Hinchcliffe hopes to stay in IndyCar title hunt

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After fading from the IndyCar title picture over the second half of last season, James Hinchcliffe wants to be a threat to the very end in 2013.

Hinchcliffe was second in the championship at the halfway point of 2012, but three DNFs in the final seven races — including an engine failure in front of his Canadian countrymen at Toronto — played a role in his eventual finish of eighth in the standings.

But he isn’t ready to make bad luck an excuse for how his first year with Andretti Autosport ended, and he says he and his No. 27 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet team have found the areas they need to fix.

“Certainly, you look at the first half of [2012] compared to the second half, and the results flat out weren’t there,” Hinchcliffe said today in a media teleconference. “We’ve spent a lot of time — trust me — in the off-season looking at that, going over it event-by-event, and we’ve certainly found some weaknesses and places where we can improve.

“Luck is part of it, but I think you’ve got to work hard to get good luck, and that’s going to be our approach this year — to try and out-work everybody else and hope the rest falls into place.”

A familiar face will also provide Hinchcliffe with help this season. Craig Hampson, who engineered Hinchcliffe’s Rookie of the Year campaign in 2011 for Newman-Haas Racing, has joined the Andretti camp and will re-team with him as engineer on the No. 27 (Hinchcliffe’s previous engineer, Tino Belli, is now technical director at Panther + Dreyer and Reinbold Racing).

“Everything happens for a reason, and for me, that driver-engineer relationship is so, so critical,” said Hinchcliffe, who clearly holds Hampson in high regard. “For me to come with a different engineer from last year, but at least one that I’ve worked with in the past, is such a big step forward.

“Craig’s a tremendous engineer and he’ll be a huge asset to the whole team, but certainly, everyone on the 27 car is excited about the opportunity to work with him, and I’m over the moon about the opportunity to work with him again.”

Hinchcliffe’s always been an optimistic guy, and it looks like he has even more of it going into next month’s IndyCar opener in St. Petersburg, Florida (March 24, Noon ET on NBC Sports Network).

Hamilton: Abu Dhabi ‘the last race with good-looking cars’ in F1

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Lewis Hamilton believes that this weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will be remembered as the last race with good-looking Formula 1 cars ahead of the introduction of the ‘Halo’ cockpit protection for next year.

Officials from the FIA and F1 Strategy Group confirmed earlier this year that the Halo would be fitted to all cars from the 2018 season in a bid to improve safety standards, with the deaths of Justin Wilson and Jules Bianchi putting head protection high on the agenda for the series’ chiefs.

Hamilton has long made his opposition to the Halo clear, believing it will ruin the look of F1 cars, and echoed his thoughts ahead of the final Halo-less race in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

“It’s the last year of looking good I think in the cars. It’s the last race where the cars will look good,” Hamilton said.

“I think next year, it’s all downhill from there in terms of how they look.

“But safety will go up at least, and maybe it could be successful in some way.”

Hamilton’s F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel was less bothered about the change, believing the field will adjust and move on.

“The cars will look different next year. Everything I’ve seen so far looks different, but on the other hand it is something we all get used to,” Vettel said.

“But no doubt the cars look better now, but we’ll get used to it, and we’ll work on the aesthetics so it can be better. It is less of a big deal.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo shared Vettel’s view, saying: “I don’t think it’s gonna be as dramatic as most people make it out to be.”