demanding and require the maximum effort and preparation on my part. I am happy to take on this challenge and I’m motivated to perform well and repay those that have trusted me with this opportunity.”

Ricardo Juncos, JHR founder and Team Principal, is delighted to confirm a two-car NTT INDYCAR SERIES entry in 2023 and believes Canapino’s race-winning pedigree will be a huge asset as he bids to write a new chapter in his career during the upcoming season.

“To be able to communicate this news today is incredible for me and my team. It has been more than 20 years since I came to North American motorsports. It has been a long road of uninterrupted hard work in which I have been fulfilling different dreams, and to see this particular one becoming a reality is truly incredible,” he explained.

“After a complete analysis of each of the driver options we had to drive our No. 78 car, we have made the decision that Agustín Canapino is the right choice. Both Brad [Hollinger] and I have full confidence in his ability.” “With a very successful racing career in Argentina behind him, he exceeded all expectations when he trained at Sebring, and he’s confirmed that talent with what we’ve seen in his driving since.”

Fellow team owner Brad Hollinger is excited to see what JHR’s new INDYCAR driver pairing of Canapino and Ilott can achieve, with the former taking his place on the grid as a determined rookie, and the latter having shown great promise during his first full season of competition on US soil during 2022.

“Callum demonstrated significant potential during his inaugural 2022 campaign as he surprised the field with his strong pace while learning every track. Partnering Agustínwith Callum gives Juncos Hollinger Racing an extremely talented and proven driver lineup,” he said.

“Agustin brings an unparalleled level of success in multiple race series to the team. His ability to adapt is exceptional and the significant experience he has accumulated winning multiple championships will complement Callum and the team nicely.”

“We look forward to competing at the tip of the arrow this year with the goal of multiple podiums.”  JHR’s decision to give Canapino his INDYCAR chance comes after he and the team partnered to turn a series of exhibition laps and promote INDYCAR in Argentina at the end of last year. 

The team and Canapino appeared at the Autódromo de Buenos Aires and the International Circuit of Termas de Rio Hondo during their ‘INDYCAR Exhibition’. Their presence marked the first time an INDYCAR had been run in Argentina for 51 years and 75,000 fans (60,000 in Buenos Aires and 15,000 in Rio Hondo) packed the tribunes to witness the historical moment.

Ricardo Juncos believes the team’s appearance has reignited his homeland’s passion for INDYCAR competition and his ambition is to see the series return there in the near future. Argentina’s last INDYCAR race was held at the Autodromo Ciudad de Rafaela in 1971, with Al Unser winning from Lloyd Ruby.

Having brought Argentina and INDYCAR closer together in recent months, Ricardo Juncos is also pleased to confirm a new collaboration between JHR and ‘Visit Argentina’ to promote the country to motorsports fans in North America during 2023.

He said: “I want to thank the main collaboration of INPROTUR [National Bureau of Tourism Promotion] which is the entity that promotes Argentina throughout the world and who, from the very first moment, believed in this project.” “Representing my country permanently and promoting tourism in Argentina throughout the INDYCAR series, including at the famous Indy 500, fills me with pride and is another dream come true.”

Ricardo Sosa, Executive Secretary of INPROTUR said: “The presence of an Argentine driver again in INDYCAR represents a historical fact for the Argentine Republic. The work being done by the team led by another Argentinean in Ricardo Juncos should also be highlighted.

“The arrival of a car in this category to showcase our country and to be the main collaborators and make it possible for Argentina to continue growing with its international positioning, this time in the field of sports tourism, represents a fantastic opportunity.”

“It is a historic moment for the country, a big step forward in motorsports and we should all feel proud to be part of this unique story while Argentina continues to show the incredible pool of drivers it has.” “Argentina is once again present in the INDYCAR series, and especially in the US market which is our main source of tourists from non-bordering countries. We are convinced this is the way forward, working together and positioning the sport with Argentina.”

The No. 51 ride that Takuma Sato raced last year is still open and the last believed full-time ride available. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

That leaves just one full-time seat for the taking for the upcoming season. That ride is with the joint Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing entry. I’ve heard Sting Ray Robb is the main target to land in the No. 51 Dallara-Honda which in turn means Takuma Sato won’t be full-time for this upcoming season.

However, I’ve been speculating that all offseason and as recently as last month, I’ve have heard Sato’s name was the top target to share the No. 11 Dallara-Honda with Marcus Armstrong within the Chip Ganassi Racing camp. Armstrong on all road/street courses and Sato on the ovals which includes the Indianapolis 500.

I mean it is a perfect match in a sense that Sato has already won two Indy 500’s with two different teams and the Japanese driver comes with a full engine lease from the Japanese manufacturer. This in turn helps fill the gap for the 11 ride and can help push some sponsorship towards the 8 and 10 seats as well and giving them a full budget for all parties.

If not Sato, then I keep hearing Ryan Hunter-Reay’s name mentioned as a candidate. I mean he’s already under contract with Ganassi, but his name is also listed on the wish list at RLL too in terms of that fourth Indy 500 only seat. With two former Indy 500 champions seeking rides, I can see each landing with the bigger teams left in some fashion and I’d be stunned if neither are strolling Gasoline Alley in a firesuit next May.

So what about that 51 ride then? I’ve heard it started as a wide cast of drivers interested in it, ranging from Robb to Linus Lundqvist to Danial Frost and maybe a few others. However, Robb’s recent test seemed to solidify the path forward for him which included discussions with a host of other teams in the paddock.

