A holiday adventure to Hong Kong and Thailand was just the ticket for Marco Andretti following the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season in which he landed a career-low 16th in points.
Andretti, taking the No. 25 RC Cola-sponsored car out Jan. 14 for the first time this year during a Chevrolet test day at Sebring International Raceway, is energized and enthused.
Teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay (the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion running his new number for the first time, left) and James Hinchcliffe, along with Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Will Power, also were on the track in support of the manufacturer’s preseason checklist.
“I needed that week away after a stressful and frustrating season just to clear my mind,” said Andretti, who turns 26 on March 13. “The toughest thing to do right now is to look back and look at what we could have done so I’m looking forward to what we can get done.”
The eighth-year Andretti Autosport driver started looking forward to 2013 soon after passing under the checkered flag Sept. 15 at Auto Club Speedway. He might have changed car numbers (from 26 to 25) in the offseason for perceived luck, but improvements in lap times and ultimately results on road/street courses will be the reward from reflection, research and review of his style behind the wheel of the Dallara chassis.
Andretti last season posted three top-10 finishes, with a best of second on the Iowa Speedway oval where he won in 2011, and a pole start in the finale on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval. Qualifying eighth in the opener on the streets of St. Petersburg and finishing 11th (Barber and Belle Isle) were highs on road/street circuits.
“My overall style I’ve changed it,” he said, “and it’s given me a new perspective for the street courses. Now I’m actually reporting the same things as Ryan (Hunter-Reay) where normally I’d be talking about the car being loose because 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 pointed to his aggressive style on road/street courses, which has cost time on laps with the Firestone tires. He’s advanced 10 times to the Firestone Fast Six over his career, but his last appearance in the qualifying shootout was at Barber Motorsports Park in April 2010 (started fourth and finished fifth).
“I’ve adapted slower than most to the tire than has less grip since ’06 and ’07 because I’m a very aggressive driver and it’s kind of worked against me,” said Andretti, who recorded his maiden IZOD IndyCar Series victory at Sonoma in 2006. “I always knew I was overdriving the car, but I didn’t know exactly how so I’ve been really studying that. It’s easier said than done to change; you just can’t say, ‘Get it together.’ You have to look at what you’re doing, and as the street courses progressed I got worse and worse because I was driving harder and harder.
“It makes sense because the first practice I’m always up there, and then as we get closer to qualifying and in qualifying I’m coming in soaking wet and I’m 21st. No kidding you’re overdriving but how are you overdriving?
“This offseason I’ve really been looking into detail of how I’ve been doing that and essentially I was trying to make the front tires do two things at once. You want to drive your natural style because that’s how you’re going to be your quickest, but at the same time you have to drive with the tire. When you put me in a high downforce car, sometimes my style is untouchable because the aggressiveness rewards you with grip, but it hurts you with no grip.”
With favorable weather, Andretti and company went through multiple set-ups in addition working through the Chevrolet list for the 2.2-liter, twin turbocharged V-6 engine. The Ilmor Engineering-developed Chevrolet won 11 of the 15 races last season, including the opener at St. Petersburg.
“The street course-type corners I’m already quicker there,” Andretti said following the first session. “It’s all good.”