Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin finished sixth and seventh in this past weekend's race at Pocono.
Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin arrived at the Pocono Raceway with smiles on their faces after finishing one-two in Houston a week ago. For their Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports team, the strong finish gave the team renewed energy and served as a morale booster.
For Pagenaud, he went to victory lane for the second time this season and for Aleshin, he earned his best finish to date. Pagenaud now has four IndyCar wins and seven top-10s in 10 races. He won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May.
“I have barely had time to celebrate last weekend’s win, but I am very happy with the result,” Pagenaud said after qualifying 11th have put us in contention for the championship. We couldn’t be in a better place.”
Regarding his team’s effort in Houston, the Frenchman added, “Our finish was huge for the team and not too many teams have these kinds of outcomes. We are a young team and congratulations to my teammate for such a good result.”
Pagenaud calls Aleshin a quick learner, who doesn’t need too much mentoring. “Mikhail is pretty good and he has a lot of experience. And he’s a very clever guy and he figures it out pretty quick.”
According to Pagenaud, there are no team orders when the two drivers are running together, but common sense lets them know the significance of strong finishes. “At Houston, Mikhail was being an incredible teammate, and I will pay him back when I have the at Pocono. “My performance and that of my team opportunity.”
While Aleshin was pleased with the runner-up finish in Houston, he was frustrated to have missed the top step of the podium. “I am the kind of person who when I have small success, I want bigger success,” he said. “It is nice to be on podium, but it didn’t change my world. However, one more step would have given me a different feeling, but I am really happy for the team and for Simon in his fight for the championship. For our team, we know we can do it and we want to do more of the same. And it puts us into a special mood for next couple of races, and we need to keep the momentum going.”
Aleshin said a flat tire reduced his chances for the win and wished he could have challenged Pagenaud. “Simon was so fast, I don’t know if I could have challenged him without a flat tire,” he noted.
The 27-year old Russian driver is having a banner rookie season, securing four top-10s in the 10 races run. Everyone recognizes the rookie is in a learning mode, and he works closely with Pagenaud, who calls the quiet-spoken Russian a quick study.
Aleshin’s honed his talents on European road courses but oval-track racing is new to him. His first oval race came with the Indianapolis 500. For the prestigious race, he qualified and 15th
Since Indianapolis, Aleshin raced on the Texas Motor Speedway oval, qualifying and finishing 11th and once again, he proved to be a quick study, giving a good accounting of himself and proving his ability to perform. The Pocono race was his third time on an oval
Having never been to Pocono, Aleshin did work on a simulator and watched tapes of the 2013 race. He qualified 12th "but that’s life,” he said. “It will be a long race and we just need to do the same as we did last weekend.”
Asked for his thoughts on the three-turn track, he commented, “I don’t know why there aren’t two turns. It is so different from the turns at Indianapolis, and for me, most ovals seem to have just two turns. Pocono is very technical, as each turn is different. I like turn 1 the best because it is the trickiest one with a bump in the middle, so you have to have everything together to do it properly.”
Aleshin is one of some 45 drivers racing under the colors of Russia’s SMP Racing program. The company’s ladder program gives up and coming drivers an opportunity to learn and grow as they gain experience.
The IndyCar rookie is in regular contact with SMP reps, and he keeps Russian citizens updated with regular reports he writes. He said his runner-up finish at Houston garnered plenty of publicity in his home country.
While Aleshin doesn’t want to talk about the 2015 season, he indicated his total focus is on the current campaign, wanting to do the best he can and working closely with his teammate and the Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports team.
The pair came out of the Pocono 500 in fine fashion with Pagenaud in sixth and Aleshin one spot behind in seventh. Throughout the rapid race, they ran together, trading positions often, one spot behind Pagenaud.
“I did a small mistake in turn 1, said Pagenaud, “That was a long race, and it was very difficult to pass. We had a good chassis, but we couldn't pass anyone. Halfway through the race we made a bold change that worked. I'm very happy with how the team handled the challenges, and I'm happy with sixth today. (Also) I want to say congratulations to my teammate Mikhail (Aleshin). He drove a heck of a race today."
Aleshin, too, was happy with the outcome. "Everything was really good for me during the race. The car was strong, which allowed me to push out there and challenge other drivers. I'm very happy for the team, because we showed that we could be competitive the entire weekend.
This is a strong points result for us, too. We're knocking on the door of the top 10 now, which is very exciting."
Pagenaud and Aleshin have served notice they are forces to be reckoned with and not push-overs for the power-house teams.