Friday's Mikhail Aleshin to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports news wasn't just a new European driver getting a chance to drive IndyCar. Aleshin raised some eyebrows when he said the following:
“I knew the competition is quite strong and it would be hard for me, especially because I’ve never raced any American circuits. It’s a big thing to do, but I think I’ll be competitive. Ovals will be hard, but I’m here to learn and compete for good results.”
So, he's wary about ovals. Hey, I'm happy he's up front about it. Places like Indianapolis should demand respect, and not be treated with nonchalance. IndyCar's first Russian driver seems to have it right on the money there. Ovals are strange beasts. Some drivers can come in and take to them quite well, while others drivers can be top-notch in other aspects, but never really be at home on ovals big or small.
Aleshin will follow several other past and present IndyCar drivers with Formula Renault 3.5 experience. Besides racers like Charlie Kimball and Pippa Mann, there is Bertrand Baguette, whom Aleshin succeeded as FR 3.5 champion back in 2010. Aleshin is his own driver, though; from what little I've seen of him on-track, I'd peg him as very cool and generally professional when it comes to his racing. I think he could be a good teammate for Pagenaud, at least on the street and road courses. He also has rough a half-decade more open wheel experience than Vautier. Oh, he's still an IndyCar rookie for 2014, but there are reasons to suspect he might be a little more settled to start out.
Ultimately, do I think Aleshin rises to the level of talent possessed by his new teammate, one of IndyCar's rising elite drivers? No, but I think he has enough to make some serious Top 10 runs and possibly help out that team. If that's the result this year for SPM, then I think it could be regarded as a positive move.
There is, of course, more fallout to this story. Tristan Vautier's seat at SPM always seemed a little shaky, but you get the idea he'll land on his feet, even if it's outside of IndyCar. If he doesn't make a full-time return to the series (which doesn't sound too likely at the moment), I'm still glad he got a shot. It was a tough rookie year, but he seemed like a really good kid. He's fast, and he'll do well enough, be it in sports cars or elsewhere.
There's also the question of Sage Karam's destination in 2014. I interviewed this year's Indy Lights champ a few weeks back, and since then, I've had fits trying to figure out just where to slot him for 2014. SPM seemed a possible location, given his association with that team in Lights, but now we know that's not in the cards. Now, there's one less possible seat for Karam, and all eyes turn towards places like the KV Racing seat.
Mikhail Aleshin and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports seat might not seem like a massive bombshell on the surface, but there are reverberations there all the same. For IndyCar drivers without a ride, the pool of available seats (already small to begin with) dries up just a bit more A parting thought on this Monday: is Aleshin the only new European driver we see, or are others getting ready to make the jump across the pond?