Avondale, AZ – April 2, 2016 – Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) drivers Mikhail Aleshin and James Hinchcliffe finished 17th and 18th on Saturday night in the Desert Diamond West Valley Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway.
Russian driver Aleshin started 13th and fought his way forward to run as high as ninth. A full-course yellow on lap 119 was unlucky for both SPM drivers, who had just pitted on lap 114, putting them both a lap down. With 48 laps remaining, Aleshin spun at the entrance to pit lane and dropped to 17th, where he would finish the race.
“I have mixed feelings after this race,” said Aleshin. “I think the No. 7 SMP Racing car was good. The car was very good, actually. I was fighting like – as we say in Russia – like on the last day. Then we got unlucky with a set of tires, that’s why we needed to do the extra pit stop. Then we got a bit unlucky with yellow flags. Then I made a mistake coming off the banking into the pits. I lost the car on the way in. I’m happy that we showed the potential of the car but it was really hard to fight with Chevy. It’s something to think about for the next races and I’m happy to finish my first oval race since the crash in 2014.”
Teammate Hinchcliffe started at the back of the field for the 250-lap race after a crash in the first practice of the weekend left him unable to qualify on Friday afternoon. The Canadian fan favorite struggled with balance and vibration issues throughout the race. He finished 18th.
“Man, fun day at the office, for sure,” said Hinchcliffe. “There’s no doubt that missing as much practice as we did hurt us. It kind of took us a couple stops to get the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car dialed in to what we needed to feel to be able to race those guys. Unfortunately, by that point, we had already caught an unlucky yellow right after a pit stop that put us a couple laps down.
“It’s sort of the same story as St. Pete. The first stint, we’re running around at the tail of the field but we’re able to keep the leaders behind us and stay on the lead lap. After that first round of green stops, we just caught that unlucky yellow and from there, you’re kind of just trying to play damage control. On the last two sets of tires, we were picking up a pretty bad vibration halfway through the stint, so we could be decent at the start of a run and then the second half was a little tougher.
“All in all, it was a long day but that kind of thing is almost to be expected when you start the weekend off the way we did. We’ll bounce back in Long Beach and try and get some good points.”
Earlier in the day, the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race started with Santiago Urrutia third, RC Enerson fourth, Andre Negrao sixth and Heamin Choi 15th on the starting grid.
Negrao had a great start to the 90-lap race, advancing two spots with the first ten laps. On lap 34, Choi spun, deflating two tires but avoiding contact with the wall. After the restart on lap 38, the remainder of the race ran without caution. At the checkered flag, Enerson lead the SPM effort with a third-place podium finish.
“The start of the race was a little weird,” said Enerson. “We went a little early so we were able to get the jump on there, but then I was basically just seeing what Ed was running in front of me. I was behind him the whole race and just trying to adjust my lines. He was running a pretty good line so I really had to move around a lot, but we were able to bring it back in third place.
“We had a little fight there at the end coming to the white flag but it’s just because there was so much dirty air that it was hard to get the car in the right spot. I’m happy with third and PIR is definitely a cool racetrack. It’s very difficult. I’d say the most difficult oval I’ve ever driven on. It’s unique and a really fun place to drive at.”
Urrutia was close behind in fourth place, followed by Negrao in sixth and Choi in 16th.
In two weeks, the Verizon IndyCar Series returns to the West coast for the third race of the 2016 season. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will take place on Sunday, April 17 at 4:00 p.m. ET. The 80-lap competition will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network and tickets are available online at www.GPLB.com. The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires will be on track the following week at Barber Motorsports Park for a double-header on April 23 and 24.