The individual session time sheets of the Verizon IndyCar Series Prix View from Phoenix International Raceway did not appear kind to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin. In each session, they ranked 19th (Aleshin) and 20th (Hinchcliffe), 18th (Hinchcliffe) and 23rd (Aleshin), sixth (Aleshin) and tenth (Hinchcliffe), and 13th (Hinchcliffe) and 19th (Aleshin).
However, a look beyond the laps times shows that the team demonstrated progress throughout the weekend. In the opening session, neither driver averaged more than 180 mph on his fastest lap. But, their speeds gradually increased, with both drivers turning individual laps above 190 mph in the third session. Aleshin was quicker, doing a lap at 19.25 seconds at an average of 191.079 mph, while Hinchcliffe clocked in at 19.35 seconds at an average of 190.184 mph. Those speeds were their quickest of the weekend and placed them sixth (Aleshin) and tenth (Hinchcliffe) overall for the two-day test.
All told, it seemed to be a productive outing, though the lack of outright speed, especially in the early sessions, might been a red flag to some viewing from afar. But, as Hinchcliffe, indicated, there was not need to hit the panic button.
“We, like everybody, have a test plan, and we’re trying very hard to stick to that. It’s easy to get lost in the timesheets and try and tune at 4:00 in the afternoon on February 10th, which isn’t when we go racing,” he said following the opening session. He added, “We’re getting through some basic stuff now. We’re trying to stay focused on our program.”
Aleshin echoed his teammate’s sentiments and emphasized that the test would be secondary in importance to the race weekend. Both drivers struggled at Phoenix in 2016, finishing 17th (Aleshin) and 18th (Hinchcliffe) during the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. “(What’s) really important will be when we’re going to come back here for the racing. That’s when we need to be at the top,” said Aleshin.
For the 29-year-old native of Russia, perhaps the most important aspect of the test was simply returning to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team. Long assumed to be in the team’s 2017 lineup, Aleshin was not officially confirmed until February 1, just over a week before the Phoenix test. “It’s very nice to be back in the series,” he detailed. “Very nice to be back in my home team of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Obviously very nice to be back in the car, you know.”
Crucially, Aleshin’s return allows him to build on his success from 2016. While inconsistent, he demonstrated tremendous speed, qualifying seventh for the Indianapolis 500 and contending for the win at both the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
“Obviously it is very important,” he said of his return, the first time he’ll compete full-time in the same series, let alone the same team, in consecutive years since his days in the Formula Renault 3.5 Championship with Carlin. “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. The start of the season was difficult, but then the progress was very good.”
The duo ended the 2016 season in 13th (Hinchcliffe) and 15th (Aleshin) in the overall championship and will look to improve their standing in 2017.
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.