Avondale, AZ – April 1, 2016 – Mikhail Aleshin lead the IndyCar qualifying effort for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) after teammate James Hinchcliffe crashed during the first practice on Friday at Phoenix International Raceway.
Twenty-eight-year-old, Russian driver Aleshin, who finished fifth at the IndyCar season opener in St. Pete, was the third fastest Honda driver. He will start thirteenth for Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.
“I’m actually really happy to be the third fastest Honda driver,” said Aleshin. “I wasn’t here for the test last month and this was my first qualifying on an oval after the Fontana crash in 2014, so I think it shows potential for the No. 7 SMP Racing car and for the team. I hope we’re going to have a little bit more power for the race.”
Teammate Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics car made contact with the SAFER Barrier in turn 2 approximately 30 minutes into the first practice session of the day, causing substantial damage. The crew worked hard to rebuild the car and although they were unable to meet the qualifying deadline, the car rolled out for the remaining 10 minutes of evening practice and nabbed the second fastest Honda spot. The Canadian fan favorite will start Saturday’s race in P22.
“It’s tough to tell,” said Hinchcliffe. “We were just on a qualifying simulation, and had a bunch of understeer in the car and were making small adjustments in the car to try to dial it out. Turns three and four is normally a bit looser than turns one and two, and we had understeer even in turns three and four, so I made a small adjustment on the front bar and the next lap I had some understeer getting into it and the thing just snapped. It’s a huge kick in the nuts obviously for a race we have as little track time as we have here. I feel really bad for the guys that have to fix the Arrow machine, but we’ll get it buttoned up and just try to focus on what we can from here.”
The SPM Indy Lights drivers had two practices prior to qualifications on Friday and continued to find speed with each session.
Uruguayan driver Santiago Urrutia lead the stable with a third place start for Saturday’s Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race.
“I’m happy about qualifying,” said Urrutia. “We were pretty lost on the first practice and we were basically working on the race pace but we found a good car for qualifying. P3 is a good way to go. This is our first oval in Indy Lights so I’m happy.
“Now we need to concentrate on the race, save the tires during the first half and then push on the last twenty laps. It’s going to be difficult to pass, I think most of the passing will happen in traffic so I think that’s the key for the race.”
Teammates RC Enerson was right behind with a fourth place start, followed by Andre Negrao in sixth and Heamin Choi in 15th.
The Indy Lights race will take place on Saturday at 4:30pm ET. Later that afternoon, as the sun sets over Phoenix International Raceway, the Desert Diamond West Valley Grand Prix will take place at 9:15 p.m. ET.