Notes: Aleshin at Sonoma, seeks gate to '16 return

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SONOMA, Calif. – The familiar blue and red SMP Racing logo is on the sidepods of the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda this weekend as Mikhail Aleshin returns to the Verizon IndyCar Series for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

The native of Moscow, who drove for the team in the 2014 season with a best finish of second at Houston 2, said he has some unfinished business.

Aleshin sustained injuries in a post-qualifying practice crash for the season finale at Auto Club Speedway. He has recovered, and competed this year in the European Le Mans Series.

“It was a long journey to make it up here again; it was a long time for me to recover from the crash. I feel very good; better than last year,” Aleshin said. “Obviously, it’s difficult to come back at the end of the season and the track is difficult. The car is new (with the Honda aerodynamic bodywork road/street course package) and the race is long, but I will give 100 percent.

“I’m happy to be back with the team.”

Aleshin, who qualified 12th and finished seventh at Sonoma Raceway in 2014, will be a third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry for the 85-lap race Aug. 30. James Jakes drives the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda and Ryan Briscoe drives the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Honda.

Aleshin said he’s working on funding to return to the Verizon IndyCar Series full time in 2016.

“I hope this race can be a significant step towards that goal,” he said.

Team co-owner Sam Schmidt and Aleshin had remained in contact since last year, and even attempted to put a deal together for the 99th Indianapolis 500 in May.

“He was very quick last year and didn’t want things to end the way Fontana did,” Schmidt said. “Sonoma, being the last race, is obviously an important one. If he does well, maybe we’ll see him back here next year.”

Schmidt on the road again

Schmidt, a quadriplegic, will drive a demonstration lap in the Arrow SAM (semi-autonomous motorcar) car 2.0 on the Sonoma Raceway road course on race day.

The SAM Project is an innovative in which a 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray car has been modified with integrated advanced electronics and a human-to-machine interface so a qualified quadriplegic driver can operate the car.

Schmidt drove laps in the 2014 Corvette at the 2014 Indy 500 and reached a top speed 107 mph, and drove a lap in April on the street circuit before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Now he’ll drive on the road course that has more than 160 feet of elevation change.

Stat of the day

700 – Indy car races in the 49-year history of Team Penske.

Team owner Roger Penske will be inducted into the Sonoma Raceway Wall of Fame on race day.

Of note

Firestone will donate $25 – in honor of Justin Wilson’s car number – for every tire used during the race weekend, including practice, qualifying and the race. ... 

The No. 98 BHA with Curb-Agajanian Honda driven by Gabby Chaves will feature primary sponsorship from security company Alarm.com. … Trefethen Family Vineyards has partnered with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports as an associate sponsor of the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Honda in the season finale. … Five Northern California firefighters from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have been named grand marshals. Sonoma Raceway will recognize CAL FIRE for their efforts in battling the numerous fires throughout Northern California this summer.

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