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IndyCar Road America

O'Ward: Fans threatening drivers 'shouldn't be defended'

Pato O’Ward believes that any threats by a driver’s fanbase towards another competitor are not something that should be defended in any way.

Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

A 25-year-old Mexican, O’Ward is unquestionably the most popular driver in the IndyCar Series. He shared his feelings after watching from afar as Arrow McLaren team-mate Theo Pourchaire was the victim of social media abuse and death threats sparked from a collision with Juncos Hollinger Racing’s (JHR) Agustin Canapino in last weekend’s Detroit Grand Prix.

While the early part of the week saw a joint statement by Arrow McLaren and JHR condemning the online abuse, it was only a few hours later that Canapino began ‘liking’ posts from his fanbase that mocked Pourchaire, including one – that he since ‘unliked’ – that preceded a statement of his own rejecting claims that his supporters threatened rivals.

The fallout led to the early termination of the strategic alliance between Arrow McLaren and JHR on Thursday morning, along with JHR revealing that Canapino has taken “a leave of absence” sometime between the autograph session and the start opening practice (about a 90-minute window) on Friday at Road America. As a result, Nolan Siegel has been called upon to substitute this weekend in JHR’s No. 78 Chevrolet.

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In the media availability ahead of learning of Canapino stepping out of the car for the weekend, O’Ward expressed his stance on the issue.

“It's not my place to defend them,” said O’Ward, who sits fourth in the championship standings.

“No matter if you're trying to, at that point, if your fans are doing that to somebody else, it shouldn't even be defended. That's just not right. In who's right mind is it okay to death threat somebody? Never.

“I'm not responsible for the action of my fans, but it doesn't mean I'm going to be supporting whatever they say about somebody else because things happen, man.”

O’Ward drew up the exact scenario that took place between Canapino and Pourchaire, who were battling in the backend of the top 10 in wet condition on a tight 1.645-mile, nine-turn street circuit that endured eight cautions for 47 of 100 laps.

“Things are going to happen,” O’Ward said.

“Mishaps are going to happen. That's what makes the racing exciting (and) exhilarating. That's why we have fans in the first place, because if it was just kind of follow the leader type of thing, what would be so fun about that?

“Accidents are going to happen and it's not going to be the last time. I've made mistakes. I've made my fair share this year and it's not going to be the last I make a mistake. You try and minimize them, but that's just part of it. Everybody's under pressure.

“The nature of that track, I just feel like it puts the drivers in a window of, I would say frustration and impatience because of just how much risk you have to take in order to get by somebody just because of well, what the track is. It's just part of racing at tracks like that. That's going to happen.”

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, Santino Ferrucci, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, Marcus Ericsson, Andretti Global Honda, Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, Christian Rasmussen, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Romain Grosjean, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Start

Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, Santino Ferrucci, A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, Marcus Ericsson, Andretti Global Honda, Agustin Canapino, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, Christian Rasmussen, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Romain Grosjean, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, Start

Photo by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images

And O’Ward also doesn’t feel an obligation to educate the fan base with intense situations like his 20-year-old French team-mate went through in the Motor City.

“Nah, I'm a racing driver,” O’Ward said. “I'm not a teacher. I think a lot of these people are grown adults. I have my morals and my values, and I will always stick to those, but it's not my place to try and parent somebody else.

“Really you just hope that at least in a way, their understanding of certain circumstances, they're going to happen. If you can't handle it, then maybe this is not the sport for you.

“It's part of entertainment. It's part of the sport. It's part of everything. Accidents are going to happen, and disagreements are going to happen, but I think that's what creates a very passionate fan is when you know you want someone to do so well.”

Although any tangle by anyone with Canapino seems to enrage his fans, O’Ward doesn’t have plans to race him any differently to anyone else on the grid.

“I try and race everybody the same,” O’Ward said.

“I stand with the team. I get we’re in entertainment. At some point there’s always going to be disagreement and opinions, but I do think some people take it to an extreme and I think that it’s unfair to our community. It’s unfair to us.

“I mean, it’s happened to me as well; even with like some of the same people that call me a hero and call me the best that they’ve ever seen, they’ve also called me the exact opposite. It’s part of it, but I guess at some point it’s like do you really have to?”

Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

Patricio O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

Photo by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

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