Long Pond, PA – They don’t call him the “Mad Russian” for no reason. Second-year driver Mikhail Aleshin is fast. I wrote following his fifth place finish at Iowa back in July that it would lead to more success soon after. Well, he backed that strong weekend up with a sixth place finish at Toronto the very next week. Then, in the next race two weeks later in Mid-Ohio, the Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports driver led 33 laps and was in the drivers seat for the win if not for a pit mishap on his final stop.
Today, that success carried over to Pocono.
Aleshin, was quickest in the 90-minute morning practice session, then the Russian backed that up and qualified his No. 7 Honda on the pole with a two-lap average of 220.445 mph which was good enough for the top starting spot.
It was Aleshin’s first career Verizon IndyCar Series pole, but it was his fourth consecutive top 10 start and sixth in his last eight races dating back to the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis in May.
What’s impressive though is that Aleshin had zero prior experience on ovals before moving to the United States in 2014. These high speed tracks should have intimidated him. Instead, he’s embraced them and shined.
During his rookie year, he finished 21st in the Indy 500, but was seventh at Texas, seventh at this very Pocono track and eighth in Milwaukee. In his final start of the year at Fontana, he was involved in a wicked practice crash where he was injured when his car got into the catch fencing during a scary crash.
He’d miss all of the 2015 season outside of the season finale at Sonoma, then return for another full-time gig in 2016. Instead of being scared on ovals this year, he’s done a stellar job. He qualified six times on the opening day of qualifying for the Indy 500 and put his car in the Firestone Fast Nine. He’d start seventh.
At Iowa, he’d qualify ninth.
Today, qualified on the pole.
Watch out for the “Mad Russian” tomorrow. He has what it takes to win.
Josef Newgarden who started on the front row at Indy will start second as he turned a two-lap average of 220.195 mph in his No. 21 Chevrolet. Newgarden was the third to last qualifier and nearly had enough for the pole on Saturday afternoon.
Takuma Sato would give almost Honda a clean sweep of the front row with a two-lap average of 220.067 mph in his No. 14 Honda, but he will start third. Sato, was my darkhorse this weekend as he has two straight top 10 finishes on the season. With him running better than now than ever before in 2016, as well as having a great run at Pocono a year ago, he’s going to be a threat to win on Sunday.
We know this as much, two of the three most aggressive drivers will start in the top three..
Helio Castroneves broke also up the Honda party up front, as he will start fourth tomorrow after a two-lap average of 220.067 mph in his No. 3 Chevrolet. Carlos Munoz who was fifth this morning in practice and has two top five finishes in as many starts at Pocono will roll off fifth in the race, with a two-lap average of 219.647 mph in his No. 26 Honda.
Aleshin’s SPM teammate of James Hinchcliffe qualified sixth to give Honda five cars in the top six starting spots. Hinchcliffe, turned a two-lap average of 219.463 mph in his No. 5 Honda as the Indy 500 pole sitter who was second in the morning practice session will start Outside of Row 3.
Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi will start seventh to give Honda’s six cars in the first four rows for tomorrow’s race.
It was a struggle though for the Penske/Ganassi cars in qualifying as only Castroneves will even start in the top five. Will Power was the next best among the eight combined drivers as he will start eighth. Tony Kanaan was the top Ganassi qualifier with a ninth place starting spot. Points leader Simon Pagenaud will start 14th while Juan Pablo Montoya will roll off 15th.
The other three Ganassi drivers of Charlie Kimball, rookie Max Chilton and his Ganassi teammate of Scott Dixon will start 16th, 17th and 19th respectively in the 22 car field.
ABC Supply 500 Starting Lineup:
Row 1: Mikhail Aleshin, Josef Newgarden
Row 2: Takuma Sato, Helio Castroneves
Row 3: Carlos Munoz, James Hinchcliffe
Row 4: Alexander Rossi R, Will Power
Row 5: Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter
Row 6: Graham Rahal, Jack Hawksworth
Row 7: Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud
Row 8: Juan Pablo Montoya, Charlie Kimball
Row 9: Max Chilton R, Sebastien Bourdais
Row 10: Scott Dixon, Conor Daly
Row 11: Pippa Mann, Ryan Hunter-Reay