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Sebastien Bourdais’ former engineer heading to Arrow McLaren SP

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The demise of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan continued Monday with the announcement its famed engineer, Craig Hampson, was joining Arrow McLaren SP. Hampson will become Race and R&D Engineer at the team that combines McLaren and Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Hampson is most famous as the engineer at Newman Haas Lanigan Racing when Sebastien Bourdais was the driver from 2003 to 2007. From 2004 to 2007, the Hampson and Bourdais combination won four-straight Champ Car Series championships.

The two were reunited at Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan in 2017 and were an instant success, winning the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. With Hampson’s engineering and Bourdais’ rejuvenated racing skill, the operation was able to enjoy the lead in the IndyCar standings entering the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Bourdais engineered a rocket ship for Bourdais in Indianapolis 500 qualifications that year and the driver was running the fastest speeds of the day before he lost control of the car entering Turn 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Onboard data showed Bourdais had the car at 97 percent throttle when it slammed into the wall at 227 miles per hour.

Bourdais suffered fractures to his legs and pelvis that required surgery at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. One week later, he was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to join the team as a spectator at the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais returned to the final three races of the 2017 and again, the Hampson-led team with Bourdais behind the wheel won the Firestone Grand Prix for the season year in a row in 2018.

The two remained a vital part of the No. 18 Honda at DCR with Vasser and Sullivan until team owner Coyne suffered a major budgetary hit in early November. Without the additional money required to run a competitive two-car NTT IndyCar Series team, Coyne released Bourdais on November 22.

Hampson remained, fueling speculation that he could help lure James Hinchcliffe, another popular driver out of a ride, to Coyne’s operation.

On Monday, however, it was announced Hampson will join the Arrow McLaren SP team and work with its two young drivers and the past two Indy Lights Series champions Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew.

“I am very excited to be joining the highly capable group of talented team members that Arrow McLaren SP has already assembled,” Hampson said Monday “There are people there who I have worked with in the past, plus others who I have previously regarded as formidable competition. I am eager to integrate into the projects, preparation, and momentum that they already have underway for the 2020 season.

“This will be a year of growth and learning, but I’m confident that this team has the expertise, commercial backing, access to technology, and willful ambition that makes it possible to plot a course where in due time we will regularly challenge for race wins, Indy 500 victories, and season championships.”

Hampson comes to Arrow McLaren SP with more than 25 years of frontline experience in the sport with leading teams. During his race engineering career to date, he has more than 30 wins, four Champ Car titles and two Indy 500 victories to his name.

“Recruiting someone of Craig’s experience and expertise is an important step for the team as we build towards the next level of competitiveness,” said Taylor Kiel, managing director, Arrow McLaren SP. “He is not only an accomplished and well-respected engineer but a strong technical leader who will be a key member of our established team.”

Two of the top engineers at Dale Coyne Racing have left the team since the end of the season. Michael Cannon, who was key in the development of rookie Santino Ferrucci, left to join Chip Ganassi Racing in October. Hampson’s departure on Monday is another troubling sign for the NTT IndyCar Series operation that became a very competitive team in recent seasons.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Inside IndyCar’s iRacing revolution: Oliver Askew, team take it seriously

SimMetric Labs
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No laps have been turned in the NTT IndyCar Series this season, yet rookie Oliver Askew incessantly is analyzing fresh lap data with his Arrow McLaren SP team.

For the past two weeks, Askew has turned hundreds of laps in iRacing at Watkins Glen International and Barber Motorsports Park, and his support team meticulously has scoured the data in real time.

Race engineer Blair Perschbacher, assistant engineer Mike Reggio and strategist Billy Vincent are connected via all the software and timing systems that are on Askew’s real-world No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet. After every run, numbers instantly are crunched, and Askew debriefs with his crew on improving the handling of his car in search of every fraction of a second as he would in real life.

WATCH: IndyCar iRacing Challenge, 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN or streaming here

The only difference is Askew is sitting inside a simulation rig housed by a 45-foot trailer in West Palm Beach, Fla., while each team member is in an Indianapolis area home.

“They basically set up their own timing stands in their living rooms,” Askew told NBCSports.com. “It’s awesome.”

It’s the new reality for IndyCar, which will play host to the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (NBCSN) at virtual Barber Motorsports Park.

