U.S., European sanctions could impact careers of Russian racers

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American and European sanctions related to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine could threaten the careers of dozens of Russian drivers that are backed by the SMP Racing organization – including  those of Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Mikhail Aleshin (pictured) and Sauber Formula One tester Sergey Sirotkin.

According to RIA Novosti, the group issued a statement that says its European financial accounts have been frozen as a result of the sanctions, which were handed down last month.

SMP has gone as far to dub the sanctions “political blackmail” but also asked the U.S. and the European Union to “listen to the voice of reason by removing the limit on Russian athletes’ participation in international competitions.”

The SMP project was set up by billionaire Boris Rotenberg, who was included in the sanctions. Mr. Rotenberg was a childhood friend of current Russian president Vladimir Putin and also is part of the project himself as a sports car racer.

Said project utilizes the branding of Russian-based SMP Bank, which is co-owned by Boris and Arkady Rotenberg and Yuri Kovalchuk; all three men have been hit with U.S. Treasury sanctions.

In regards to Aleshin, who races alongside veteran Simon Pagenaud for IndyCar squad Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, his career has not yet been affected by the sanctions according to SMP’s sports director, Sergey Zlobin.

SMP is a key supporter of the Schmidt Peterson camp, and it should be noted that the team has yet to acquire a steady primary sponsor for Pagenaud since the departure of computer company HP over the winter.

The Frenchman has had two different primary backers in as many races this season: Environmental Rail Solutions at St. Petersburg, and Charter Communications this past weekend at Long Beach.

As for SMP drivers in European-based series, Zlobin adds that they may be under a more immediate threat, as they could soon be unable to pay equipment costs or participation fees.

“The problems that our European office is facing in connection with the impossibility of using funds in the account will result in our drivers not being able to take part in European championships,” Zlobin said to R-Sport/RIA Novosti.

Political turbulence also impacted Venezuelan drivers late last year but in this case, it was thanks to a sports currency scandal that stemmed from one of the country’s state agencies.

In response to the scandal, the Venezuelan government froze all disbursements of hard currency for their race car and motorcycle drivers that compete internationally.

Hartley says debut F1 point would be ‘a dream’ from last on grid

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Brendon Hartley says scoring a point on his Formula 1 debut would be “a dream” after being resigned to last place on the grid for the United States Grand Prix following an engine penalty.

Porsche factory driver Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso to replace Pierre Gasly for the USGP when the Frenchman was ruled out due to clashing commitments in Super Formula.

Despite having not driven an F1 car since 2012, Hartley came within one-tenth of a second of making it through to Q2 on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas, ultimately qualifying 18th.

“Obviously I’d love to be quicker but we knew we were starting at the back, so we put a lot of focus on long runs, getting the peak performance out of this Pirelli tire I didn’t get today,” Hartley told NBCSN after the race.

“In FP3 I had a good feeling. There’s a lot of quirky things to manage with these tires. Honestly I should be happy with how the weekend’s gone so far.”

The New Zealander will start last due to a 25-place grid penalty for changes made to his power unit ahead of practice on Friday, and is daring to dream of making the top 10 in his first race out of a sports car for more than five years.

“I don’t do the 24 hours completely alone!” Hartley joked. “It’s quick. It’s physical to drive. I’ll be happy to be done after an hour and a half.

“A point would be a dream starting from the back. If I can move forward and put a race together, I’ll be happy.”

The United States Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app from 2pm ET on Sunday.