Aleshin happy to be back behind wheel

(via – Mikhail Aleshin is back in the cockpit and hungrier than ever for success in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio after sitting out the previous Verizon IndyCar Series race.

Aleshin stressed that he’s focused solely on today’s race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and not about what may or may not happen next.

“Well, to be fair, I’m here to race and I don’t want to think about those things,” Aleshin said Saturday after qualifying last out of 21 cars. “Different people need to think about that, not me. I’m all set.

“You can worry about those things in between the races, but you don’t worry about those things during race weekend. During the race weekend, all you need to worry about is your car, your engineers and mechanics, and that’s it.”

The 30-year-old Russian driver ranked 17th in this morning’s warmup practice in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

The team didn’t disclose why Sebastian Saavedra drove in Aleshin’s place at the Honda Indy Toronto two weeks ago. Aleshin is 17th in points and has crashed out of three races in which he’s driven, including two of the last three. His best finish this season is sixth place in the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader, along with a pair of 10th-place showings.

Aleshin also spun out in Turn 11 during Saturday practice, crashing the rear of the car into the tire barrier, but he and the team are looking ahead, not back.

“We’re glad he’s back and hope he has a good race today,” said Piers Phillips, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports general manager.

It was at this track last year that Aleshin showed promise as a contender to win. Coming off top-six finishes in the two races before the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio, he was leading before a pit-lane incident cost him a chance at his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory.

He followed that up by winning the pole and finishing second at Pocono Raceway, which tied his series-best result.

“Yes, we had the momentum going, starting from here last year,” Aleshin said. “Let’s hope for maybe the same this year. The result of the qualifying was not as we expected, but the race is 90 laps and there’s going to be a lot of things going on. We just need to finish it and we’re going to be good, I think.”

During the offseason, team co-owner Sam Schmidt was excited about re-signing Aleshin, who had four top-six runs and finished 15th in the points in 2016, to be a teammate again with James Hinchcliffe.

“I would say that it’s not very easy, you know, psychologically to get out of the car for one race, then race another race,” Aleshin said. “It’s not ideal, but that’s what we have at the moment. Anyway, I just want to do the job as best as possible.”

The top seven drivers in the point standings own the first seven starting positions for today’s race on the 2.258-mile permanent road course. Will Power is on pole and going off from the front row for the sixth straight year but the Team Penske driver has yet to win on the circuit.

Championship leader Scott Dixon is chasing his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series title, but the Chip Ganassi Racing pilot has not been happy with his car this weekend – even though he’s starting sixth.

Local favorite Graham Rahal, who won here in 2015, qualified fourth and was fastest in this morning’s final practice. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver stressed how demanding the track is on every lap, and believes his penchant for outlasting other drivers physically could play to his benefit.

“There’s just not a lot of places that you get a break here,” Rahal said. “You’re always turning, you’re always braking, you’re always shifting, there’s always something going on. It’s definitely a physical place to race.”

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