Aleshin on IndyCar: “I can’t wait to get back”

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Few drivers were exciting to watch as Mikhail Aleshin in the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series, with the Russian’s speed, bravery and bravado showing through at a number of events.

Aleshin didn’t get a chance to end his rookie season as planned though, with a devastating accident at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. in night practice.

He came back proving he’d lost none of the attributes he had on his scorecard in the 2015 season finale at Sonoma, in a third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry. He out-qualified teammates Ryan Briscoe and James Jakes and finished 10th in the team’s No. 77 SMP Racing Dallara-Honda.

As Aleshin explained, the return to IndyCar – particularly ovals – is something he’s quite excited for.

“It all depends on your feeling about the series, about the team and about your place in the world, I would say,” Aleshin told MotorSportsTalk at this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 test, where he’s co-driving the No. 37 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR01 Nissan.

“I really enjoyed this particular team and felt myself like I was back home. And from the physical and mental side, the work on the prototype we did all season, that helped me a lot. I learned a lot as well there.

“For me, I didn’t have any real issues to get back and be in the top-10 in IndyCar. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, but it was not harder than when I did it the first year, for sure.”

Aleshin’s bravado shown through most on the ovals in the No. 7 car. With Fontana his last oval memory prior to now Phoenix, which will be the first oval race in 2016, Aleshin is keen to recapture the spark.

“I don’t know why, but I like ovals even more than other tracks, for some reason,” he said. “Here (Daytona), you can’t call it an oval, I mean the configuration that we’re using here at Daytona, but still you take some parts of the oval and it’s a pretty nice feeling, I’ll tell you. I can’t wait to get back.”

He’s had one test already with James Hinchcliffe at Sebring, and the two have gelled well.

“We had a test in Sebring together. He’s a nice guy and I think he’s a good worker. He seems like an open guy and I’m sure we’re going to have some fun times this season,” he said.

Aleshin will share the SMP Racing BR01 Nissan at Daytona with Kirill Ladygin, Nicolas Minassian and Maurizio Mediani for the Rolex 24 at Daytona itself.

The car is a dark horse entry for the overall win, and Aleshin returns to the race for the first time since 2014, when he finished fourth in GT Daytona in an SMP Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.

Aleshin could also do the 24 Hours of Le Mans again, as it does not conflict with IndyCar’s schedule. However, he said that remains to be seen whether he’ll slot in somewhere within SMP’s sports car program.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).