Veteran Pagenaud, rookie Aleshin bring potent combination of experience, enthusiasm to St. Petersburg
Continuity and newness are dual themes for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) as the team prepares for the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener Sunday, March 30 on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Simon Pagenaud is returning for his third year with the team, and rookie Mikhail Aleshin is making his first series start with SPM.
Aleshin, a 26-year-old native of Moscow, is one of four rookies to debut at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He will become the first Russian driver to compete in the IndyCar Series. Ironically his first race will take place in a city with a very familiar name to Russian people.
To prepare for his first race weekend with SPM, Aleshin has spent as much time as possible with his engineers and crew.
"Before we even get there, we want to know what changes we are going to make in the car," Aleshin said. "I've been practicing in the simulator at our shop and watching lots of tape. Everyone else will have more experience than me at this track, so I need to do my best to create less opportunity for error."
While Aleshin's crew prepares the No. 7 SMP Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone car for the rookie's first taste of Verizon IndyCar Series competition, Pagenaud's veteran crew seeks to build from the team's momentum in 2013 when the Frenchman collected his first two series wins and finished third in the series championship.
"This will be our third year with nearly all of the same people on the No. 77 car, which is a first in my career," Pagenaud said. "Everyone on the race team has been pushing, whether it's the crew in the pit box or the engineers. Continuity is key and can be so crucial in racing, which is a sport with a lot of emotion."
With the conclusion of several months of testing during the offseason, Pagenaud identified several sectors he and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team have worked to refine before the new season kicks off.
"Damping is crucial and understanding how the car can have more grip on the race surface is vital," he said. "We've studied the new Firestone tire in detail, as well, and we're ready to get going on it in St. Petersburg."
Pagenaud and the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports crew also have been entrenched in the development of Honda's new twin-turbo engine.
"On the engine side of things, Honda has worked to produce nice drivability on the track with us," he said. "Their engineers have focused on creating more overall power for our program this season. With the introduction of the twin-turbo in 2014, there is more power available than before. It's important to work hand in hand on the chassis and the engine to extract the best out of both."
And there is no denying that Pagenaud, 29, is ready to fight for his next Verizon IndyCar Series victory.
"I've been working on mental preparation, and I'm feeling confident," Pagenaud said. "My goal is to extract the best out of myself in 2014. It's time to unleash myself on the track."
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports