Less than a handful of months after uprooting from Yorkshire to go and settle Stateside, Jack Hawksworth has well-and-truly made America sit up and take notice of him – by storming to a dominant lights-to-flag victory in the Star Mazda Championship on his debut in the series in the St. Petersburg curtain-raiser.
The current campaign might represent only Jack’s second in cars since graduating from an immensely successful national and international karting career – having been a front-runner on the British scene in Formula Renault UK in 2011, triumphing on ‘home’ turf at Croft en route to a commendable fourth spot in the final standings – but the talented young Bradford-born speed demon is already comprehensively marking himself out as one to watch.
Having relocated across the Pond after signing up to compete for front-running outfit Team Pelfrey in Star Mazda in 2012, the highly-rated Cullingworth hotshot proceeded to demonstrate encouraging form indeed during Spring Training. He travelled to St. Petersburg – his team’s ‘local’ track – targeting a strong showing and a podium finish, although with no prior testing permitted around the demanding, 1.8-mile Florida street circuit, he was well aware that he would be straight in at the deep end.
With only two half-hour, red flag-punctuated practice sessions to learn the layout before qualifying, Jack adopted a mature approach and steadily lowered his lap times, before securing third spot on the race one starting grid, less than two tenths of a second shy of the top spot.
“St. Petersburg is a spectacular circuit,” the 21-year-old enthuses, “and it’s so cool racing right through the middle of a city. It was a lot of fun to drive, but you couldn’t afford to make a mistake, because even just the tiniest error would put you in the wall. At the same time, though, you still had to push and get as close to the barriers as you dared...
“It’s a different skill set and mentality that you need to apply compared to driving on road courses. There were some really tight-and-twisty corners, and some pretty quick ones, too. You could never let your concentration slip, even for a micro-second.
“Following the group test, we knew we were quick enough; we’ve felt we’ve had the pace since the start of the year, to be honest, but you never know exactly where you are in the pecking order until the first race. We had a really good car, though, so after that, it was up to me to make the most of it.
“In race one, I got off to a good start to hold position in third, then after several laps, I could see the guy in front of me was beginning to lose his rear tyres a bit. I was able to capitalise on that, and made a move on him at the end of the start/finish straight. I then set off after the leader, chased him down and was right on his tail by the end – we just ran out of laps. I was really pleased with second place, though – it was a very good start to the season, and by setting fastest lap, as well, I earned myself pole position for race two.”
Less than half-a-second adrift of the winner when the chequered flag fell, given that many of his rivals have far more experience than Jack of US-style racing and circuits, this was very much a case of the rookie showing a clean pair of racing boots to the seasoned veterans. He would do even better in the second encounter the following day, fairly scampering away, refusing to let two safety car periods faze him in the slightest, setting fastest lap again and going on to leave St. Petersburg with a ten-point championship lead.
“I was really pumped,” confesses the BRDC Rising Star. “I knew all the cards were in our hands – we were masters of our own destiny – and that provided I made a good start, I could then dictate the race from there. I felt we had a really good opportunity and I had a really quick car, and over the first few laps I was able to pull out a three-second lead, but then the safety car came out and bunched the field right back up. After five laps, the race went ‘green’ again, I opened up another lead and then, guess what – another safety car period!
“We had seven more racing laps before the finish, during which time I managed to eke out another gap. Those kinds of situation are frustrating, because you pull out a margin and think you can start to ease off a bit and just control everything, and then suddenly you find yourself needing to do it all over again. I was concerned about the re-starts, because they’re another chance for someone to have a run at you, but I had a plan for when I was going to drop the hammer, and I managed to pull it off perfectly each time.
“It’s just been an awesome couple of days! It’s always good to get the first win out of the way, especially so early on in the season – it takes a bit of the pressure off – and it feels so good to get this kind of result after all the hard work we put in during testing. In terms of racing on streets, I was pretty much starting from ground-zero – so to win first time out was particularly special. I really couldn’t have asked for much more.”
With two races down and 15 to go, the IndyCar Series-supporting Star Mazda circus moves next to Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama, and the TORGOEN Swiss brand ambassador is bullish about his prospects of maintaining his impressive form to-date. Beyond that, though, he is unwilling to make too many predictions.
“Barber is a typical road course, quite narrow with plenty of camber and a lot of elevation changes,” Jack explains. “We think we’ve got a good car and good pace round there following the test, so hopefully we will be right up at the front again and putting some more decent points on the board. The main thing is that we do the best job we can every time we take to the circuit, and then the rest will take care of itself.
“I’m in a really good place at the moment, with a really good team around me. It’s going to be a long, tough championship, with a lot of different disciplines in terms of the tracks – street circuits, road courses and ovals – but I think we can be confident in our ability.
“The competition level in Star Mazda is really high; I would say there are six or seven guys out there this year who can win races, and three or four of them will have a good shot at the title, too. It’s really close, and it’s going to be a very exciting season. It’s far too early to be talking about the championship yet, but this result has given us that little bit extra motivation and hopefully we can go on and push for more wins now. I know everybody in the team is really hungry for that – and I certainly am!”