IndyCar abuse has turned toxic – and it must be stopped

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

I think it can be justified to call it toxic. It's a far cry from the series that people – myself included – have criticized for being too friendly and not having enough rivalries. He went from 0-100 in this case.

To name a few, we have Team Penske — owned by the umbrella company that also owns IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway — involved in a push-to-pass scandal that led to the disqualification of two drivers.

Other teams and drivers don't want to let that go at all, and this has created an “us versus them” atmosphere where the integrity of the team, its drivers and its employees is under the microscope.

Then you have a lot of issues flying under the radar, including a delayed introduction of the hybrid, parts shortages, a 12-year-old car, a question about the direction the series is trying to take in the future, the need for a third engine plant, trying to close a new TV deal, and teams pressing on. For a rental system where the one thing they want to include — guaranteed entries in the Indy 500 — is the one thing IndyCar doesn't want to give away because it will upset the fans.

And on top of that, in Detroit, Santino Ferrucci was his “little friend and teammate” calling Kyle Kirkwood and Colton Herta on the first day of Pride Month – Ferrucci has since apologized – and now death threats to McLaren's Theo Bourchier after he clashed with Agustin Canapino On track in the race.

Ferrucci and Canapino have one thing in common: the lack of proper action in the series.

IndyCar told reporters who requested information that it had visited Ferrucci after his comments and reported its “displeasure.” But no further action has been taken and will not be done unless this happens again.

No public statement, nothing on social media. What kind of message does this send to the IndyCar community, both to those who have been offended by them and to those who may think they can get away with similar behavior?

For a series that includes Race for Equality and Change, its lack of proper action speaks volumes.

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

A lot has been achieved in a short period of time, but what would an initiative to help minorities compete on a level playing field and promote inclusion be if not talked about and taken in times like these?

What about the case of death threats?

This is the third case of drivers receiving death threats from Juncos Hollinger Racing fans in the past 14 months.

Two of them were the team's driver last year, Callum Ilott, who was forced to delete his social media following the end of the Laguna Seca season after contacting teammate Canabino.

In that case and the previous incident in Long Beach, both were racing accidents and not solely Ilott's fault.

But in this case, Bourchier was the one responsible for the Detroit incident, and he bore the brunt of the hate on social media.

Before I move away from Porcher, I think it's also important to consider that he's 20 years old, and has just moved thousands of miles around the world to a new championship and to one of the most scrutinized and publicly confronted teams on the circuit.

That's a huge amount of change, expectations and pressure for a young driver to deal with, and entering the series with death threats after five starts – in a race that has seen over 10 accidents/contact incidents – is absolutely terrible. Horrible for anyone, but especially for Pourchaire in these new surroundings. It's “pathetic”, in the words of McLaren CEO Zak Brown.

There is a very primal aspect about the hate that these drivers experienced. It's not just nasty insults, vitriol, hate, general abusive language, or even character assassination.

It is a threat to their lives. a death to threaten.

I personally am sick and tired of this behavior and sick and tired of the lack of appropriate action surrounding it.

In these previous incidents, IndyCar issued a short statement and the teams did so in this case.

More than 17 hours after the team's statements, IndyCar issued its own 47-word response: “No one should be the victim of online abuse or threats. IndyCar has been in contact with both teams to discuss this matter and has confirmed our position.” We all have a responsibility to promote a welcoming atmosphere and strongly condemn clear violations of online behavior.”

She had not shared this statement through her private channels at the time of writing this report, hours after she had merely issued it to journalists who requested it.

I'm sorry, but another statement, the third time this happens, without sharing it directly with the fan base, is not enough. IndyCar has to do better.

It is time for more work. Everyone needs to do more.

We can't talk about this when it happens anymore. This reaction. It is time to be proactive with an appropriate and sustained education campaign that lasts longer than just covering up a single incident. This is one way to change this behavior.

There is another, harsher method as well.

I always got along well with Ricardo Juncos, Canabino, Ilott and the rest of the team last year. I appreciate that a lot of people on this team are just doing work that feeds their families.

I hate being dragged through the mud by a few people who take things too far.

But for die-hard fans, there's only one way to send a message and that's to say yes to the one thing that's most important to them. In this case the team.

I do not have the right to decide what punishment I should receive. I'm just tired of the cycle of “death threat, delayed statement on social media that says this behavior is wrong, sweep it under the rug, wait for it to happen again, and repeat.”

If the punishments are deemed too harsh – and fair enough, I understand that this may not be popular behavior – then at the very least, franchise officials need to make Juncos more aware of the effects of their fans' actions, and the team needs to express that. It reaches its fan base more regularly than just crisis management.

I'm definitely less sympathetic to Cannabino after he liked a tweet saying “Callum Pourchaire,” and when some responded in Spanish (translated with the help of Google), “Come on buddy, here I am killing someone on another continent when I kill him.” “I barely have time to leave the district,” he replied, using a laughing emoji.

Cannabino also issued a statement saying “I have not seen a single death threat made to those who claim to have received these threats” and that it is “outrageous” that his support base could be “accused of such disdain.”

Of course, last year Ilott did not share the threats made against him while at Team Canabino and in the final year of his contract, and Bourchier has McLaren's strategic relationship with Juncos to consider when deciding how much to disclose.

I understand Cannabino wanting to distance himself from this hate because it's not his fault and he's not spreading it, but saying he simply chooses to “ignore” this kind of stuff himself is not a solution. Some might argue that this makes the problem worse because perpetrators feel they can get away with it.

I feel that – since English is not his first language and he only started learning it last year – Canabino should loosen up a bit in how he interprets some of his phrases. But ultimately, in an important situation like this, he should have gotten a lot of help with that statement.

His statement and actions were extremely important in condemning this behavior as a driver with a massive fan base, and some of his reactions on social media and his statement will not help deter these perpetrators.

Last year, I definitely felt like Juncos wasn't prepared for things like that to happen with Canabino in his first year and had a great season where everything was mostly positive. He was definitely understaffed and that was something he was looking to address in the offseason.

It wasn't silent in the background internally either, but if this kind of thing was still happening, he still hadn't done enough.

The team's statement – following its initial joint statement with McLaren – on Tuesday acknowledged “increasing online abuse towards our competitors”, although Cannabino said he had seen no evidence of death threats.

It's a good, well-worded start that's worth spending an entire night's time on to get the wording right. But again, they're just words. Even if they are the best words in the world, they alone won't fix this.

There is no doubt that Bourchier is the victim in this case, but there are many innocent people who work at JHR as well, and they are being vilified by a small group of fans and not doing enough to stop them from behaving this way.

Everyone must do more, and do better.


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