IndyCar regular Simon Pagenaud believes new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team-mate – and series rookie – Mikhail Aleshin will make a comfortable transition to US-style open-wheel racing.
The Russian joins Frenchman Pagenaud in a two-car line-up for 2014 having finally turned his back on the pursuit of an F1 seat that saw him bouncing around the various European feeder series for the past five years. Aleshin has already tried an IndyCar on both road and oval courses, and Pagenaud believes that he will adjust well to his new surroundings.
“Mikhail is used to driving powerful cars and used to being in big teams, so I think there will be a lot less adjustment for him, although he has to learn how to drive on ovals, which isn't easy,” the Detroit and Baltimore race winner commented, “He's taken a great approach. There are so many challenges with IndyCar, so many details, but he has a lot of talent and he's really smart, and I think he'll fit in well with us. He's already helping us with feedback….”
Pagenaud is gearing up for his third season with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and admits that is looking forward to building on a strong 2013 campaign with a team previously seen as something of a plucky underdog.
“I feel really comfortable in this role,” he insisted, “I've proven what I can do already, although I want to extract more out of myself. The team is pushing really hard, and people don't see how much work my guys are putting in. I can tell you they're working hard at making this car a championship contender for this year. It's a very exciting prospect. I'm relaxed and focused and happy to be starting soon.”
The IndyCar race season does not kick off until the end of March, with the opening rounds on the streets of St Petersburg, but Pagenaud admits that there is still a lot of work to be done before then.
“The twin turbo engine changes a lot of things so it's important to test with it and also tune it for everybody basically,” he explained, “It has a different behaviour and it's important to that relationship with the HPD engineers and try to understand how to extract the best out of that engine and make the twin turbo work well. It's very encouraging the work we've done so far. [At Sebring last week] we were working mostly on drivability - making it more or less aggressive when you step on the power.
“Sometimes you want to focus on your driving a little bit more instead of doing so many different technical changes, but testing is all about making the car comfortable for yourself, making it as fast as possible and then you focus on your driving when it's time to be on your 'A' game.”
Even if he has yet to test himself in the Schmidt Peterson car, Pagenaud managed to get some vital track time to shake off the rust during the recent Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“I actually had 24 hours to work on my driving, to work on my skills, because you drive and there's nothing you can do to the car,” he revealed, “I enjoyed driving the HPD prototype. It was a great way to kick off the season and a good time.”