TORONTO -- It's tough to set personal goals in an unpredictable sport like auto racing, so James Hinchcliffe is just aiming for a little consistency.
The IndyCar season has yet to start but the popular driver from Oakville, Ont., has already taken a step in that direction, returning to the same team -- Andretti Autosport -- for the first time in his career.
He's hoping that continuity makes for a better season than last year's that saw him race out to a strong start before some bad luck and mistakes cost him down the stretch.
"There's so many things out of your control," Hinchcliffe said Thursday. "You could drive well enough to win a given race, but if a yellow falls at the wrong time or somebody runs into you, or there's a problem on the pit stop, you lose.
"The only goal I really work towards is minimizing mistakes, making sure that every single Saturday and every single Sunday, we're out there and we maximize what we have. You're not always going to have the race-winning car, but if you have a fourth-place car, make sure you finish fourth and not seventh. It's all about maximizing the package that you have and minimizing any mistakes."
The 26-year-old opens the season this weekend at Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a track he finished fourth on last year. He's itching to get started after an off-season that was a month longer than it would normally be after a race was dropped from the schedule.
The Canadian driver of Andretti Autosport's No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com car -- Danica Patrick's old car -- was second in the drivers' standings halfway through last season before ultimately winding up eighth.
Hinchcliffe was happy with 2012, "coming into this team and we ran competitively right off the bat, from the first weekend onwards. And it wasn't just a one kind of track, it was at every kind of track, which was nice to see."
The results stopped coming in the second half, however, which he chalked up to mistakes on his part, mistakes on the team's part, and a run of bad luck.
"We got taken out a couple of races by things outside of our control," he said.
He raced to a couple of third-place finishes, at Long Beach, Calif., in April and Milwaukee in June. He qualified second overall for the 96th Indianapolis 500 wearing a pair of gloves that belonged to the late Greg Moore, who Hinchcliffe has credited as the main reason he got into racing. He overtook pole-sitter Ryan Briscoe on the first lap and ended up leading five of the 200 laps en route to a sixth-place finish.
Frustration came in Iowa where he looked poised to win his first Series race only to lose control on Lap 195 and crash. He also crashed in Detroit after a chunk of pavement flew up under his car, sending him into a tire barrier.
Engine problems derailed his homecoming at Hondy Indy Toronto in July, eventually knocking him out of the race on Lap 28.
"I think there's always improvements to make, this is one of those sports where as a driver you're constantly evolving and your constantly learning, and every lap you do you learn something else," he said, on what he hopes to do better this season.
While Patrick has shone since moving to NASCAR, winning the pole position for the Daytona 500 in her first race on the circuit, Hinchliffe said he doesn't feel any added pressure to keep up with the woman he succeeded, and a fellow GoDaddy.com driver.
"As a competitive person in general no matter what sport you're in, you put so much pressure on yourself that it's hard for an external source to really add any more," he said. "Certainly when there's media attention around you, there's maybe a little bit more attention, but certainly no more pressure. And so for me as somebody that's driven to do well and win and compete at the highest level, there's not a whole lot that anyone else can so or do to pure more pressure on me than I do myself.
"Good to see someone else in a Godaddycar doing well, I'm certainly happy for her, but we're just keeping our head down and trying to do the best job that we can."
Hinchcliffe is hoping for a better result in his home race at Toronto's IndyCar double-header July 12-14, where all the emotions he would have on a normal weekend are heightened.
"If you do really well it means that much more. If something goes wrong, and you do poorly, it hurts more than it does at another track," he said.
Toronto is the only Canadian stop on the Series after the Edmonton's race at City Centre Airport was cancelled.
"Definitely disappointing to lose a race in Canada. I would love to get a couple more stops around the country," said Hinchcliffe, mentioning Montreal's Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Mosport Racetrack in Oshawa, Ont., plus Calgary and Vancouver.
Despite the extended off-season, Hinchcliffe didn't get as much time to spend north of the border as he normally does during the break.
"The boss of the family, the mother-unit, decided that we were doing family Christmas on a beach this year," he said, laughing. "Not complaining certainly, but that's sort of the one chance I get to come home for a couple of weeks, and catch up with people. Instead we were on a beach (on the Turks and Caicos Islands). But it was beautiful, not a bad way to do it."