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Michael Andretti looks ahead to another IndyCar season
Michael Andretti
Michael Andretti  realizes that 2012 was a special year for his Andretti Autosport racing team and still relishes his organization's fourth IZOD IndyCar Series team title that came last year.

He also realizes that past laurels won't get his guys anywhere in the upcoming 2013 season.

"It was an incredible year for sure for our team," Andretti, a Lehigh Valley native, said earlier this week via teleconference. "I'm really proud of everybody at Andretti Autosport. It was a huge year for us. But what do we do for next year?  We've just got to continue to keep our heads down and going for it, and hopefully win more races and hopefully win Indianapolis and the championship. It's our goal, like I'm sure every team out there and every driver has." 

Andretti's team includes his son Marco, James Hinchcliffe and 2012 IndyCar series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Hunter-Reay, one of the sport's emerging stars, won four races, including three in a row at one point, and had seven top-10 finishes in 2012.

The 2013 series schedule, which begins March 24 in St. Petersburg, Fla., features 19 races over 16 event weekends.

The highlight, of course, is the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 26.

But perhaps even more exciting to Lehigh Valley-area racing fans is the return of the IndyCar series to Pocono Raceway on July 7. It will be the first time since 1989 that the open-wheel brand of racing takes center stage on the "Tricky Triangle" in Long Pond, Monroe County.

Michael Andretti is as excited about that event as anything else happening this year.

"I'm ecstatic to be going back to Pocono," he said. "I can't wait to hear the comments of the drivers after they drive it because I think they're in for a treat.

"For me, it was one of my favorite racetracks, especially for an oval. It's just a lot of fun to drive and it puts on great races and it's going to be great to be back, especially since it's like my home track being only 40 minutes from where I grew up. So, I'm very happy it's back on the schedule."

One of the many reasons IndyCar left Pocono and wasn't back for more than two decades was concerns about safety. Those concerns have been alleviated.

"It looks like they've done a beautiful job with the repaving and the new walls," Andretti said. "I think it's going to be the perfect place for IndyCar racing."

Of course, to make it a perfect return, Andretti would love to have one of his team members take the checkered flag at Pocono.

The entire team is hoping for more success this year and has avoided any sense of complacency.

"There's really never any sense of sitting still at Andretti Autosport," Hunter-Reay said. "We're always planning for the future and making sure that we're moving forward at all costs. We had one night after Fontana [the final race of the season] where we had some fun with the team and everything, and we were on to 2013, focused on the future."

Hunter-Reay knows that people will be gunning for him. As if his competitors needed a reminder, his car will carry the No. 1 label.

But the 32-year-old Dallas, Texas, native, who has been with the Andretti team for three years, isn't worried about extra pressure.

"We have a target either way," he said. "The biggest target comes from within our own organization. We put the most pressure on ourselves. We really don't care what anybody else thinks. We want to go out there and win and deliver for our team and our partners and our sponsors.

"We've still 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 [Indianapolis] yet. Or at least I haven't. We've got a lot on our plate as we do every year, and we're proud to be running the No. 1."

Michael Andretti would love for Marco to get into Victory Lane as well in 2013.

The younger Andretti will turn 26 in March and has just two career wins in 116 starts. He finished 16th in the points standings in 2012 with his best effort being a second-place finish in Iowa, the same place where he posted his last victory, in 2011.

"We've been doing a lot with Marco," his father said. "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 on the ovals, I think he was as good as anybody. There are some things that we were able to discover with him on his driving to make him more competitive on the street circuits this year."

Likewise, Andretti, who has become a successful promoter with races in Milwaukee and Baltimore, is hoping for more growth for the entire IndyCar brand.

"There are a lot of great things to build on," he said. "The racing was as good as it's ever been in the history of the sport. The level of talent from the drivers to the teams to every aspect is now at an all-time high. There are so many positive things.

"We've just got to talk about the positives and stop talking about the negatives. For once, we need to talk about the drivers and the races and not about the politics and things like that. Who cares about that? There are good things to build on and we're excited about the events we're promoting. Hopefully, they're a good sign for the entire sport." mcall.com

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