|Mikhail Aleshin at last month's Barber test.
INDIANAPOLIS (April 24, 2014) – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) teammates Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin return April 27 to the gently rolling hills of Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, an event that requires equally large amounts of focus and fitness.
"It's all about the details in your driving at Barber," SPM driver Simon Pagenaud said. "You have to be incredibly focused and fit. I believe this is the most difficult place we race at physically."
Pagenaud and Aleshin tested at the 17-turn, 2.38-mile permanent road course March 17-18 during the Verizon IndyCar Series' preseason open test.
"Most teams will have their cars sorted when they arrive for the first practice session since we've all tested there, but there are variables we'll need to adjust for like temperature change from the winter," Pagenaud said. "One thing we can expect is for lap times to be very close throughout the entire field. Just like Long Beach, it will be very tight in qualifying. One-tenth of a second could gain or lose you six spots. It's going to be about being on top of your game as a driver and providing your absolute best each time you sit down in the car."
Pagenaud made his first start at Barber Motorsports Park in 2011, and the Frenchman has finished eighth or better in all of his starts there.
He finished fifth in the first two races of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, while his run at a podium finish in the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 13 was halted by on-track contact with Will Power that sent the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Honda to the back of the pack. Despite that disappointment, Pagenaud is third in the series standings with 60 points.
"Long Beach is already behind us," Pagenaud said. "There will be race weekends when we're frustrated and weekends when we perform better than we should. We're third in the championship right now, which is really encouraging. Now it's time to keep moving forward. The next few races suit our team very well, so we'll be working to maximize our points and win."
Rookie Mikhail Aleshin will arrive at Barber Motorsports Park on the heels of his first top-10 finish in the Verizon IndyCar Series at the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Russian driver Aleshin finished sixth on the temporary street circuit after starting 20th in the No. 7 SMP Racing Honda.
"For me the most exciting thing about coming to Barber is that I've been there before!" Aleshin said. "We had some issues during testing at Barber, but it's a bit of a relief to arrive at a track for a race weekend that isn't brand new to me. This will be one of only a few times all season where I'll have the luxury of having turned laps at the facility before the first practice session starts. Even most of the other rookies have more experience at these tracks because of their time in the Mazda Road to Indy development series."
With two Verizon IndyCar Series starts under his belt, Aleshin is beginning to learn the nuances of his competitors and their driving styles.
"Every field in every racing series has erratic drivers and normal drivers," Aleshin said. "Some drivers you don't know what to expect when you enter a corner, and others you know you can trust that they'll be respectful. However, the main difference compared to what I'm used to isn't with the drivers in this series; it's the style of fighting. You're allowed to fight a lot harder here for positions, and that's a big difference for me. It's very exciting, and I'm enjoying the challenge. You fight hard for every spot you gain on the track. You have to drive as hard as possible or you're going to get left behind."
Live television coverage for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Sunday, April 27 on NBC Sports Network. For the latest trackside updates from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, follow @SPMIndyCar on Twitter.