Pagenaud finishes fifth in St. Petersburg; Aleshin highest-finishing rookie in 12th
Simon Pagenaud climbed methodically through the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg field from the 14th starting position to make a splash with a fifth-place finish in the first Verizon IndyCar Series race of the 2014 season.
His teammate, Mikhail Aleshin, finished 12th in his series debut, which was the highest finish of four rookies racing through the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., on March 30.
"It's never easy to pass here in St. Pete, so starting 14th was a bit disappointing because we missed our setup with the rain during qualifying," Pagenaud said. "We managed to maximize our opportunities during the race to finish fifth, however."
"My Honda engine had really good fuel mileage today," Pagenaud said. "I also had a lightning-fast pit crew, so that gave us an advantage in the pit sequence."
A second caution period on Lap 83 gave Pagenaud the opportunity he needed to make an aggressive restart on Lap 87.
"The last restart was the key for me to move forward and gain three spots," he said. "A top-five is a fantastic way to start off our hunt for the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship in 2014. You can't ask for much more than a fast car, clean pit stops and good fuel mileage, which is exactly what we had today in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda."
Moscow native Aleshin experienced a bumpy ride on his way to a 12th-place finish, including his first-ever attempt at a rolling start.
"I think the biggest struggle for me today was the start of the race because I have never done a rolling start in my whole career," Aleshin said. "After the start, I was close to being lost in the first corner, but we had a good strategy and a quick pace that helped the No. 7 SMP Racing car move up."
At the conclusion of his first race with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in a series that is brand-new to him, Aleshin was pleased with a result that saw him just miss a top-10 finish.
"The car was very good, and all of our pit stops were smooth," Aleshin said. "We were a bit unlucky with how the yellow flags fell, but that's just racing. Overall, I'm very happy because we were close to a top-10, and we know we have a good race car. I'm also happy to be the highest-finishing rookie!"
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports owner Sam Schmidt was encouraged by his team's showing out of the gate in 2014.
"Today was a mission accomplished for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports," Schmidt said. "Last year we started the season off in St. Petersburg with a mechanical issue, but we rebounded to finish third in the championship with Simon Pagenaud. To start off with a top-five from him this year gives us positive momentum to build from. And for Mikhail to be the highest-finishing rookie and check off all of the items we had on his agenda in his first race was another bonus. He had no issues in pit stops today and maintained a great pace while conserving fuel. We really couldn't have asked anything more of him today. It would be hard for me to be more ecstatic than I am right now to start off our season in such a strong way."
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports