until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


IndyCar abuse has turned toxic - and it must be stopped

by Jack Benyon
8 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Whether it's feuding drivers and teams, comments which could be deemed as homophobic, or fans sending death threats, the atmosphere in the IndyCar paddock has certainly changed this year.

I think you could be justified in calling it poisonous. It's a far cry from a series that people - myself included - have criticised for being too friendly and not having enough rivalries. It's gone from 0-100 in this case.

To name but a few incidents, we've got Team Penske - owned by the umbrella company that also owns IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - embroiled in a push-to-pass scandal resulting in two disqualifications.

The other teams and drivers don't want to let that go at all and it's created an us-versus-them atmosphere as the integrity of the team, its drivers and personnel has been under the microscope.

Then you've got lots of issues bubbling under the radar, including the delayed introduction of the hybrid, a shortage of parts, a 12-year-old car, a question over what direction the series is trying to take in the future, the need for a third engine manufacturer, trying to get a new TV deal completed, and the teams pushing for a charter system where the one thing they want included - guaranteed Indy 500 entries - is the one thing IndyCar doesn't want to give up because it will annoy the fans.

To top it all off, in Detroit you had Santino Ferrucci saying "his little boyfriend team-mate" about Kyle Kirkwood and Colton Herta on the first day of Pride month - Ferrucci has since apologised - and now death threats for McLaren's Theo Pourchaire after he clashed with Agustin Canapino on track in the race.

With Ferrucci and Canapino there is one common factor: a lack of appropriate action by the series.

IndyCar told reporters who asked for information that it had visited Ferrucci after his comments and let its "displeasure" be known. But no further action was taken and won't be unless it happens again.

No public statement, nothing on social media. What sort of message does that send to the IndyCar community, both for those offended by it and by those who might think they can get away with similar behaviour?

For a series that has a "Race for Equality and Change" programme, its lack of appropriate action speaks volumes.

It's a shame, because that programme put a female-dominated Paretta Autosport team on the Indy 500 grid in 2021 and continues to support African-American Myles Rowe, currently in Indy NXT after winning the Indy Pro 2000 championship, as he aims for IndyCar.

It's achieved so much in a short space of time, but what should an initiative to help minorities to compete on an even playing field and promote inclusion be for if not to speak up and take action at times like this?

And what of the death-threat situation?

This is the third instance of drivers getting death threats from fans of Juncos Hollinger Racing in the last 14 months.

Two of those were its own driver last year, Callum Ilott, who had to delete his social media after the Laguna Seca season finale after contact with team-mate Canapino.

In that instance and a previous one in Long Beach, both were racing incidents and not solely Ilott's fault.

But in this case, Pourchaire was to blame for the Detroit incident, and he bore the brunt of the hate on social media.

Before moving away from Pourchaire, I think it's also important to consider that he is 20 years old, and has just moved thousands of miles around the world to a new championship and into one of the most scrutinised and public-facing teams in the paddock.

That's a huge amount of change, expectation and pressure for a young driver to deal with, and to be introduced to the series with death threats after five starts - in a race where there were well over 10 crashes/incidents of contact - is just awful. Awful for anyone, but especially for Pourchaire in these new surroundings. It is, as McLaren CEO Zak Brown put it, "pathetic".

There's a very fundamental aspect about the hate these drivers have suffered. It's not a bit of foul-mouthed insults, barbs, hate, general offensive language or even character assassination.

It's a threat on their life. A death threat.

I for one am sick and tired of this behaviour and sick and tired of the lack of appropriate action surrounding it.

In these incidents before, IndyCar has issued a short statement and the teams have done so in this case.

Over 17 hours after those team statements, IndyCar issued it's own, 47-word response: "No one should be the victim of online abuse or threats. IndyCar has been in touch with both teams to discuss this matter and made certain where we stand. We all have a responsibility to reinforce a welcoming atmosphere and firmly denounce clear violations of online conduct."

It had not even shared that statement via its own channels at the time of writing, hours after merely issuing it to journalists who have asked for it.

I'm sorry, but another statement, on the third time this is happening, without sharing it directly to the fanbase is just not enough. IndyCar has to do better.

It's time for more action. Everyone has to do more.

We can't just talk about this when it happens anymore. That's reactive. It's time to be proactive with a proper, sustained campaign of education that lasts longer than the sweeping under the rug of a single incident. That's one of the ways to change this behaviour.

There is another, harsher way too.

I always had pleasant dealings with Ricardo Juncos, Canapino, Ilott and the rest of the team last year. I appreciate that a lot of people in this team are just doing a job, one that feeds their families.

I hate that they are being dragged through the mud because of a small number of people who take things too far.

But for fans that are this passionate, there's only one way to send them a message and that's to sanction the one thing that's most important to them. In this case, the team.

It's not up to me to decide what punishment should be given. I'm just bored of the cycle of 'death threat, single delayed statement on social media saying this behaviour is wrong, sweep it under the rug, wait for it to happen again, repeat' attitude.

If sanctions are deemed too harsh - and fair enough, I understand that might not be a popular take - then at the very least, series officials need to make Juncos more aware of the implications of its fans' actions, and the team needs to express that to its fanbase much more regularly than just in crisis management.

I'm certainly less sympathetic towards Canapino after he liked a quote tweet saying "Callum Pourchaire", and when some replied in Spanish (translated with assistance from Google), "Come on friend, there I kill someone who is on another continent when I barely have enough time to leave the province", he replied "this is great" with laughing emojis.

Canapino has also issued a statement in which he said “I have not seen a single death threat directed at those who claim to have received them” and that it's “outrageous” for his support base to be “accused of this so lightly”.

Of course, Ilott last year wouldn't have shared threats directed at him while in Canapino's team and in the last year of his contract, and Pourchaire has McLaren's strategic tie-up with Juncos to consider when deciding how much to reveal.

I understand Canapino's desire to distance himself from this hate because it's not his fault and he's not spreading it, but to say that he simply chooses to "ignore" this kind of thing himself isn't a solution. Some would argue it even makes the problem worse because perpetrators feel they can get away with it.

I do feel that - given English is not his first language and he only started learning it last year - Canapino ought to be cut a bit of slack for how you interpret some of his phrases. But ultimately in a situation as important as this, he should have had a lot of help with this statement.

His statement and actions were so important in condemning this behaviour as the driver with the massive fanbase, and some of his reaction on social media and his statement won't have helped deter these perpetrators.

Last year, it certainly felt like Juncos wasn't prepared for this kind of thing happening with Canapino in his rookie year and having a great season where everything was mostly positive. It was certainly short-staffed and that's been something it's looked to address in the off-season.

It hasn't been silent in the background internally either but, if this sort of thing is still happening, it still hasn't done enough.

A team statement - after its initial joint one with McLaren - issued on Tuesday acknowledged a "rise of online abuse toward our competitors", despite Canapino saying he hasn't seen any evidence of death threats.

It is a good, strongly worded start and worth the overnight period of time it took to put out to get the wording right. But again, it's just words. Even if they are the best words in the world, they alone will not fix this.

No doubt Pourchaire is the victim in this instance, but there are many innocent people who work at JHR too, and they are being tarnished because of a small group of fans and a lack of enough effort to stop them from acting in this way.

Everyone has to do more, and do better.

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