2.4.2013 (Via Marshall Pruett, SPEED) – The importance of the relationship between a driver and engineer was highlighted last year when Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ray Gosselin found the sweet spot on their Dallara DW12-Chevy and parlayed that chemistry into the IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
But elsewhere within the Andretti camp, some of those relationships unraveled in the off-season, with technical director Allen McDonald, who also engineered the No. 26 car for Marco Andretti, departing for a second tour at Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
Longtime Andretti engineer Tino Belli, who looked after James Hinchcliffe in the No. 27, also left, assuming a technical director role at Panther Racing/Panther DRR.
Losing two out of its three engineers was certainly a cause for concern, but SPEED.com has learned the reigning champions have hired a pair of top-tier engineers, along with making two key promotions to complete its 2013 engineering lineup.
After spending 2012 in a consultancy role with Dragon Racing on behalf of Newman/Haas Racing , NHR’s Craig Hampson will rekindle his working relationship with 2011 NHR rookie James Hinchcliffe as engineer for the Chevy-powered Go Daddy entry.
Hampson’s history and experience, which includes Sebastien Bourdais’ run to four consecutive Champ Car titles, should transform Hinchcliffe from a future star into a bona fide winner.
The decision to leave NHR wasn’t easy for Hampson, who held onto the hopes that a program could be secured for 2012 and again in 2013, but thanked the Haas family for their support and loyalty over the years.
“Bernie and Carl Haas were very understanding of this great opportunity with Michael (Andretti) and Andretti Autosport,” he said. “I’m most appreciative of them for the environment they provided during all of the years that I was with Newman/Haas Racing.”
Hampson, who once served as Michael Andretti’s assistant engineer at NHR, said he looks forward to joining the team and helping Hinchcliffe reach his potential.
“I wouldn’t be making the move and taking on the challenge if I didn’t think we could win,” he continued. “I’m eager to see how James has grown as a driver. I’m sure he has evolved a lot with his feel and feedback. It’s tough leaving Newman/Haas. I was starting my 20th year here and it took an extraordinary situation like this with Andretti to make the move.”
Hinchcliffe was a mixture of relief and elation when Hampson was brought on board.
"It's amazing what a difference a few weeks makes, eh?" he said. "It wasn't long ago we were in the news for all the wrong reasons. Losing two top guys like Allen and Tino, especially so late in the off-season, was a big blow. But Michael has worked his ass off to make the engineering department stronger than ever, and man did he deliver! For me, I was excited to be with the same team two years in a row, largely because working with the same engineer has huge benefits.
"Losing Tino, I was very worried about learning to work with a new engineer. With Craig, we can skip that step and get right to work. I really enjoyed working with him in 2011 and hopefully this year will be even stronger"
A formal announcement on Andretti’s expansion to four cars is expected early next week, and when that driver straps into his chassis, the team confirmed he’ll have veteran Michael Cannon calling the shots.
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