May 8, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
You expect Simon Pagenaud of Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports to be in the top five in a practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
But rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin? Not yet, anyway.
The Russian rookie, into his fourth weekend of his first season, was best of the proverbial “threats to the establishment” in Thursday for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
Driving the No. 7 SMP Racing Honda, Aleshin clocked in fourth in second practice at 1:10.6681, a time which was fifth in the combined time sheets (Sebastien Bourdais, who led first practice, ranked third combined). The rest of the top five in second practice included teammate Pagenaud, defending series champion Scott Dixon, and race winners Will Power and James Hinchcliffe.
Aleshin has shown promise and potential in his first three races, and while his best finish is only sixth and best start 11th, he’s quickly acclimating to both IndyCar and racing in America.
Consider he hadn’t been to the U.S. before his initial seat fit with Schmidt’s team last November, ahead of his first test at Sebring International Raceway.
“I’d never raced here, so I had no point to come,” Aleshin joked during a press conference with assembled reporters after Thursday’s practice.
“But of course I’d heard of this race and this track, it’s very popular,” he added. “Everyone in the world knows about the Indianapolis 500. And when I did my ROP test, I understood why it was so special.”
He’s a fan of the road course for this weekend’s race, as well.
“I got the half day of testing in; I really like this track,” he said.
As for Pagenaud, he gave a lowdown on how the IMS road course will race with different downforce configurations likely to play a key role. He also compared the circuit favorably to Brazil, which was brought up as a similar course given the long straights there.
“First off, this is the smoothest track we’ve been to,” he said. “I think it will be better (than Brazil) for passing, with such a long straight line. Pick a level of downforce different to the competition and see how it goes.”
Pagenaud and Dixon, who posted the fastest lap of the day in second practice, were the only two drivers who finished in the top five in both sessions. In normal, dry circumstances you’d expect both of them – perhaps Aleshin as well – to make the Firestone Fast Six.
But with rain likely tomorrow, there’s a good chance all bets are off. Still, doesn’t take away from the job the SPM duo did today.
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