Schmidt trio of Aleshin, Razia, Harvey complete first oval tests

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Sam Schmidt’s IndyCar and Indy Lights teams ventured to Homestead-Miami Speedway this week for a pair of oval tests, to give three drivers their first crack at an oval.

On Tuesday, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar rookie Mikhail Aleshin took his official oval rookie test.

The Russian passed with flying colors, and, judging by the tweets below, he seemed happy with the experience.

On Thursday, the team’s Indy Lights program took to Homestead with three drivers. Tristan Vautier, who Aleshin replaces in IndyCar, is still proving an invaluable asset to both SPM and the series as he spent the day doing tire testing for Cooper Tire. Cooper replaces Firestone as Indy Lights’ tire partner, and will also serve as the series’ presnting sponsor in 2014.

Meanwhile Jack Harvey, who is confirmed, and Luiz Razia, who appears all but confirmed to SPM’s Lights cars, had their first runs on the oval.

Razia, who was named to Marussia’s F1 team in 2013 before sponsorship fell through, was quite excited after his first run.

Harvey was a little more measured, but still pleased.

Where Harvey and Razia, assuming he’s confirmed, will stack up on the ovals remain to be seen. Jack Hawksworth, another Englishman who won three races in 2013 for SPM’s Lights organization, struggled to match up versus teammates Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves on the five oval events.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “