Hinchcliffe, Aleshin credit team with promising oval runs

Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's drivers say tire degradation will be key to strategy in tonight's Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway… and that their team holds that key. Anne Proffit reports.

Hinchcliffe, Aleshin credit team with promising oval runs
Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Sam Schmidt
Podium: race winner Will Power, Team Penske Chevrolet, second place Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, third place Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda
Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, pit action
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Timbits in James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, car
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Second place Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda

When the series’ Firestone 600 was called due to rain on June 12, Schmidt Peterson Motorsport-Honda  teammates James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin ran first and third. The Canadian has been in that lead ever since and will start at the front of a 20-car field at Texas Motor Speedway at 9pm ET tonight.

Hinchcliffe has been making light of the duration of that lead, but thinks the best quote came from Dale Coyne Racing’s Gabby Chaves, who said he “started the Texas race at 22 years old and he’s going to end it 23 years old,” having celebrated his birthday July 7.

There are only 20 Indy cars here this tonight because neither Josef Newgarden nor Conor Daly are eligible to compete, having been caught in an accident during the first race weekend that took both of them out of competition. Rules don’t allow either to restart the remaining 177 laps.

Following the brief practice session this afternoon, drivers will be able to get a fresh set of tires and a full tank of fuel for the restart, Hinchcliffe reminded all. “They opened pit lane while we were still driving through pit lane and cleaning up the accident. I’ve got no idea what has run here in the last 76 days, but it’s kind of irrelevant after the [rainy] weather yesterday.

“The kind of good news is, with the length of the race now, everyone starting on full tanks, it sort of opens the [fuel] windows a little bit,” which allows different strategies to unfold. And Hinchcliffe thinks this race will come down to grip, rather than fuel.

“This track has always been about tire degradation since we came here in 2012 with the new car - and we’ve seen some incredible races as a result of that.”

And Hinch says it was his team’s ability to get its head around that fact that has resulted in him lining up for the restart in “pole.”

He said: “We had less degradation than any other car out there, which is a huge credit to [engineer] Allen McDonald and the boys. That’s the name of the game here at Texas and we happened to be about to pit when the very unfortunate crash happened and the yellow came out.”

With only 10 minutes of practice each for the front and back halves of the 20-car field, there was very little to learn, as the only adjustments teams can make before the green flags fly on the second time by tonight is adjusting tire pressures and front wing angle.

So what were the benefits of those 10-minute sessions?

“Make sure the engine is running… that’s about it,” Hinchcliffe said. “You have to remember, the race as it started was in the middle of the day; we didn’t run on Saturday night. We got rained out until Sunday and [of] being in the cool conditions, we have almost no experience.”

Aleshin starts third in the Lone Star state, following an excellent run at Pocono last weekend, where he started first and finished second. He believes that getting into race rhythm tonight will be “the same for everyone,” then added: “Maybe it will be a bit easier for the guys who have been doing this for years, but it’s going to be difficult for everyone, again.

“Ten minutes of practice helps someone like me who’s doing this only for the second year. But we’re all in the same boat and it’s going to be a little difficult, especially at the beginning of the race.”

The Russian road racer’s oval chops just keep getting better, last weekend’s runner-up finish at Pocono merely the best of a series of strong runs on left-turn-only tracks. Yet the modest former Formula Renault 3.5 champ chooses instead to credit Sam Schmidt’s crews and the team spirit within the SPM camp.

“The most important thing is, as a team we work together,” he said. “The fact that we’re restarting pretty close to each other in this race also shows that we are working together, because our cars looked pretty similar during the long runs.

“I think that’s the most important – what the team gave us.”

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