16 February 2015
IndyCar: Jakes returns to series with Schmidt Peterson
British driver James Jakes has succeeded in his aim of securing a new full-time race seat in the Verizon IndyCar Series for 2015.
James Jakes will return to action in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship in 2015 after signing a full season deal with the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.
"We are very pleased that James will be competing with SPM in the #7 for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar season," said team co-owner Sam Schmidt on Monday. "The goal of the team when it moved to IndyCar in 2011 was to get to the point where we had two veteran drivers in the car, capable of pushing each other. This finally checks that box."
"We're confident that James will be a great addition to the SPM team," added co-owner Ric Peterson. "He knows the IndyCar landscape and he has impressed us, both in and out of the race car.
"Over the past several years, we have aimed at developing a group of talented drivers who fit seamlessly into the culture of our great team," noted Peterson. "We feel that James meets those criteria and we're happy to welcome him to SPM."
Jakes will be partnering SPM's other new signing for 2015, Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe, who has moved from Andretti Autosport over the off-season. Jakes was at work alongside Hinchcliffe last week for testing at NOLA Motorsports Park, where by all accounts the 27-year-old from Leeds made a solid impression on the rest of the team.
“Even with 16 months out of the car, James was immediately up to speed at NOLA last week and contributed to the successful test of the team," said Schmidt. "We look forward to continuing the tradition that has been established over the past three seasons of winning races and competing for the Championship."
"Happy to welcome @JamesJakes to the @SPMIndyCar family!", Jakes' new team mate Himchcliffe posted on Twitter after the official announcement was made. "Congrats bud, looking forward to it."
Jakes previously had three consecutive full seasons in the IndyCar Series, starting with two years at Dale Coyne Racing in 2011 and 2012, followed by a move to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in 2013 alongside RLL's lead driver Graham Rahal.
Jakes - who had previously competed in Formula Renault, Formula Three, GP2 and GP3 before his move to the US - found himself without a race seat for 2014 but never gave up the hope of getting back to action sooner rather than later.
“First of all, a big thank you to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for giving me the opportunity to test last week in NOLA after 16 months away,” said Jakes. “I'm extremely excited and motivated to drive the No. 7 Honda SPM Indy car in 2015.
“The team has done a fantastic job over the past few seasons and I look forward to continuing that progress. I believe that – between myself and James – we can really push the team to the top of this sport," he added. "I'm excited to be working alongside him as we look to help Honda in maximising the new aero kits. It's going to be an exciting year and I cannot wait to get started in St. Pete."
Jakes will be back in the #7 car for the series open test at Barber Motorsports Park on March 16-17 where he will get his first taste of the new bespoke aerodynamic bodywork components that the team will be using for the first race of the 2015 season at St Petersburg on Sunday, March 29.
Last year, SPM fielded Simon Pagenaud and Mikhail Aleshin as their driver line-up for the 2014 season. After his three-year deal with SPM expired, Pagenaud was quickly snapped up by Team Penske where he will this year race alongside Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and reigning series champion Will Power in a formidable four-car line-up.
Aleshin had a successful rookie season with SPM, but then ended up in a serious crash during practice for the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California which saw him hospitalised with a concussion, fractured ribs, a broken right clavicle and chest injuries. After a stay of over two weeks, Aleshin eventually left hospital and returned to his native Russia to complete his recuperation.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' decision not to pick up Aleshin's contract for a second year is not thought to be related to any medical concerns or be any reflection on his 2015 form, but is rather down to the state of the Russian economy under UN sanctions that are affecting the driver's ability to secure the necessary sponsorship arrangements.
“It's complicated for Mikhail to sign a contact in IndyCar this year,” SMP Racing principal Sergey Zlobin told Russian sports website sportsbox.ru last month. "It takes a lot of [resources] and he will take a hiatus, unfortunately.
"Mikhail will go for the top prize in the FIA WEC in LMP2," Zlobin added. "Hopefully we can win the championship ... and, God willing, the economic situation will stabilise and Mikhail can go back to Indy in 2016."
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