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Once Is Enough For IndyCar Team-Owner Andretti

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 16 2013

James Hinchcliffe wrecked his Andretti Autosport car after hitting a loose hunk of asphalt at Belle Isle last year. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

When it comes to doubleheaders, Michael Andretti is no Ernie Banks.

Owner of the car driven by reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti acknowledged he has serious misgivings about the unique doubleheader weekend formats booked for three street circuits in 2013.

“It’s putting a big, big demand on the drivers, in my opinion, and the teams in a lot of ways – the guys that go over the wall and stuff,” Andretti said during a teleconference on Tuesday. “So I can’t say I’m a huge fan of it.”

Affectionately known in Chicago and throughout Major League Baseball as “Mr. Cub,” Banks made the catchphrase “Let’s play two” famous during his Hall of Fame career.

The 19-race 2013 IndyCar schedule – one of the last initiatives introduced by former INDYCAR Chief Executive Officer Randy Bernard – will see the open-wheel series compete in separate Saturday-Sunday races at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, the Streets of Toronto and Reliant Park in Houston.

“Definitely going to be a challenge, no question about it,” said Andretti, whose Andretti Autosport again will field Chevrolet-powered Dallaras for Hunter-Reay, son Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe with the hope of adding a fourth team. “I’m not sure I’m in favor of the (twinbill) format. I know as an owner, if I’m just going to talk

Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport won last year's street race in Toronto. He will have two chances to win there this year. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

strictly as an owner, there’s a huge expense to doing that, where they (INDYCAR management) thought they’d actually be saving you money but it’s a lot more. In a lot of ways it’s going to cost us a lot of money. From that standpoint I don’t think it was doing what they were hoping it would do.”

The Championship Auto Racing Teams champion in 1991, Andretti also addressed the issue from a driver’s standpoint. “I think it’s going to be really, really difficult on the drivers,” said Andretti, who won 42 races during his domestic open-wheel career. “I believe that some of these guys that make these decisions don’t understand what it’s like to be in a race car and how spent you are after a race… there’s times where if I had to race on Monday after a race on Sunday, you’d be really tough to do it. And now they’re asking these guys to go out and try to do that. And a place like Toronto, which is very physical, I mean if it’s hot, you’re going to have guys falling out of the seats in the second race.”

Bernard was terminated on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 after a special meeting of the board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation. Led by the Hulman-George family, the board announced that Jeff Belskus – Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president/CEO – would serve as interim CEO of INDYCAR. Belskus previously served as CEO of INDYCAR from July 2009 through February 2010.

Andretti, whose Andretti Sports Marketing again will promote INDYCAR events at The Milwaukee Mile and Streets of Baltimore, believes the series generated considerable momentum last season.

“I think the racing (in 2012) was as good as it’s ever been in any time in the history of this sport,” Andretti said. “The level of talent from the drivers to the teams to every aspect of the series is at an all-time high. I think there’s just so many positive things and we’ve just got to build on them and talk about them and stop talking about all the negative stuff. It will be nice for once talking about the drivers and the teams and the races, and not about the politics and things that go on that who cares about?”

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe were joined by Team Penske’s Will Power and Helio Castroneves for a private Chevrolet turbocharged V6 test at the 1.65-mile Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway on Monday. With the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Fla., looming on March 24, Hunter-Reay said it felt great to be back in the cockpit.

“Absolutely. I mean, it’s (the opener) always just around the corner,” said Hunter-Reay, who will carry the No. 1 on his Dallara/Chevy this season. “That’s how we’ve been thinking since our last race at Fontana (on Sept. 15). We’ve really been focused on 2013. There’s really never any sense of sitting still at Andretti Autosport. We’re always really planning for the future and making sure that we’re moving forward at all costs. We knew that we had that one night after Fontana (Auto Club Speedway) where we had some fun with the team and everything, and we were on to 2013, focused on the future.

