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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.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”