The Arrow McLaren SP team is making a fresh start in 2020, with a pair of young gassers and an old geezer who happens to be one of the best engineers in the IndyCar paddock.
And, to be fair, Craig Hampson doesn’t turn 50 until next year, so he’s hardly an old guy. But his 27th year of IndyCar racing makes him a wily veteran, and next season figures to be quite an adventure for a man that began his career in 1994 with Nigel Mansell.
“I’ll be the oldest person in that engineering room,” says Hampson, who was officially hired as race and R&D engineer by Arrow McLaren SP CEO Zak Brown earlier this week. “I’m going to be 50 next year and I’m supposed to be a sounding board, because there are a lot of bright young engineers on our team.
“There are also lots of people I’ve worked with in the past, like Blair Perschbacher, Billy Vincent, Norm Hornitscheck and Mike Reggio, who I’ve got high respect for, and people like Nick Snyder, who I’ve never worked with but I know have a good reputation. I’m excited to learn from Nick and all these other people, and I feel like I’m about to go to graduate school. I’m excited to learn what they know.”
What his new team likely knows about Hampson is that he engineered Sebastien Bourdais to four consecutive Champ Car titles from 2004-2007, in addition to 34 wins with Newman/Haas and Dale Coyne, and scored three more with James Hinchcliffe at Andretti Autosport and one with Justin Wilson at Newman/Haas.
Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew captured the past two Indy Lights championships and O’Ward has already impressed during his half dozen IndyCar starts with Harding and Carlin. Askew got rave reviews from his initial IndyCar test with Chip Ganassi, and they’ll both have Hampson’s expertise riding with them.
“I don’t know Pato at all, and I only know Oliver to say hello,” said Hampson, who formed quite a bond with Bourdais during their seven years together. “I don’t know anything about their driving styles other than they’re both Lights champs, but I do know Pato made midfield cars go very quickly in the races he ran.
“Working with young guys and developing them into what are hopefully championship drivers is exciting. Helping grow a team that can hopefully be championship-caliber some day with Indy 500 wins and taking the fight to the Big 3 is obviously a major challenge, but I’m excited by it.”
Along with developing those two kids, Hampson is excited about the possibilities that McLaren affords the Indianapolis-based team.
“The connection to the McLaren brand and connection to knowledge that’s in Woking (England) is exciting,” he says. “The working group of current F1 engineers that we have access to… I can’t wait to find out they know about tire behavior, vehicle dynamics, driver in the loop simulators and computational fluid dynamics (CFD). They can explore things we can’t do in IndyCar.”
The Chicago resident has won with a big budget (Newman/Haas & Andretti) and a small one (Coyne), but now has what might be the jackpot with McLaren’s deep pockets adding to Arrow, Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson.
“I had every intention of seeing Seb through his career, but unfortunately we didn’t deliver good enough results last year to make it happen,” said Hampson, who was pursued by six teams before signing with Arrow McLaren SP. “So this is a great opportunity, even though it’s uncomfortable being chased by teams, and I don’t like it. I don’t need a title. I just want to be part of the group.”
As for his job description? “Whenever one of our cars runs I’ll be there, and I’ll get to try different things on both cars, and I’ll run our third car at the Speedway,” he says. “It will be my first time back with Chevy and Pratt & Miller since 2013, and the whole prospect is exciting.
“It’s going to be an integration year for all of us, and I’m coming in quite late. So let’s say 2021 is the target to go full throttle and see what we accomplish.”