Welcome Back, Mikhail Aleshin!

Earlier this week, we learned that Mikhail Aleshin will return to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and the Verizon IndyCar Series for the 2016 season. I’ll admit that when Aleshin was first announced for the 2014 season, my first thought was “who?” and my second thought was “great, another unqualified foreign driver that no one has heard of that bought his way into a ride”. I don’t think I was alone.

His first few races did nothing to change my opinion. Aside from a sixth place finish at Long Beach, his average finish through the Indianapolis 500 was twentieth. About the only two things he was known for was causing accidents and too much hair gel. His presence annoyed me, I didn’t really pay him much mind.

But a funny thing happened as the 2014 season progressed. Aleshin was quietly finishing races and was showing some astonishing speed. After a seventeenth place finish in the first of the double-headers at Detroit, the Russian driver found his footing. From the second race at Belle Isle, he strung together respective finishes of seventh, seventh, twenty-third, second and seventh. The five-race stretch was run on three street courses (Detroit and two at Houston) and two ovals (Texas and Pocono).

Producing strong finishes in consecutive races on a variety of tracks certainly got my attention. The little guy with the name most people mispronounced (it’s ah-LŌSH-en), the accent you couldn’t understand and the funny haircut was suddenly turning heads inside the paddock. Those that had complained about how reckless he was, were now commenting on how fast he had become.

After cooling off a bit in late July, Aleshin finished eighth at Milwaukee and seventh at Sonoma. Heading into the season finale at Fontana, Aleshin had momentum once more. In a Friday night practice at Fontana, Aleshin was exiting Turn Four when he went too low on the apron and lost control. His car spun, collecting Charlie Kimball in the process. The car went airborne and went into the catch-fence, when it was thrown back into the track as it spun violently throwing debris everywhere.

When it happened, social media was filled with all the dreaded comments that we all saw after the fatal incidents involving Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson. For good reason, everyone feared the worst. Fortunately, Aleshin’s story had a happier ending. He was critically injured and would takes months to recover. But he did recover.

The crash was a shame, however. Just as Aleshin was coming into his own as a driver, he suffered devastating injuries. Some wondered if Aleshin would ever race again anywhere, much less in an IndyCar. That question was answered this past summer at the season finale at Sonoma. Aleshin drove a third car for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the last race and finished a quiet nineteenth.

But he held his own and probably answered any doubters as to whether or not he could still race.

I’ll be honest, I thought his ride at Sonoma was somewhat of a reward just for making it back from such a crash. I never really considered it to be any type of audition. That shows how much I know.

But Aleshin will return to his familiar No.7 car with SPM for all of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

I’ll admit, I was hoping to see the second seat at SPM go to Ryan Briscoe. I thought he had done a commendable job with the team as he filled in for James Hinchcliffe for most of the season. I could see Hinch and Briscoe working together. If not Briscoe, I thought maybe Conor Daly might get the nod; but he now appears headed for a full-time ride with Dale Coyne.

But I see Aleshin as a step up from the underwhelming James Jakes. I know that Jakes has his fans and that many believe that he has come into his own as well. It’s not anything I can put my finger on, but James Jakes has always sort of rubbed me the wrong way. I would much prefer to see Aleshin in the car, instead of James Jakes.

Mikhail Aleshin will never be confused for James Hinchcliffe, his now-teammate at SPM. Nor will anyone mistake him for Josef Newgarden or Graham Rahal – who are both considered to be the fresh new faces of IndyCar. Even if his English has vastly improved, he will never have the outgoing personality to be a true face of the series.

But Aleshin is very fast and appears to have become a competent driver since he first joined the series in the spring of 2014. That’s why drivers are really hired – not for their engaging personality (unless mandated by a sponsor), but for their ability to go fast and not tear up equipment. Aleshin tore up his share in the first part of 2014, but the repair bills dwindled quite a bit after that.

Aleshin’s presence won’t bring in many new fans, but for the hard-core fans of the series – I think this will be a welcomed move, except by those who detest any foreign drivers or ride-buyers. If you fall into that category, then you probably hate most of the series at this point.

So, I welcome this move. With Hinchcliffe and Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will have two hot shoes in their stable. One will have a lot more personality than the other; but on the race track – the difference will be harder to notice. The talent-level on the grid just rose a bit for 2016. Welcome back, Mikhail Aleshin!

George Phillips

10 Responses to “Welcome Back, Mikhail Aleshin!”

  1. My first choice for that seat would have been Jack Harvey or Conor Daly… but Aleshin is good enough and has solid credentials from his racing in Europe (LMP2 and the 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 title).

  2. Thank God Honda turned up the heat on DCR. Today we will hear that Conor Daly gets his full time ride. Conor will help take DCR back to a respectable team in the paddock.

  3. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I rate him fairly highly for Indycar actually and, although he’ll have a learning curve coming back to Indycar not having experience with the 2015 aerokits, I imagine he’ll slot back in with relative ease.

    He seemed quite affable and interactive on twitter during the 2014 season and always gave me the impression he was enthusiastic and eager to prove his worth. I hope he continues to develop into a competitive driver on this team and even push Hinch a bit.

    Regarding international versus native drivers, I understand the notion that American drivers might help with recognition within the American sports market (I don’t actually agree), but I’ll take a more personable and genuine face regardless of country of origin.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Aleshin is fast and fearless (or, at least, not timid), and therefore, often very fun to watch. There are some other drivers on the sidelines I’d rather see in a car, sure, but I don’t struggle with Aleshin getting a seat.

    I’d be surprised if he doesn’t find the podium at least once this season, and I think he’ll win a few races before his career is said and done if he stays in the series for a while.

  5. Definitely not happy to see Alishen back, but Daly got the full time #18 so I’m pretty happy! We’ve got a pretty strong core of North American talent right now (Newgarden/Rahal/Andretti/Hinchcliffe/Daly/Pigot?/Karam?/Kimball/RHR/Carpenter) that if they can continue to be competitive things will be pretty good on the American front. Also… a Coyne car announced in December???? I’m in shock!!!!!!!

  6. A return to sponsorship for a full season by Johnathan Byrds to IndyCar. Great news for IndyCar/DCR. Aleshin will be strong with SPM. The core is strengthening.

  7. Between the unusually warm weather here in Wisconsin and the Dale Coyne announcement today, I was beginning to think that perhaps I had slept through winter.

    Like most, I am excited about the early news coming from the Dale Coyne camp. (Did El Nino cause this?) Regarding the SPM news………..not so much.

  8. I think it will be a good move for SPM. I really like Hinch, but to me he lacks the “killer” instinct to consistently win. ANd he seems to be looking at NASCAR? So Aleshin might be the right guy to take SPM forward.

  9. George, I love what you write including today’s post, from the first paragraph onward. And I love many of the comments.

    When reading of the pending 12-hour kart race in Brazil that’s organized by Felipe Giaffone, I remembered to suggest to you that you write some ‘where are they now’ blog posts about racers *if* you ever wonder what to write of in the long off-season.

    Thanks for blogging.

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