James Hinchcliffe in testing. Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar 2017 team preview: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

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MotorSportsTalk looks through the teams competing in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports was a front-running team for much of 2016 but was unable to seal the deal for a race win, its first year since 2012 without one.

Drivers (Engineer, Strategist)

5-James Hinchcliffe (Allen McDonald, Robert Gue)
7-Mikhail Aleshin (Blair Perschbacher, Nick Snyder)

Manufacturer/aero kit: Honda

Sponsors: Arrow Electronics, Lucas Oil, Petro-Canada Lubricants (No. 5), SMP Racing (No. 7)

What went right in 2016: Despite no trips to victory lane, both drivers scored podiums and were consistent challengers either via improved qualifying pace or good strategic moves. Hinchcliffe (Texas) and Aleshin (Mid-Ohio, Pocono) were close to wins three different times during the year.

What went wrong in 2016: Going hand-in-hand with what’s written above, the missed opportunities stick out from a year that could have otherwise seen Hinchcliffe and Aleshin higher than 13th and 15th in points, respectively. Hinchcliffe’s end to his season and Aleshin’s start to it both affected the team’s bottom line.

What’s changed for 2017: For once, not a ton. SPM maintains the same two drivers and it doesn’t have the added story line of Hinchcliffe’s return to racing factored in. Hinchcliffe has his same engineer and crew back and Aleshin has a bit more time from preseason compared to last year.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: The team has the potential to win with both drivers, but must maximize and finish their opportunities when they present themselves. Hinchcliffe should be able to crack the top-10 in points, if not the top-five.

New livery for Aleshin. Photo: IndyCar
New livery for Aleshin. Photo: IndyCar

MST PREDICTIONS

Tony DiZinno: The effervescent Canadian and likable Russian make for one of IndyCar’s more intriguing pairings, but I can’t see them both winning this year even though they’ve both said publicly they think wins are possible. A win for Hinchcliffe would probably carry a little better from a “good for the series” standpoint. I’ll say he wins once and breaks back into the top-10 in points.

Kyle Lavigne: Both Schmidt Peterson Motorsports drivers have the speed to be front-runners on a regular basis, but need to find consistency. James Hinchcliffe finished on the podium three times, (including a near-win at Texas Motor Speedway), but also finished 18th or worse five times. It’s more of the same for Mikhail Aleshin, who only finished inside the top ten on four occasions in 2016.

This team has the speed to challenge for wins and both drivers are a highly motivated competitors underneath their intriguing personalities. Hinchcliffe in particular is poised to enter the upper echelon of current IndyCar drivers, and both he and Aleshin should contend for wins in 2017. But, they’ll need to find consistency to jump into the upper echelon of IndyCar drivers.

Luke Smith: Probably the most likable driver line-up on the grid, James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin succeeding this year would certainly be no bad thing for the series. And there were flashpoints in 2017 where the SPM boys proved they had the pace, particularly in qualifying as they took one pole apiece. Both are capable of hitting victory lane this year, but opportunities will need to be snapped up: the opposition is too strong to let chances pass by.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).