“I feel like the testing is a little bit too thin this year really for anybody. I think we’re going to have a total of like three chances in the car before St. Pete, which is a bit drastic, but everybody’s in the same boat.”

Hunter-Reay, who won four races and took the Astor Challenge Cup from Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing last season, is well-aware he will be a measuring stick for the competition in 2013.

“I think we go about it like we did last year, which is to race smart but with a lot of aggression,” Hunter-Reay said. “I’m not going to change that about my driving style. That’s for sure. And I think it’s just big- picture racing, when you think about the whole season, banking points, really driving to the capabilities of your car and not over it. But taking the necessary risks you need to to move yourself up in the points.

“Much of the same approach as last year, but things will be different in that we’re going to have to work quite a bit harder to make sure we’re extracting our full potential every weekend, to repeat or to defend our championship. And we’ve got a lot to do in the series. We still haven’t won at a lot of racetracks. We haven’t won the biggest one yet. I should say I haven’t, the Indy 500. I know Michael has won it as a team-owner.

“But we’ve got a lot to do. So we’ve got a lot on our plate as we do every year, and we’re proud to be running the No. 1. But every time we looked at that No. 1 we realized we’ve got a lot to live up to and that we better be working around the clock to make it happen.”

Third-generation driver Marco Andretti plans to tone-down his aggressive style on the series’ street circuits this season after a lackluster 2012.

“My overall style, I’ve changed it, and it’s given me a new perspective for the street courses,” Andretti told IndyCar.com after Monday’s test at Sebring. “Now I’m actually reporting the same things as Ryan (Hunter-Reay), where normally I’d be talking about the car being loose. I’m getting the same feedback from the car now that I’ve changed my style to be doing more of what he’s doing.”

Andretti finished 16th in points last year with one top-five and three top-10 results. His best street circuit result was 11th at Belle Isle. Marco’s most recent victory was on the Iowa Speedway oval in 2011.

“We’ve been doing a lot with Marco,” Michael Andretti said. “I think all the drivers. We did some unique things, and I’m hoping that Marco learns some things that he was doing wrong and is going to be able to correct them for basically the street circuits. On the road courses and the ovals, I think he was as good as anybody. But his problems were the street circuits, and I think there’s some things that we were able to discover with him on his driving and what he’s been doing is going to make him more competitive on the street circuits this year.

“I think he just needs to break that ice and get a win or two early. I think if that were to happen it would help a lot. He’s putting a lot of pressure on himself to the point where I think he’s driving too hard. He’s actually over-driving the car and especially on the street circuits is where it’s coming at. So I think that’s the biggest thing. I think he’s got all the ingredients and talent to get it done. He has to control that side of it a little bit more. I think that will come if he can just get a few results; that would calm things down for him for sure.”

Longtime IndyCar engineer Tino Belli has joined Panther Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing as technical director of the teams’ collaborative effort with drivers Oriol Servia and JR Hildebrand.

Belli had most recently been associated with Andretti Autosport for 14 years as part of an engineering team that captured four IZOD IndyCar Series championships and two Indianapolis 500 wins. “I’m very much excited about the opportunity to work with Panther Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing,” Belli said. “I have to thank (owners) John Barnes, Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl for giving me this opportunity, as both teams have very strong programs in place, and I believe collectively we can accomplish some great things together.”

Belli will oversee the teams’ engineering departments and the collaboration between race engineers David Cripps (Hildebrand) and Jeff Britton (Servia). Last season, Hildebrand finished a career-best 11th in the standings and is entering his third season driving Panther’s No. 4 Dallara/Chevrolet. Servia saw a substantial jump in performance in 2012 following Panther DRR’s switch to Chevy power in May, including a fourth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500 and four top-five finishes in the second half of the season.

“Last year we started our collaboration with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the middle of the season and we had two separate engineering teams working on their own pathways,” Barnes said. “This is what we needed to maximize our relationship.”

Both teams are scheduled to test for the first time this year on Feb. 27 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 16 2013
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