Prior to Monday’s test at Sebring, the last time Simon Pagenaud and newly announced Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Mikhail Aleshin shared a track was in 2004 when the two were competing in the Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup. Pagenaud would go on to finish second in the championship before shifting his attention to World Series by Renault 3.5 (WSR 3.5) in 2005 and moving to America in 2006 where he won the Champ Car Atlantic title.
Aleshin would eventually make his way to WSR 3.5, claiming the 2010 title with three wins and eight podiums from 17 races against the likes of soon-to-be Red Bull F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo and former Schmidt Firestone Indy Lights driver Esteban Guerrieri. The Russian would continue competing in WSR 3.5 through the 2013 season (ABOVE) with the backing of SMP Racing, and with more than enough training in the junior categories, graduating had become a necessity to further his career.
Aleshin’s backers from SMP Racing made the trip to Baltimore in late August to meet with SPM (and yes, get ready for a year of getting SMP and SPM mixed up) and Honda to discuss the possibility of working together, which resulted in Monday’s test and today’s announcement of Aleshin taking over the No. 55 car formerly piloted by Tristan Vautier
?I was very pleased; he’s very down-to-business, he’s very experienced, he’s tested Formula 1 cars, his driving style is very similar to mine, which will be a plus, and I like how he approaches things,? Pagenaud told RACER. ?He’s very serious. Not distant, but he can step back and see where things are going. He fit very well with the team and he’s in a good mindset.
?He wasn’t hiding anything from me, or me from him, and I was very comfortable working with him. That’s what we’ll need to make the team better next year. He’s got a very Russian attitude, which is to say he isn’t very emotional about things, and that will be a great combination with me.?
Like Vautier, Aleshin will have veteran engineer Allan McDonald looking after him as he embarks on his rookie IndyCar season, maintaining the chemistry that was developed between Pagenaud, his engineer Ben Bretzman and McDonald in 2013.
?We knew the IndyCar level is quite high, and I would experience a lot,? Aleshin told RACER from his home in Moscow. ?Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (created) a perfect program for me, and I think this will help me to prepare myself for the championship next year. SMP Racing is very supportive of everything and has made a good plan for my first season in the U.S.?
Aleshin matched Pagenaud’s pace at Sebring on Monday, although it’s worth noting the Frenchman was using Honda’s new twin-turbo 2014 engine while Aleshin had the proven, full-power single-turbo 2013 Honda powerplant to work with. The test also marked Aleshin’s first time in a high-powered turbocharged racing car, which made his quick adaptation even more impressive.
?The only thing that was not so easy for me was the time difference?in Moscow, it’s plus nine hours to the U.S., so that was the big adjustment,? Aleshin explained. ?But we had a couple of days to prepare and the team told me what I needed to do. It was very useful because I knew what to do when I got in the car and had no issues. The team is very professional; I enjoyed working with them and all of the people.
?Allan McDonald has a lot of experience; for sure he helped me a lot to get used to the car and it was very positive for me. Not many drivers are coming from Europe straight to IndyCar; many would do Indy Lights first, but together with SMP, we have decided to go directly to IndyCar with a good team and program.?
Next up for Aleshin will be setting up a base in America and reviewing all of the IndyCar races he can find online.
?I will definitely be moving over for the season,? he said. ?There’s no sense in going back to Russia after each race. I definitely understand the series is quite hard. It will be a first experience for me on ovals, compared to what I normally do, and I cannot test on street circuits, so I will have to learn them the first time I race them. I would say the main thing for me is to learn as fast as possible, so I will move to the U.S. in January and start to understand everything I can about IndyCar.
?I’ll also be watching all of the races from the past season, but I’ve watched most of them the past three years already. There’s lots of overtaking and action, and I want to learn a lot. This is a very good opportunity for me and SMP Racing and I will be trying very hard to succeed.?
Pagenaud raced his way to third in the IndyCar championship as his rookie teammate struggled to find the right balance of aggression and patience. It often meant Pagenaud and Bretzman were working down a path of their own, but Aleshin could help SPM to become more of a traditional two-car team.
?I think it will be good,? said Pagenaud. ?We didn’t get to debrief after the Sebring test because the truck was leaving, but I’ll be looking over his notes to check them. He’ll gain confidence as we go testing, but he seemed to know exactly what he was doing and that’s pretty cool.
?I think this is going to be very good for the entire organization and I think he can be very effective. I’m hoping we can work well together and have the Schmidt Peterson team very close with both cars together next season.?