Photo Credit: motorsports.nbcsports.com
An at-the-time 26-year-old Russian driver by the name of Mikhail Aleshin made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut back in 2014 at St. Petersburg with a solid 12th place finish driving for Schmidt Person Motorsports. In 17 races that season, Aleshin finished 7 of them inside the top 10, including a career-high 2nd place finish at Houston. Then, in practice for the 18th and final race of the season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, Aleshin had a huge crash (see here) and ended up breaking his back. He did not race at all in the 2015 season except for the season finale at Sonoma, where he finished in 10th place.
He was, however, doing some driving overseas during his IndyCar hiatus. This past offseason, it was announced that Aleshin would be returning to the Verizon IndyCar Series for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the team for whom he had driven throughout the 2014 campaign.
Throughout the first 11 races of this season, Aleshin, now 29, had totaled 3 top 6 finishes with a top finish of 5th place, which he did at both St. Petersburg and at Iowa. Heading into the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Aleshin had raced at the track just once, and that was back in 2014 when he finished in 14th place.
Despite spinning during practice, Aleshin was able to qualify in 10th for the race. He ended up being the highest-running car to pit before the 1st caution came out on lap 15 of the 90-lap event, cycling him to the front of the field when many of the other drivers pit under that caution period behind a couple of drivers who had not pit at all. Once the drivers in front of Aleshin headed to the pits, he took the lead.
After the 2nd round of pit stops, Aleshin had opened up a gap of over 10 seconds on Team Penske teammates and championship contenders Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. But then on lap 61, when Jack Hawksworth lost control of his car in turn 1 and slammed head first into the wall, the caution came out and that huge gap Aleshin had opened was wiped away as the field bunched up for their 3rd and final pit stops of the day.
Heading to the pits, Aleshin actually opened up a decent gap in front of Power and Pagenaud. He had a clean pit-in to his pit stall and was probably close to 100 feet if not more ahead of both Power and Pagenaud. Aleshin’s pit stall was closer to the back of pit road than Power’s and Pagenaud’s, so he was in his stall 1st in a routine fashion.
Just before Aleshin’s pit stop had finished, Juan Pablo Montoya pulled into the stall in front of him. After that, for some reason one of Aleshin’s pit crew members deemed it safe for Aleshin to exit his pit box, when in reality, Josef Newgarden was just turning into his pit box, which was right in front of Montoya’s. This caused Aleshin to slam into Newgarden, whose pit crew was furious.
Not only did Aleshin fall back a number of positions because of the incident, but he needed to come in and pit again to replace his front wing, which was damaged from the contact that he had made with Newgarden’s car. He was also then issued two penalties: one for the unsafe release out of his pit stall, which forced him to restart the race at the back of the field following the caution, and another for hitting a member of Juan Pablo Montoya’s pit crew, which forced him to serve a drive through penalty.
It looked like it was going to be a great day for Mikhail Aleshin, as the race was his to lose with just under 30 laps to go after he had led a race-high 33 laps. But he failed to claim his maiden win in the Verizon IndyCar Series in his 30th career start, and the day ended up being one to forget for the Russian. Aleshin ended up finishing the race in 17th place, which tied his 2nd worst finish of the season.