Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt says he’s very happy with James Hinchcliffe’s progress, after the Canadian clocked sixth-fastest time in practice at St. Petersburg.
Hinchcliffe suffered a life-threatening shunt at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May, that put him out of action for the remainder of the 2015 season. His comeback test was at Road America last September.
Schmidt told Motorsport.com: “I knew James would come back strong, and yeah, he’s absolutely ready; no hold-ups at all. He tells me he’s in the best condition of his life, and I believe him.
“Ironically, drivers who come back from an injury like that usually go on to have the best years of their career, so that’s what we’re aiming for with James.”
Schmidt said that even Hinchcliffe’s P6 performance wasn’t entirely representative of his ultimate pace, believing he could have ended the session in third, and top Honda-powered car.
“He was actually on a lap that was 0.3sec up on his final run,” said Schmidt, “but then lost it toward the end of the lap.
“But anyway, I think Honda are looking stronger than this time last year at this track. We’re reasonably close [to Chevrolet] but we won’t necessarily know until we get back to Phoenix.”
Aleshin’s return also impressive
Schmidt also praised his second driver Mikhail Aleshin, who raced for SPM in 2014, and also made a one-off appearance at last year’s season finale.
“I think Mikhail is excited to come back and he’s really enthused about going back to tracks he’s raced at before,” said Schmidt, “and definitely that helps him speed up his re-learning process.
“He keeps getting better – 21st this morning, then 16th this afternoon. At that rate of progress I’d say our realistic aims would be for James to qualify in the top 6 and Mikhail in the Top 12.
“Mikhail didn’t get any testing time this winter at all, so I think he’s doing a good job. He started the day with the same setup as James but then they went their separate directions.”
Asked if Aleshin had expressed any fitness issues, considering the cars have gained more downforce since last year, and a lot more since he drove the pre-aero kit cars of 2014, Schmidt said no.
“Remember, Sonoma race, he got out and was exhausted? Well, that was his wake-up call. He’s been fine today.”