Last Saturday, Askew started and finished fifth at Watkins Glen International, where he practiced with the advisement of his team for more than 15 hours in the SimMetric Driver Performance Labs simulator. Despite a relative sim racing newbie, Askew, 23, finished only two spots behind Will Power, who has more than 1,500 starts and 150 victories on iRacing road courses.

Askew already has practiced for more than 10 hours this week in his simulator for Barber, where he hopes to make the podium against a 29-driver field that will include many champions and winners.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” he said. “You can tell by the results at Watkins Glen. You know which drivers have built their sims properly. How much they’ve been practicing. Those are the guys who finish up front.

“I’m still trying to represent everyone. It’s cool we have the same paint scheme. We’re just trying to represent Arrow and our partners the best as possible. We know they’re all watching, and it seems the viewership is going up.”


The Jupiter, Florida, native has found an edge through his friendship with SimMetric Driver Performance Labs, which is based in nearby West Palm Beach, Florida. Askew and SimMetric CEO Greg De Giorgis met last year through mutual friends. Last year, Askew had done a few simulator sessions before winning the 2019 Indy Lights championship (and graduating to the ride with Arrow McLaren SP).

With an official simulator partnership in the Road to Indy program, SimMetric’s CXC Motion Pro II simulator travels in a trailer to racing events around the country, providing drivers with extra preparation time for the real world.

The full-motion simulator includes a motion system developed by drivers and engineers, hyrdaulic brakes and force-feedback steering system. Though at the high end for simulators available to the general public, it retails for much less than the seven-figure simulators used by auto manufacturers with race programs.

“While time in a driving simulator will never fully replace real seat time, sim seat time can go a very long way in supplementing the seat time a driver gets,” De Giorgis told NBCSports.com in an email. “With three added benefits you don’t get in the real car: Significantly lower cost per hour, no risk of bodily harm or damage to the car, and of course, no limitations on time.”

There are some limitations for how much Askew can practice, though. A schedule was set up last week so the team, Askew and De Giorgis (who helps run the simulator and maintain communications with the team) could work together while also maintaining self-isolation with their families.

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The trailer with the simulator is parked indoors at the Riviera Beach, Florida, shop of Extreme Velocity Motorsports, which also has an unofficial affiliation with SimMetric.

“We’re practicing social distancing and making sure the trailer and everything is clean,” Askew said. “We’re taking that very seriously. It’s still a job for me, so I need to get what I can out of it.”

He’s gotten a lot from it despite a lack of experience. The team can compare simulation data from iRacing to real-world historical data from past races and test sessions.

Reggio handles fuel data, and Simpson monitors strategy and timing. While setups are fixed for the iRacing IndyCar Challenge, Perschbacher is able to work with brake bias. “He’s just trying to bend the rules as much as we can,” Askew said. “We’ve done a lot with brake bias. That’s pretty much all we can change.”

Fans also can watch Askew practicing via a YouTube channel provided by De Giorgis, who has chatted with viewers about the car’s laps in real time during the streams that are available by clicking here.

Fans will be able to find a live stream of Askew’s race Saturday by clicking here.


It’s all relatively new to Askew, who doesn’t even have a sim rig at his Indianapolis home. His previous sim experience mainly came on the Chevrolet simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina.

“Honesty, for me personally, I’m a little late to the party,” Askew said. “I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I’m young and they assumed I’ve been doing this. I’ve never even had my own iRacing account before. Guys like (McLaren driver) Lando Norris, (Watkins Glen winner) Sage (Karam), all these guys have been streaming live on Twitch and have been running iRacing for multiple years now.

“ It’s a great way to get fans engaged in the race weekend and get eSports get bigger and bigger every year. Very interesting moving forward. It’s cool that IndyCar has dipped their feet into these waters now. Even once the season starts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we do more of these races.”

If so, he and his team have learned to keep an eye on Power, a real-world ace on road courses. During some practice races Thursday, Askew thought he’d done well by qualifying third, but Power then put a half-second on the field by winning the pole position.

“Will is unbelievably quick and does the same things in real life as well,” said Askew, who did turn the fastest lap in the practice race. “He just pulls it out somehow. That’s where the engineers and our staff in Indy come into play because they’re able to watch his on-board in real time and replay his on board to figure out what he’s doing to get the most of out of his car in the video game.

“It gets the creative juices flowing again. It’s still very different from real life, but I think we’re going to be able to start the season a little more fresh than we would have without this.”

Chris Graythen / Getty Images