Schmidt signs Mikhail Aleshin to second IndyCar

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IndyCar has its second confirmed rookie for the 2014 season, with Russian driver Mikhail Aleshin, 26, set in the second Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry.

The entry is likely to be – and this will be confusing – the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) with SMP Racing No. 55 Honda. Also, Aleshin has had personal sponsorship from Russian oil company Lukoil previously, and Schmidt’s team has had Lucas Oil here in the U.S. for 10 years. Go figure.

Naming conflicts aside, Aleshin’s a decent shoe whose biggest career accolade was winning the 2010 World Series by Renault championship. That field included future Formula One drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, and former Schmidt Indy Lights driver Esteban Guerrieri.

Aleshin’s open-wheel experience also includes Formula Renault, A1GP, GP2, GP3 and the Superleague Formula. He also raced sports cars for SMP in the Blancpain Endurance Series last year.

“The last two or three years I’ve been looking in this direction and at one point in the middle of the 2013 season I decided that I just needed to change something,” Aleshin said in a release. “SMP Racing, my main sponsor, decided it would be a good idea to try something in the U.S. because there are no Russian drivers at this level, and considering the experience I have we thought it would all come together (in IndyCar).”

Aleshin had his first test in what had been Tristan Vautier’s car earlier this week at Sebring, and was within several tenths of Simon Pagenaud.

“(Sebring) was my first test in an IndyCar and things were much different than what I’m used to inside the car,” Aleshin said. “In Europe there are different standards, but I like (the IndyCar) already, it’s really fun to drive.”

The ripple effect here affects Vautier, obviously, and Schmidt’s 2013 Indy Lights champion Sage Karam. Although all signs pointed toward a return for Vautier as recently as Sonoma, and even in press conferences at Fontana, the loss of primary sponsor HP on Pagenaud’s car is a significant hit to the team’s bottom line.

Vautier, too, would not have the same budget to bring for 2014. He had a revolving door of sponsors on his car this year, and the scholarship funding from Mazda as the defending Indy Lights champion shifts to Karam. Karam does have available budget to bring to a team and is targeting a full-season ride; Vautier, though, may be headed to sports car racing after just one full season in IndyCar.