So, what’s left for the Indy 500 only rides then? Right now, we have 31 rides (16 Honda, 15 Chevrolet) already announced but a lot of talks already far down the road to leave just a couple of rides left for the taking.

Again, the spark to this fire to send it all in motion just comes down to Jimmie Johnson as the top domino.

Honda has 16 confirmed rides, but RLL is far down the line on a 4th car which means Johnson is controlling the 18th ticket. The open rides are the No. 11 Dallara-Honda for CGR, the No. 51 Dallara-Honda for DCR/RWR and the yet to formally be announced 4th entry at RLL. The final engine package comes down to if Johnson returns. If he elects to do so, then he’s the 5th Ganassi driver. If he doesn’t return, then Ganassi likely doesn’t run 5 cars and word on the street is, DCR wants it to run a 3rd car.

The final Honda piece is in Johnson’s hands.

As far as what I expect it to look like?

I would as of now say, Sato in the 11, Robb in the 51, Hunter-Reay in the RLL entry and then Johnson in a 5th Ganassi ride.

Chevrolet has 15 of their 18 packages confirmed already. Arrow McLaren SP expands to a 4th car and won’t run 5. Penske returns with the same 3. ECR has 3 cars confirmed but it would be a large stretch to run a 4th for them, Foyt and JHR each have 2 and DRR with 1.

DRR owns a 2nd car, but do they use it?

They’ve not discounted names like Kyle Busch or Kyle Larson for that seat. That leaves Chevy with 2 Indy only packages open and I can’t see Foyt expanding to a 3rd or even 4th car so what can Paretta and even DragonSpeed work out here?

That’s why we land at 33 (18 Honda, 15 Chevrolet) and it coming down to Chevrolet if there’s any bumping. There’s enough talent out there for DRR to land a 2nd driver to get us to 34.

DragonSpeed could lease some equipment from Foyt and get a Chevrolet engine which gets us to 35. With 1 left, this is where Paretta could come into play….

Which is why I’m way more optimistic at having 35-36 cars this May than I was last year.

Marcus Ericsson leads the field during last May’s Indianapolis 500 – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Confirmed

Honda (16)

Andretti Autosport (5) – 4 of the 5 from last year return (Herta, Grosjean, DeFrancesco and Andretti) while Kyle Kirkwood replaces Alexander Rossi in the 27. Marco Andretti is Indy only.

Chip Ganassi Racing (4) – 3 of the 4 from last year also return here with Armstrong and an oval specialist sharing the 11 entry. Can they get a 5th package for Jimmie Johnson?

Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (3) – All 3 drivers are back in 2023. Only change is the number/sponsor swap between Jack Harvey (Now in the 30) and Christian Lundgaard (Now in the 45). They should have an Indy only seat for the Month of May.

Meyer Shank Racing (2) – They’ll have both drivers back.

Dale Coyne Racing (2) – They’re after a 3rd engine but can they secure it? Malukas is back and I’m hearing Sting Ray Robb will be his teammate.

The AMSP duo at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Chevrolet (15)

Arrow McLaren SP (4) – They’ll use all 3 engines full-time next year with O’Ward, Rosenqvist and Rossi in them. A fourth will come out for Indy only for Tony Kanaan.

Team Penske (3) – All 3 drivers are returning

Ed Carpenter Racing (3) – Both full-time drivers are back. I don’t see Ed Carpenter walking away from his oval only schedule either.

AJ Foyt Racing (2) – They’ll have 2 new drivers in Benjamin Pedersen in the 4 replacing Dalton Kellett and Santino Ferrucci in the 14 replacing Kyle Kirkwood.

Juncos Hollinger Racing (2) – They’ll have 2 cars next year with Callum Ilott in 1 of them and Agustin Canapino in the 2nd.

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1) – They have 2 packages and will have Stefan Wilson is one with a joint entry from Cusick. The 2nd car remains open though.

Jimmie Johnson and Tony Kanaan chat on pit road at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Potential Rides

Honda (2)

RLL (1) – They’ve had strong talks of a 4th car for Indy.

Ganassi (1) – Jimmie Johnson’s landing point should he want to return to Indy.

Chevrolet (3)

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (1)

Paretta Autosport (1)

DragonSpeed (1)

Ed Carpenter is hoping this is his year at Indy glory. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Drivers With Ties

  • Jimmie Johnson – Obviously is free to run for whomever he wants but Ganassi makes the most sense here.
  • Ed Carpenter – Clearly the favorite for the 3rd ECR seat.
  • Simona de Silvestro – Locked in with Paretta. Can they pair with someone or get that final Chevy lease?
  • RC Enerson – Has an car, can a team help them out and field Enerson who can bring funding and a chassis?
  • Takuma Sato – Truly up to him on what he wants to do in 2023. If he’s back full-time, then the three drivers after him on this list could be in the mix for a part-time role. If Sato moves to part-time, then that opens up a wild set of possibilities for the 51. It’s down to DCR/RWR ride or Ganassi for him.
  • Ryan Hunter-Reay – Linked to RLL’s fourth seat, Ganassi’s 4th seat and even JHR if their 2nd driver isn’t ready for Indy.
  • Sage Karam – Shocking departure from DRR leads him here. The kid can flat out drive and would be a great addition for any team looking for a driver.
  • Danial Frost – He too had a strong test with Coyne.
  • Linus Lundqvist – Won the Indy Lights championship for HMD. Doesn’t have a full-time budget but could be in the mix for that potential seat though. He has been mentioned for that JHR seat too.
  • Sting Ray Robb – Down to the 2nd JHR or DCR/RWR seat if he’s going to be in INDYCAR next season.

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