Mikhail Aleshin has decided to join the IndyCar ranks for next season, inking a deal with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports that will see him become the first Russian driver in the history of the IndyCar Series.
The deal also officially puts former team driver Tristan Vautier out of the running to retain that seat, forcing him to turn his attention elsewhere according to a report in RACER.
Aleshin tested with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports last week at Sebring and is set to join a team that is anchored by Simon Pagenaud. The 26-year-old is the 2010 Formula Renault 3.5 champion and a former Red Bull junior driver.
He has primarily raced in FR3.5 since the 2006 season but also has experience in GP2, various sports car events and had finished third in the revived Formula 2 series in 2009. After spending the whole of his career in the European circuit, Aleshin says he's coming to America for a new challenge.
"I've been racing in Europe for a long time and have had success there and driven more or less everything I could," Aleshin said in a team release. "But I decided to change because I just wanted a new competition with new tracks and a new car.
"I knew the competition is quite strong and it would be hard for me, especially because I've never raced any American circuits. It's a big thing to do, but I think I'll be competitive. Ovals will be hard, but I'm here to learn and compete for good results."
Meanwhile, Vautier had been searching for "significant backing" to remain with SPM after using his graduation bonus for winning the 2011 Indy Lights Championship to advance to IndyCar. With that money spent and SPM losing Hewlett-Packard as a sponsor, Vautier is now forced look at other teams and leagues, an option he has already begun exploring.
"At the moment, I'm having some discussions about racing in IndyCar," Vautier told RACER on Friday. "I feel like there's unfinished business. I'm also talking to some sports car teams about doing the four endurance races, but depending on what happens in IndyCar, I might be looking to do the full [TUDOR Championship] schedule next year."
Vautier showed flashes of competitiveness last season, qualifying inside the Fast Six on four different occasions. But he also earned a reputation for being aggressive -- but no more than any other driver trying to earn his place. He ultimately finished 20th in the championship standings.
The Frenchman's most recent conversations have him leaning towards sports car racing and potentially a ride in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
"That is my goal; I like sports cars quite a lot and want to be racing there as much as I can," he said. "If I can do both (IndyCar and the TUDOR Championship), it would be perfect for me."