IndyCar: Russian rookie Aleshin continuing to gain confidence

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When Mikhail Aleshin was announced as the driver for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ second car over the off-season, some fans weren’t sure what to make of him.

But eight races into his inaugural Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Russian rookie is changing their minds with some steady performances.

Aleshin is still looking for his first IndyCar podium, but has quietly put together some decent runs. Attrition helped him pick up a sixth-place finish at Long Beach, but he has earned back-to-back sevenths in the last two races (Detroit Dual 2 and Texas Motor Speedway).

The latter effort is particular noteworthy considering that Aleshin had never contended with such a track like the high-banked oval at TMS. And drives like that are only helping to boost his confidence.

“It’s good that I can fight with many of the other drivers that have raced here for years and years,” he told the Associated Press while testing last week at Iowa Speedway.

“Sometimes, be on the same level with them. Sometimes, even faster. All that makes you a bit more optimistic.”

A bit of optimism is always nice to have for any driver, but especially so for a rookie that’s battling with IndyCar’s incredibly deep field of competitors.

Prior to joining IndyCar, Aleshin was a veteran of multiple open-wheel leagues including Formula Renault, GP2, and GP3. He’s also had experience in European sports car racing.

But to him, IndyCar has been his biggest challenge to date.

“It’s definitely one of the toughest, if not the toughest, series that I have raced in,” he added to the AP.

“Every driver here has a history. Every driver has a background. Every driver has won something. I can tell you that it’s very hard to race against them, that’s for sure.”

This season has not been a perfect one for Aleshin, who suffered back-to-back DNFs earlier this year at Barber Motorsports Park and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, where he was involved in a violent crash at the race’s standing start.

But Aleshin has begun to win himself a modest fan base for his aggressiveness. He may be an IndyCar rookie, but that’s not stopping him from mixing it up with the big names of the sport.

You have to expect that he’ll be pushing the envelope further as he picks up more experience in the summer ahead.

The IndyCars return to action on June 28 and 29 at the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston. NBCSN will air LIVE coverage on each day starting at 3 p.m. ET.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.