Matteo Nannini was announced last week as driver of the No. 75 Juncos Hollinger Racing entry for the 2023 INDY NXT by Firestone season, but the path toward the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was charted more than a year ago.
The Italian-Argentinian got his first taste of North America’s open-wheel product with JHR at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in fall 2021, followed by another testing opportunity at Barber Motorsports Park.
“We did four days in total,” said Nannini, 19. “It was enough to get used to the speed and to get used to the car, which is a little bit more less technology than what I was used to. But then like on the other end, it's much more sophisticated because you can change the bars while you drive. We don't have that stuff in Europe. Basically, you stick with the setup of the car you have, and you manage it through the entire race. Instead, you can adjust it if you want, like more oversteer or understeer, whatever. I'm really happy for the opportunity I was given.”
Nannini moves to U.S. single-seater racing after a tenured run on the other side of the world. In 2019, he had seven wins, 16 podiums and six poles over 20 races en route to capturing the title in Formula UAE, a series contested in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He spent the following two years in FIA Formula 3, which saw him take one victory and two podiums in 2021. He also put together a partial season in FIA Formula 2 in 2021, scoring two top-10 finishes in eight starts despite splitting time with two different teams (Campos Racing, HWA RACELAB).
From there, he connected with JHR co-owner Ricardo Juncos, and the rest is history.
“He approached us, actually,” Juncos said. “We don't know each other from before. I know who he was because I followed drivers around the planet. His uncle actually was in Formula One in the Ayrton Senna years; Sandro Nannini was his uncle. So, he came from a racing family, and I didn't know at that time that his father was from Argentina. So, he's an Italian-Argentinian driver, which is kind of nice. When we tested with him at Chris Griffis in '21, he was so fast. The kid already got it. Second day, he was P2 when everybody was there, then P1 or P2 in the rain.
“I think there is a lot of potential with him in the team. He's going be good. He has potential. He's talented. He has experience. He's young. He's smart. He speaks really well. He presents himself well. Everything that a driver needs to have, he has.”
With the transition to North American open-wheel racing looming, Nannini already sees the differences of fan interaction and inclusiveness between paddocks in Europe and the United States. There are also obvious distinctions in the character of the racetracks.
“Racing during the INDYCAR weekends, it's a big plus,” Nannini said. “And also given the fact that fans here are open and allowed to really interact with the driver, it's something unique because I was not used to that. In Europe, everything is super closed, and they don't really allow the fans to be able to speak with the drivers. Honestly, if I were a fan, I prefer much more the American way.
“Other than that, tracks, mainly because they are so bumpy from what I've seen so far, that's going to be the biggest challenge ever, especially the road courses, because when I was racing there together with F1, they were surfacing everything like brand new. Here it's a little bit different, but I'm looking forward for that, for sure.”
The one major adjustment for Nannini will be competing on ovals. Recognizing his deficiencies, he has a unique view in preparing mentally ahead of his first laps on an oval, the location of which is yet to be determined.
“The only experience I can get is from those Italian, European tracks where they have very speed corners where we bring in a lot of speed and basically, I just put the same corner together to make an oval; that's it,” Nannini said.
“I guess it will be much tougher than what I'm thinking in terms of physically and then also concentration because you turn the same way for 200 laps or whatever. So, you need to be focused on that. Also having the spotter, something I never had before. And even the fact that I don't like engineers speaking to me on the radio when I race. It's going to be challenging, for sure.”