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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