IndyCar 2017 driver review: Mikhail Aleshin

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. After a strong return in 2016 following a one-year absence, Mikhail Aleshin’s encore campaign didn’t go to plan and ultimately ended after Mid-Ohio in late July.

Mikhail Aleshin, No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

  • 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
  • 2017: 19th Place (12 Starts), Best Finish 6th, Best Start 6th, 0 Top-5, 3 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 13.1 Avg. Start, 13.8 Avg. Finish

The obvious potential, sneaky cool “don’t care” attitude and fearless display Mikhail Aleshin had shown in his first two full seasons of IndyCar didn’t carry over into his third, in a year of regression for the “Mad Russian.”

Aleshin’s deal for 2017 was struck late and only confirmed a month before the season opener in St. Petersburg. After his car had appeared in full SMP Racing livery in 2014 and 2016, a toned down – albeit still striking – cherry red and black livery made it obvious this wasn’t a full boat SMP Racing effort as it had been previously.

A rather ragged first half the season followed, with Aleshin drawing the ire of several of his competitors – notably Tony Kanaan, JR Hildebrand and longtime sparring partner Sebastien Bourdais – through the first four races. A quiet month of May in Indianapolis was needed and a solid, under-the-radar P13 in the Indianapolis 500 fit that bill nicely, along with a season-best sixth place in Detroit race one.

But from Texas his year unraveled completely. Kanaan was to the inside and James Hinchcliffe to the middle with Aleshin on the outside heading into Turn 3; contact followed as Kanaan came up the road needing to make the corner entry, and with another car spearing Aleshin to take him out. Rumors swirled at the time that Aleshin had driven his final race for the team.

After Texas, Aleshin only had two more full weekends in the car. He missed Road America Friday practice owing to visa issues returning from the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At Iowa, where he’d been a top-five finisher a year earlier, he crashed out early. He was sat for Toronto before making a one-race return at Mid-Ohio. With another incident in practice, Aleshin produced 14th place before he and the team went their separate ways, and Aleshin instead focused on development of SMP Racing’s new LMP1 prototype for 2018.