Craig Hampson (second from left), an 18-year veteran of Newman/Haas Racing and the man who race engineered Sebastien Bourdais to four consecutive Champ Car titles 2004-'07, often has the demeanor of a man who lost 10 bucks and found a quarter. While this outlook perplexed outsiders back in the days when SeaBass was winning approximately half the races in a season, it became fully justified for much of the last three years since Champ Car folded and its teams joined the IZOD IndyCar Series.
After two wins in that first merged year, courtesy of Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson, and a more consistent season with Rahal in '09, the team reached its nadir last season when Hideki Mutoh finished 18th in the IZOD IndyCar Series. Necessary though his Honda Formula Dream dollars were, and nice guy though Mutoh was, he'd reached a performance plateau long before he joined NHR – and that plateau wasn't high. Not by the standards of a team which, in its 28-year history, had racked up titles with Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Cristiano da Matta and Bourdais.
Brian Lisles, team manager, says: “Although this is supposed to be a sporting and engineering endeavor, the reality is that it's all driven by money. If you don't have the dollars, you can't do it, and we suffered several blows in 2008. Primarily, the demise of the series we were in, followed by the loss of an iconic team owner, Paul Newman, who was very influential in all matters outside of the team's day-to-day functioning, particularly in terms of introductions to raise sponsorship. They were a couple of rapid hammer blows and, just surviving 2008, we didn't have time to lift our heads and recognize we were in a different world business-wise and so we were slow to react.
“Last year, when we were running a single-car entry and weren't achieving anything like the results we strive for, everyone from the team owners down said we needed to do something about it, and we made several changes to improve our situation as a business. That allowed us to then look at the sporting side, and get drivers in the car who would help us deliver the kind of results we were after.”
The arrival of Oriol Servia (RIGHT) and rookie teammate James Hinchcliffe for 2011 has turned Newman/Haas Racing right side up, not only in terms of results and consistent performance, but also morale. Says Hampson: “You must have top-notch drivers to do well in this championship. A good driver leads the development of the car, guides engineers, pumps up the crew, entices sponsors, keeps the owners enthusiastic and does the job on track. So having drivers like Oriol whose performance always reflects the progress you're making as a team, and James, a rookie we can see making progress at every race, revitalizes Newman/Haas from top to bottom.
“What was also nice about Oriol, other than the fact that we respected him highly from when we'd worked with him before [in 2005, subbing for the injured Bruno Junqueira and in '09, as a late-season replacement for the disappointing Robert Doornbos], is that his Spanish background enabled us to put together a good marketing platform with Telemundo, and we're now reaching a wide audience via that conduit. Oriol's performances are really important, but he's also bringing new fans to the sport and bringing attention to the team.”