Tuesday, February 28, 2017

2017 IndyCar Team Preview: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports

The best team not to win a race in 2016 was Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and it wasn't that one driver came close to winning a race but the entire team was close to winning a race. Both drivers had a pole position and a runner-up finish. Both drivers had multiple top fives finishes. Both drivers led over 100 laps during the season, something only eight drivers accomplished but neither finished in the top ten of the championship while the other six drivers did and five of them finished in the top six of the championship. It wasn't a bad year for SPM in 2016 but can the team get the results to justify its success in 2017?

2016 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Review:
Wins: 0
Best Finish: 2nd (Pocono, Texas)
Poles: 2 (Indianapolis 500, Pocono)
Final Championship Positions: 13th (James Hinchcliffe), 15th (Oriol Servià), 24th (Oriol Servià).

2017 Drivers:

James Hinchcliffe - #5 Arrows Electronics Honda
The Canadian returned to full-time competition after his near-fatal accident during Indianapolis 500 practice in 2015. Hinchcliffe had a slow start to the season but got the ball rolling at Long Beach where he finished eighth followed by sixth at Barber and third at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Then came his triumphant Indianapolis 500 pole position and a strong run in the race before settling for a seventh-place finish. He had five consecutive top ten finishes from Iowa to Texas, which included a third at his home race in Toronto, a notoriously poor race for him. While he finished second at Texas, he lost 25 points for his car being too low during post-race inspection and that dropped him significantly in the championship while running out of fuel on the final lap while in a podium position at Watkins Glen killed his chances of a career-best championship finish.

Numbers to Remember: 
3: Starts from last on the grid in 2016.

9: Hinchcliffe finished ahead of Mikhail Aleshin in nine of 16 races.

9: Hinchcliffe qualified ahead of Mikhail Aleshin in nine of 16 races.

11: Average starting position in 2016.

217: Laps led in 2016, the fourth-most.

I think Hinchcliffe will be aiming to get a career-best championship finish after being so close to it last year. Had he not lost those 25 points after Texas, Hinchcliffe would have at least matched his career-best of eighth. There isn't much to complain about Hinchcliffe's 2015 season but the one thing he needs to do is get a few more top five finishes and top ten finishes and qualify better on road and street circuits. I think Hinchcliffe will get a victory in 2017.

Mikhail Aleshin - #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda
After missing 15 of 16 races in the 2015 season, Aleshin returned to full-time IndyCar competition in 2016. After getting a tenth-place finish in a cameo in the 2015 season finale at Sonoma, the Russian kicked off 2016 with a fifth-place finish at St. Petersburg. After that, Aleshin's season tapered off outside of a memorable qualifying run at Indianapolis where he saved the car entering turn one and ended up starting seventh but spun in the race. He wouldn't finish in the top ten again until Iowa, where he finished fifth and that was followed by a sixth at Toronto. Aleshin's highlight of the season was winning pole position at Pocono, leading 87 laps and finishing second.

Numbers to Remember: 
3.0625: Difference between Hinchcliffe's average finish and Aleshin's average finish in 2016 (10.8125 to 13.875).

4: Four of the seven times Aleshin finished ahead of Hinchcliffe were when neither driver finished in the top ten.

4.3125: Aleshin scored on average 4.3125 points fewer than Hinchcliffe at each race.

10.9375: Average starting position in 2016.

120: Laps led in 2016, the eighth-most.

While Aleshin only finished two positions behind his teammate in the championship, he finished 69 points off Hinchcliffe and had Hinchcliffe not lost those points after Texas it would have been a seven-place difference. A lot of people are high on Aleshin off his prowess on ovals but in nine races last year Aleshin finished outside the top fifteen and that is something he needs to correct otherwise people will realize he is a one-trick pony. I don't see Aleshin making that big of a step forward. Maybe he improves by a position or two in the championship but I think 2017 will be another year of two shining moments that blind many from seven races where he isn't even mentioned.

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opener, the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will take place on Sunday March 12th at 12:00 p.m. ET on ABC.