Russian Mikhail Aleshin will make a full-time comeback to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016, following a one-off appearance in the Sonoma season finale and after his first full season in 2014 was cut short by one race.
Aleshin will again be in the No. 7 SMP Racing Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, this time teaming with James Hinchcliffe.
It brings to an end the race to arguably the most coveted seat remaining in IndyCar this offseason, with Jack Harvey and Conor Daly also among the names in consideration.
As early as June this year at Le Mans though, then driving one of SMP Racing’s BR01 Nissans, he told this writer he had “unfinished business” in IndyCar following his serious accident in practice at Fontana’s Auto Club Speedway.
“I’m very happy about the agreement between Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and the SMP Racing Russian driver development program,” Aleshin said in today’s released. “I had an unbelievable experience with IndyCar in 2014 and I can’t wait to be back in this great series. I’m very motivated and one hundred percent ready to win.”
Added team co-owner Sam Schmidt, “Ric and I are very pleased to have Mikhail back for a second season with SPM. He was extremely fast in 2014 and we think, given that year of experience and last year competing in ELMS, he will be able to contribute significantly to the program in 2016.”
As for Harvey and Daly, Schmidt has occasionally run a third car on weekends without Indy Lights races – he has four cars – while Daly has been linked to a test and perhaps greater role with Dale Coyne Racing in recent days.
Travis Pastrana will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup series race on February 19 with the grandaddy of them all, the Daytona 500, but his road to get there will not be paved and his car will have only two fenders as he tackles Florida Speedweeks and the DIRTcar Nationals.
“It’s good,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’re going to go down, we’re going to go hangout with [NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion] Matt Crafton, one of [Black Rifle’s] drivers, we’ll go to Modified races and watch all the Late Models. We’ll watch the racing, and we’ll bring [United States military] veterans down and hangout with [Steve] Arpin.”
But there is a saying among dirt track fans that goes, ‘asphalt is for getting to the track; dirt is for racing’ – and Pastrana is taking that to heart.
After racing on the snow in Nitro Rallycross February 4-5 in Calgary, Alberta, the original plan was to head to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida to watch the modified and late model races. Until Crafton called him out for not racing.
Pastrana relayed the conversation: “I told Crafton [I was coming to watch] and he goes, ‘Ah, too much of a sissy to drive?’ I called Arpin, and said, ‘So, Longhorn, I heard you guys have vehicles that can kick the crap out of Crafton’s vehicle.’ [Arpin] said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t suck, you can beat him.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”
The DIRTcar Nationals run from February 6-18. The first week features six UMP Modified Mains each night they run, on Monday (Feb. 6), Friday (Feb. 10), and then the prestigious Gator Championship race on Saturday (Feb. 11). Pastrana hopes to run every night in one of Arpin’s cars, also with sponsorship from Black Riffle Coffee.
And this is not just for bragging rights; there is money on the line. Pastrana and Crafton have a $1 bet on who has the best finish.
It took a day for Pastrana to get comfortable in the modified. And it took a little coaching from Arpin, who has experience in both dirt modifieds and rally cars to make him fast.
“[Arpin] showed up the second day after hearing how bad the first day was,” Pastrana said, which is confirmed in the Instagram post embedded above. “But he just told me, until you commit, it’s not going to work. Once I committed, it started making a lot of sense. But coming in, if you’re lifting off the gas while trying to turn, it just doesn’t turn and all your natural instincts say, ‘Don’t get on the gas.’ So, yeah, I feel like it should suit my driving style because I’m more of an aggressive sideways type of driver, but it was very difficult. Turning and sliding, I’m fine. Getting it there is not the easiest.”
Pastrana has one previous start in a dirt late model that came in the 2010 Prelude to the Dream. He finished 23rd in the 27-car field and was three laps off the pace. He wasn’t the only driver having difficulty getting a feel for the car that night; Jeff Gordon finished on the same lap, only one position ahead of him.
The price of the weekend could well exceed the dollar he may lose to Crafton.
“It’s going to be an expensive weekend,” Pastrana said. “Not everything is covered. If I crash anything, it is going to be all on me. This is one of those things where I want to come down and have fun. I want to hang out with the crowd, I want to sign autographs and give high fives. Especially for the Modified crew, that’s the grassroots racing that I love and some of my friends are involved with. We’ll be camping down there with Arpin and all the Longhorn guys, just hanging out. I feel like that’s a great opportunity for us to bring a lot of [US] veterans and bring people that are into racing and aren’t into racing, friends and family, and just have an awesome time.”
And it’s not out of the question that Pastrana could add another top-10 to his record book in the DIRTcar Nationals. After the rocky first day, Pastrana gained speed. Enough so that Arpin’s confidence was raised.
“We’re pretty confident Crafton is going to have to run hard to keep his dollar,” Arpin said.