Hampson: Hinchcliffe’s unsung hero

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James Hinchcliffe’s first IndyCar victory was helped, no doubt, with his reunion with engineer Craig Hampson. Hampson helped calm down the driver known more for his quirky, self-deprecating personality than driving ability (they’re both good).

The veteran was only involved on a partial season effort with Dragon Racing a year ago after performing the same role with then-rookie Hinchcliffe at Newman/Haas Racing in 2011. The two combined to win rookie-of-the-year honors; Hampson’s greatest achievement in open-wheel racing came in Champ Car when he and Sebastien Bourdais won four straight titles from 2004 to 2007.

Hinchcliffe and Andretti Autosport team principal Michael Andretti explained the impact Hampson has made on the team.

“He’s probably the most decorated engineer on pit lane,” said Hinchcliffe. “What I like about Craig is just how honest he is. Drivers and engineers have a tremendous habit of being completely full of BS and blaming everything on other people. He’s the first engineer I’ve worked with that when it was absolutely his fault, he was the first guy to put up his hand and admit it, and he was harder on himself that anybody else could have been.

“That work ethic he brings to a program is just incredible. He brings that whole extra level. It’s just that last little bit you need to be at the front in this series.”

Andretti said the pursuit of Hampson made the reunion between he and Hinchcliffe all the sweeter.

“We had tried to get Craig back in the off-season before that, like right around November, but he couldn’t do it because things were happening with Newman/Haas. Almost that same day we found out that Craig could leave, so it was like a perfect thing. Adding him to our team is just going to make us that much stronger because we rate him very highly, we always did. We’ve been trying to get him for a while!”

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”