Last November, it was announced that Mikhail Aleshin would become the first Russian IndyCar driver as he would run the full IndyCar Series season driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
Aleshin got his start in go-karts back in 2000, before moving to small formulas where he won the championship in Italy, before finishing second in Germany. Afterwards, he moved to the World Series by Renault, where he won the championship in 2010.
Last year, he was part of SMP Racing Driver’s Support Program, which is a program that supports 30 drivers and has the goal of making the Russian drivers reach their maximum potential.
“I’m really, really happy to be a part of it because also I’m taking part and sharing the experience with some of the young drivers,” Aleshin comments of his experience with the program so far. “I think this is very important because when I started my racing career, especially when I came to Europe, there was no one who could ever show me what do I need to do.
“Everything what I got through, all the mistakes I done, it was basically just because I had no one to help. I never had any driver coach in my life. It’s funny, but it is. So I would say that I’m really trying to help these young guys, which already you can see the talent. We have drivers from age like nine years old who compete in Russian go-kart championship until like really experienced guys who going to race in Le Mans. So this program is really big.”
When it came to choosing what to do this season, discussions started for Aleshin to come to IndyCar.
“I think IndyCar is definitely a very important part of the open-wheel racing in the world. I’m really big fan of open-wheel racing, so that’s one of the reasons I’m here,” he says. “The other thing is it’s a big challenge for me to be here because I’m the first Russian driver to compete in IndyCar. For sure, yeah, it’s a big challenge. Obviously most of the drivers, they came out from Indy Lights, Mazda, any American category. Most of them know most of the tracks, so there will be some difficulties for me because I don’t know any.”
Once the decision was made, everything was put in process from putting a deal together with a team, followed by getting Aleshin over to the United States.
“I going to spend all my time in U.S. definitely during the season,” he comments. “As you know, the season is so tight. I think there is no reason for me to leave U.S. at this time because the jetlag, in Moscow it’s nine hours difference. I think if you want to be successful, if you want to be in shape, you shouldn’t leave. That’s what I going to do. I going to stay in Indy all the year between races.”
Aleshin has some laps under his belt so far as he has tested at both Sonoma and Sebring. So far in learning about the IndyCar Series, Aleshin has been intrigued by the street circuits and the ovals.
“In Europe the main street course is Grand Prix Monaco, which we race in GP2, which I did last several years. That’s the only street course we have,” he comments. “The most probably interesting part for me will be races on ovals because that’s what I haven’t done at all in my life. I just did one test day in Homestead for my rookie test. That was quite interesting actually, quite interesting and exciting.
“It’s hard to expect something from something what you have never done, but actually it was much better than any of my expectations in the end, the feeling of racing on ovals. But the thing is, I don’t know any of the tracks except Sonoma. I will need to prepare maximum as I can before every race. So use any information the team has from previous years, look any videos from the race previous years and so on.”
Aleshin will have veterans around him to help with the transition, including teammate Simon Pagenaud and engineer Allen McDonald. So far, Aleshin says that both have helped him a lot with his experience so far.
“Allen McDonald, my engineer, he’s a really experienced man. He spend many years in Formula One, many years in IndyCar, last like maybe 15 years,” Aleshin comments. “I’m really happy to work with him. I think we found, yeah, basically one language I would say.
“Simon, I need to admit that he actually help me a lot with getting into the stuff fast, especially when I had my test at Homestead on the oval. He just help me to develop the car and to understand what I need to feel on the track, because obviously oval racing is completely opposite than what I used to do and I don’t know how the car need to behave.”
Aleshin added that he already had some experience with Pagenaud, racing with him in Europe about 10 years ago.
The lessons have already started as Aleshin said he normally sets himself up to have an aggressive car, but has already learned that on ovals, that doesn’t produce good results.
Aleshin’s move to the IndyCar series is already having a positive impact as IndyCar was not shown in Russia in years past, but will be shown this coming season.
“People likes racing in Russia. I’m pretty sure it will be popular,” Aleshin comments. “Russia is getting bigger and bigger every year in motorsport. Now for last like five years, they built like five or seven good tracks in Russia.
“In the end of this year, we’re going to have our first Grand Prix, Formula One, in Russia, in Sochi, as you know. I think all these things shows that Russia is interested in motorsport as one of the main sports in the world.”