The whimsical guitar-playing mouse painted on the back of Mikhail Aleshin’s helmet catches the eye of teammate Simon Pagenaud, who notes the similarity in hair style.
“The guitar represents my hobby and the mouse is just for fun,” said Aleshin, the first Russian-born driver to compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Racing is the common denominator and the dynamic between the drivers with divergent backgrounds has been a considerable factor in individual and team success in the first half of the season.
“I think it depends on the personalities,” said Pagenaud, 30, of France. “With teammates, it totally depends on how much they’re willing to share and willing to help each other. Frankly, when Mikhail showed up I was very open-armed and willing to help him, and straight away his attitude was very warm. He understood really quickly that we needed to work together to make it work. The team is working well for that reason.”
Aleshin has three top-10 finishes, including back-to-back seventh-place postings in Dual 2 at Belle Isle and Texas Motor Speedway in his second oval race ever. Pagenaud, who was third in the 2013 series standings, won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and has four other top-five finishes in the eight races. He was sixth in Dual 2 and fourth in the Firestone 600 on the 1.455-mile Texas Motor Speedway.
“We are competitors on track but don’t consider each other as main competitors,” added Pagenaud, driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car. “I learn from him and he learns from me and we take that to our advantage and we try to make each other and the team better.
“Our egos were put on the side; it happened naturally. We are becoming friends as well; he’s a very easy guy. I respect him for everything he does. Few people know how much he works. He won’t show much emotion but I know he enjoys the racing this year and is having a good time.”
Aleshin, who turned 27 on May 22, agrees with that observation, and the result on the high-banked Texas oval bolstered his confidence.
“The step to come all the way from Russia was difficult without any experience in Indy Lights or anything but I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” said Aleshin, who had competed in Formula Renault 3.5 the past four seasons before making the move to INDYCAR and the No. 7 SMP Racing entry for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “The team was very competitive right away and we’re able to compete on a high level.
“Texas showed that we worked together in a good way and it makes the team stronger. Of course, everybody wants to win, and at the end of the day how can you win? You need every bit of information you can get.”
Veteran race engineers Ben Bretzman (Pagenaud) and Allen McDonald (Aleshin) share in this dialogue.
“(Pagenaud is) very open and he helps me in some ways and I try to be open with him as well,” Aleshin continued. “As soon as you stop communicating and your engineer stops communicating with his engineer, that’s when the problems start. Even in previous years in different categories I had some teammates that their ego out of the track wasn’t so great, I still try to communicate with them to better the team.
“(With Pagenaud) I really enjoy working with him and it feels like we’ve been working together for years.”