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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Mikhail Aleshin

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. After a strong return in 2016 following a one-year absence, Mikhail Aleshin’s encore campaign didn’t go to plan and ultimately ended after Mid-Ohio in late July.

Mikhail Aleshin, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

  • 2016: 15th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 1 Pole, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 120 Laps Led, 10.9 Avg. Start, 13.9 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 19th Place (12 Starts), Best Finish 6th, Best Start 6th, 0 Top-5, 3 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 13.1 Avg. Start, 13.8 Avg. Finish

The obvious potential, sneaky cool “don’t care” attitude and fearless display Mikhail Aleshin had shown in his first two full seasons of IndyCar didn’t carry over into his third, in a year of regression for the “Mad Russian.”

Aleshin’s deal for 2017 was struck late and only confirmed a month before the season opener in St. Petersburg. After his car had appeared in full SMP Racing livery in 2014 and 2016, a toned down – albeit still striking – cherry red and black livery made it obvious this wasn’t a full boat SMP Racing effort as it had been previously.

A rather ragged first half the season followed, with Aleshin drawing the ire of several of his competitors – notably Tony Kanaan, JR Hildebrand and longtime sparring partner Sebastien Bourdais – through the first four races. A quiet month of May in Indianapolis was needed and a solid, under-the-radar P13 in the Indianapolis 500 fit that bill nicely, along with a season-best sixth place in Detroit race one.

But from Texas his year unraveled completely. Kanaan was to the inside and James Hinchcliffe to the middle with Aleshin on the outside heading into Turn 3; contact followed as Kanaan came up the road needing to make the corner entry, and with another car spearing Aleshin to take him out. Rumors swirled at the time that Aleshin had driven his final race for the team.

After Texas, Aleshin only had two more full weekends in the car. He missed Road America Friday practice owing to visa issues returning from the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At Iowa, where he’d been a top-five finisher a year earlier, he crashed out early. He was sat for Toronto before making a one-race return at Mid-Ohio. With another incident in practice, Aleshin produced 14th place before he and the team went their separate ways, and Aleshin instead focused on development of SMP Racing’s new LMP1 prototype for 2018.

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.