Mikhail Aleshin

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Mikhail Aleshin is set on finishing the fight in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017.

The 29-year-old Russian was a late arrival to the grid party with the announcement of his return to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports coming six weeks from the start of the season. However, the opportunity to compete for a third year in North America’s top open-wheel series, second in succession, is something that was vital as he tries to gain experience and make the leap from contender to race winner.

“Obviously it is very important, and I hope it's going to be good for results, because last year was good progress, I think, from my side and from the team's side during all the season,” Aleshin, pilot of the No. 7 Honda, said in between sessions at today’s Phoenix Raceway open test. “The start of the (2016) season was difficult, but then the progress was very good. And I think that was because I didn't do the previous season.

“So now I'm doing two consecutive seasons up here, and I think it's going to help. So that's a great thing.”

The former Formula Renault 3.5 champion became known for his fearless driving style, but a frightening accident during his 2014 season in the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway hospitalized with a concussion, chest injuries, fractured ribs and broken clavicle. Aleshin made his return the following year in the final round at Sonoma Raceway, which helped catapult him into a full-season return in 2016. With it came the return of that fearlessness.

“I don’t play any roles here, man,” said Aleshin.

“I’m not an actor. I’m just doing my job and I think it’s the greatest job in the world – at least for me. Definitely I don’t play any roles. That’s just how I am.”

The pole sitter of last year’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, Aleshin led a career-high 87 laps in the race but was forced to settle for second (also a career best). He also enjoyed a fifth at Iowa Speedway and a sixth on the Streets of Toronto. A pit miscue late in the race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course snatched a likely first career Indy car win away.

Aleshin enjoys the array and challenge of the tracks offered on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, including the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. But he put an added emphasis on the one that got away.

“I don’t know any of the tracks that I am not interested in coming back to,” said Aleshin. “All of them are really interesting in different ways. Obviously, the Indy 500 is an interesting race, Long Beach (too). Pocono, I guess you could say that I have something unfinished there from last year, one position.

“Obviously, the Indy 500 is the biggest race that we have, but there’s plenty of races in the championship and they’re all good.”

Aleshin finished 17th at the 2016 Phoenix Grand Prix. He and teammate James Hinchcliffe ran near the bottom of the speed chart in today’s two test sessions, but claimed they weren’t concerned because the team is following a strict test regimen.

“At the moment, everything is fine,” Aleshin said in his typical cool demeanor. “We're really sticking to our plan and that's the most important.”