Compressed Schedule Challenges Veteran Engineer Hampson as Indy 500 Approaches
As the Arrow McLaren SP squad began preparations for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500, R&D engineer, and Race Engineer, Craig Hampson knew that the limited track time would make things more challenging for the team.
“Anytime you’re on track at Indy, it is important,” explained Hampson. “With the compressed schedule, we have a lot to do in a very short period of time.
“The car is different, due to the addition of the Aeroscreen. The Aeroscreen adds quite a bit of mass to the car, so it is a heavier car. That weight is shifted forwards because the Aeroscreen is on the front part of the car.
There are aerodynamic effects as well courtesy of the Aeroscreen that will be most noticeable at Indianapolis, which is our fastest track. So, we are definitely going to have to adjust the setup both aerodynamically and mechanically because, in a lot of ways, this is a new car.”
With the compressed schedule and a trio of drivers with one combined start between them in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the focus was always going to be working on race trim.
“I’ve said to everybody we need to trust in the inherent speed in the car,” said Hampson regarding the focus on qualifying versus race trim. “We’ve done our research and development homework. It should be as quick as we currently know how to make it. We have worked hard on that. So, now we just focus on the race setup and work on getting it to run well in groups of traffic and around other cars.”
When you look at the total laps completed in the three opportunities for race running, that mission was accomplished. The three Arrow McLaren SP drivers were among the busiest, especially in the post-qualifying practice on Sunday afternoon.
Fernando Alonso, Oliver Askew, and Pato O’Ward completed a total of 2,392.5 miles during practice on the iconic 2.5-mile oval of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and all three drivers were in the top 20 of laps completed.
O’Ward, who was the highest of the team’s qualifiers in 15th, was the seventh-busiest driver, turning a total of 351 practice laps. The Arrow McLaren SP team averaged 319 laps per driver, which trailed only two other teams. An impressive feat for a team with three relatively new drivers in the series.
“Sunday was a really good day for the Arrow McLaren SP team,” said Taylor Kiel, Managing Director, Arrow McLaren SP. “The priority was obviously to get back into race mode, both in terms of mindset and with the car setups, so that was good. We felt like we made a lot of progress in the time that we had. We ran a lot of laps, which was a priority for us, just to get back on track with Pato, Oliver, and Fernando. The goal was to log a lot of laps, make sure we were happy with the cars, and end today (Sunday) on a high note. We did that.”
Hampson, an Indianapolis 500 winner as the R&D Engineer for the team that fielded cars for Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014) and Alexander Rossi (2016), took on an expanded role for this event, as the race engineer for two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso.
A Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Maryland, working with a multiple-time series champions, is nothing new for Hampson. All four of Sebastien Bourdais’ Champ Car World Series titles and 33 of his 37 career Indy car wins occurred with Hampson at the helm.
As soon as the deal to bring the Spaniard on-board came together, Hampson and Alonso started emailing and talking on the phone, but the first time they met in person was only a few days before Alonso got on track for the first time.
“He is a sponge,” said Hampson, who is well known for his attention to detail. “I gave him a huge pre-event document. You could definitely tell he read it word-for-word because he came back with some opinions on ‘yes, I like this, I don’t like this’. I am pleased so far. I think it will be excellent for our youngsters to see somebody who has achieved everything, and is acknowledged as one of the greatest ever, and to see him work.”
The Arrow McLaren SP team will return to the track for final two-hour practice on Friday, August 21, traditionally known as Carb Day. Then everything will be put to the test for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, Aug. 23 at 1 p.m. ET to be televised live on NBC.