Aleshin geared up ahead of IndyCar return at Sonoma

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Mikhail Aleshin is relishing the opportunity to return to racing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the Verizon IndyCar Series at this weekend’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Aleshin raced full-time for SPM in 2014, picking up a podium finish in Houston en route to 16th place in the final standings.

The Russian did not return for 2015, but did race for SMP Racing – a similarly-named but unrelated Russian-backed sportscar team – at the 24 Hours of Le Mans back in June.

After telling MotorSportsTalk that he wanted to return to IndyCar someday and “kick some ass”, Aleshin’s return with SPM was confirmed three weeks ago, which also incorporated a test at Sonoma.

With his return to racing in IndyCar now just days away, Aleshin is geared up for the weekend ahead.

“I’m very happy to be back in IndyCar for the Sonoma race with a great team like Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and SMP Racing,” Aleshin said.

“I had such an interesting season here last year with this team. I enjoyed all the new tracks and it was very different from racing in Europe.

“It was a long journey to make it up here again and I will use this opportunity to give it 100 per cent of my effort.”

Aleshin is dedicating his appearance in this weekend’s race to Justin Wilson, who died on Monday after sustaining severe head injuries in last Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

“I would like to dedicate this race to the memory of Justin Wilson, who was a great race driver, man and father,” Aleshin said. “I will miss him a lot.”

The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma is live on NBCSN from 4pm on Sunday.

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.