IndyCar 2016 driver review: Mikhail Aleshin

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MotorSportsTalk continues its review through the field of Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, driver-by-driver.

The 15th place finishing driver this year was Russian rocket Mikhail Aleshin, who became a fan favorite over the course of the year and was a bit unlucky to have not won his first career race, back in the series after a one-year absence.

Mikhail Aleshin, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

  • 2014: 16th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 1 Top-5, 7 Top-10s, 4 Laps Led, 14.4 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish (2015, finished 10th at Sonoma in one start)
  • 2016: 15th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 1 Pole, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 4 Top-10, 120 Laps Led, 10.9 Avg. Start, 13.9 Avg. Finish

Who would have thought that the “Mad Russian” would become one of the year’s most pleasant surprises and a fan favorite in 2016? Aleshin’s return to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after a year hiatus was an instant upgrade over the clean but often forgettable James Jakes in the second car, and provided that team a second shot in the arm along with the return of James Hinchcliffe.

It almost didn’t start out that way. Aleshin started his year with an overall pole for the Rolex 24 at Daytona in miserable conditions aboard the SMP Racing BR Engineering BR01 Nissan, but he missed the opening tests at Phoenix and Sebring owing to visa issues – Gabby Chaves filled in at a moment’s notice. So when he came back at St. Petersburg for the season opener, he still hadn’t been in an IndyCar since Sonoma, and made it through the Turn 4 “parking lot” en route to a fifth place finish.

Aleshin didn’t really hit his stride until the month of May, with several jaw-dropping qualifying runs including one at the buzzer to bump Alexander Rossi out of the Fast Nine. His attitude was simply awesome – he outwardly said he was only focused on kicking ass, didn’t seem to care about anything other than driving fast, and quickly morphed into one of the best quotes on the grid.

Results didn’t really come until Iowa, with a nice fifth place there, followed by sixth in Toronto. He should have won his maiden race at Mid-Ohio before the pit lane contact there, and nearly did the same at Pocono from his first career pole. His Texas and Watkins Glen crashes and nondescript run to 11th in Sonoma cost him a shot at moving further up the points than 15th, but it was certainly a memorable year.

Aleshin brought a quintessentially Russian flavor to the grid and was a welcome re-addition back to the paddock this year. With more time and consistency, his first win should be around the corner in 2017 if he’s back for another year.