Handling the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car around Sebring International Raceway's short course Nov. 18 wasn’t a concern for Mikhail Aleshin. The myriad of steering wheels controls or the anti-roll bars also didn’t faze the 26-year-old Moscow native.
In fact, the only item that created a ripple during his initial visit to the U.S. was deciphering the Southwest Airlines boarding procedure for the flight from Indianapolis to Orlando, Fla.
Aleshin, the 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 champion, was introduced today in Moscow as the second driver for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the 2014 IndyCar Series season. Simon Pagenaud, who placed third in the championship standings through the 19 races this season, will enter his third season with the team in 2014.
Aleshin will be the first Russian-born driver to compete in the series and first to start an Indy car race since baron Vladimir de Rachewsky in 1926. The Russian adds to to the series' international makeup. The 38 drivers who made at least one start in 2013 represented 16 countries. The only other driver from a former Soviet Republic state to start an Indy car race was Tonis Kasemets of Estonia in 2006.
"I’ve been racing in Europe for a long time and have had success there and driving more or less everything I could. But I decided to change because I just wanted a new competition with new tracks and a new car,” Aleshin said following the seven hours of track time at Sebring. “It was always interesting to me how things were going over here in INDYCAR. The last three years I was thinking about it a lot, and now I’ve committed to do this and would like to thank my partners at SMP Racing for making this happen.
“I knew the competition is quite strong and it would be hard for me, especially because I’ve never raced any American circuits. It’s a big thing to do, but I think I’ll be competitive. Ovals will be hard, but I’m here to learn and compete for good results.”
SMP Bank, which has offered personal and corporate banking services in Russia since 2001, is the sponsor of the race team that competes in multiple categories.
Aleshin, who has competed in Formula Renault 3.5 from 2006-08 and 2010-13, also has raced in the GP2 Series, the GP2 Asia Series, the GP3 Series, German Formula Three and the FIA Formula Two Championship.
Aleshin, who logged more than 120 laps during the humid test day, will get additional seat time next month at Sebring. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is March 30.
“Big thanks to the team because they understood the situation correctly about my experience,” he said. “In the case of America, there is no experience. I had plenty of information before the test from the team so that helped me a lot to be in good shape from the start. The car is big and a lot of power, all the things that I’m used to.”
His quick laps and technical feedback impressed team general manager Rob Edwards.
"Mikhail did an excellent job at the test learning both a new car and a new track," Edwards said. "He and Simon worked very well together and have very similar driving styles, which should benefit the team. Mikhail formed an instant bond with (engineer) Allen McDonald. It is always good to work with drivers who are focused on their work and who are quick in the car."
Added team co-owner Sam Schmidt: "He is extremely mature and talented, but like so many up-and-coming drivers in the European system there just weren't enough opportunities for him to advance to F1. We have already found his driving style to be very similar to Simon's and believe he can contribute immediately to the program, even as a rookie."