Marco Andretti opens 2013 with St. Pete podium

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Welcome back, Marco Andretti. Perhaps a new number (25 from 26) and livery (blue and red for RC Cola) could be the recipe for an improved season.

The Andretti Autosport driver, already starting his eighth IndyCar season but having only just turned 26, turned in a sterling performance to open his 2013 account. From seventh on the grid, Andretti registered his best St. Pete finish and first top five on a road or street circuit since Toronto in 2011, when he finished fourth.

“I don’t want to speak too soon,” Andretti admitted, cautiously. “There’s still a long way to go in the season. I’m definitely pleased to reap some of the benefits for how hard I’ve been working, not only physically, but as you say, where I’ve been lacking. For me it felt like a win, but we’ll take this. I think if we can have days like this all year, we can be in contention for a championship.”

He had to muscle past Simona de Silvestro to secure the podium, as her tires were going off toward the end of the race. The move for third was a clean one through Turn 14 just before the white flag.

Andretti has opined throughout the offseason on his struggles on street courses in particular, and also how disappointing it was to play a supporting role out of the spotlight in 2012 within the team as Ryan Hunter-Reay won a championship and James Hinchcliffe took over the high-profile GoDaddy account.

“It’s a tough feeling going home with the defeat I had last year, knowing your teammate beat you and stuff like that,” he said. “But you also need to look at the bright side of it. You’re driving for the championship team. You know you have the equipment to get the job done.

“So on that side of it, you need to take that confidence and go. I mean, my mentality changed this year because instead of looking back and saying, ‘Oh, man.’ If you’re thinking about how terrible last year was for me, then we talk about confidence, you’re not going to have that confidence.”

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.