Aleshin: Back with my family in IndyCar

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Mikhail Aleshin feels like he is back with his racing family as he prepares to return to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2016 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Aleshin made his IndyCar debut in 2014 with Sam Schmidt’s team, scoring a breakthrough podium finish in Houston en route to 16th place in the final standings.

However, Aleshin turned his focus to endurance racing in 2015 with Russian outfit SMP Racing in the European Le Mans Series where he raced in the LMP2 class.

A one-off run with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports came at the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma where he finished tenth, and Aleshin has since secured the second seat at the team for 2016 alongside James Hinchcliffe.

Writing in his ‘driver debrief’ for the IndyCar website, Aleshin explained how he felt he had returned to his family in the series after a year away.

“I feel like I am back with my family again,” Aleshin said. “After being away from the Verizon IndyCar Series for almost all of 2015, it is great to know I will be with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports again next season, and for the whole season.

“We tested last week at Sebring and it just makes me more excited for 2016. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is a very good team and we had a great experience together in 2014.

“Together with SMP Racing, my sponsor in Russia who has a great racing program in many series, we thought that it would be great to come back to IndyCar. I’m very happy that we could put it all together so I can become be a part of this team again. They are all like a family to me.”

Aleshin admitted that he was surprised by the levels of downforce offered by the new aero kits, but is excited to be returning to front-line single-seater racing on a full-time basis.

“I can’t wait to get back full-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” Aleshin said. “I have no words, only emotions because I am so excited. It’s really one of the best and most competitive series I’ve been to. So it’s really great to be back, as I feel I have huge potential to show up here.

“I was able to drive in the last race this season at Sonoma, so I did get some experience with the new aero kits.

“I was very surprised on the ’15 kit’s downforce level when I did the final race in Sonoma. The car became faster and more physical to drive, which makes it even more challenging for drivers, which makes me even more interested to drive.

“Driving an Indy car is real racing, which you don’t see so often in these days, and I’m very happy to take this challenge!”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds