Jack Hawksworth’s eye-catching maiden campaign at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2014 has been capped with the presentation of the prestigious Tony Renna Rising Star Award – leaving him to reflect upon a season in which he and Bryan Herta Autosport truly ‘punched above their weight’.
It is no secret that for much of last winter, the Yorkshireman feared he would not be racing at all this year. He was all set to hang up his helmet to become a personal trainer when – impressed by his performance in a test outing and convinced by his potential – BHA founder and co-owner Bryan Herta picked up the ‘phone and summoned Hawksworth back stateside.
The gifted young Bradford-born ace was quick to repay his new team boss’ faith, making an immediate impact by qualifying an excellent eighth on his debut at St. Petersburg amongst some esteemed and experienced company. In so doing, he outpaced no fewer than nine IndyCar race-winners and two Champ Car Champions – and at Long Beach two weeks later, he turned even more heads by lining up fifth.
Indeed, Hawksworth reached the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying on three occasions – demonstrating that his raw speed is palpably not in question – and went on to fearlessly race wheel-to-wheel against some of the sport’s very biggest names.
In the Grand Prix of Houston, for example, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) SuperStar and erstwhile McLaren Autosport Award finalist artfully withstood a fierce and relentless attack from former Formula 1 front-runner Juan-Pablo Montoya to tally his breakthrough IndyCar podium. What’s more, he did so from 23rd and plum last on the starting grid in his 650bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater – firmly enhancing his already burgeoning street fighter reputation.
An even better result had looked to be on the cards in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, where after qualifying a superb second, Hawksworth belied his rookie status to snatch the lead on lap two and thereafter consummately control proceedings until an ill-timed caution period cost him his advantage. Nonetheless, at one of the most legendary motorsport venues anywhere in the world, the 23-year-old Cullingworth native had undeniably laid down a powerful marker.
Other standout showings included Detroit – where he ran a close and challenging second until his brakes betrayed him – claiming an admirable 13th on the grid for the iconic Indianapolis 500 and securing a top ten oval finish at the Milwaukee Mile.
The 2012 Star Mazda Champion and 2013 Indy Lights race-winner’s outstanding form evidently attracted the attention of IndyCar series officials, who saw fit to bestow upon him the Tony Renna Rising Star Award at the glittering end-of-season championship celebration in downtown Los Angeles.
“Jack demonstrated that he is a worthy recipient of the award by not only his skill and determination, but also his sportsmanlike attitude toward the sport and his fellow drivers,” remarked IndyCar President of Operations and Competition, Derrick Walker. “He clearly shows the promise of another rising star in the Verizon IndyCar Series.”
“It was an honour to receive the Rising Star Award, particularly given how well-respected Tony was within the paddock,” acknowledged Hawksworth, who is supported by Holman Wilfley, Sparco USA, Exa Networks, Core Pilates and Arai Helmets. “It was nice to get the recognition for the effort that the BHA guys and myself have put in this year.
“It’s been a hell of a ride – a real whirlwind! We were very quick in qualifying at the beginning of the season but were unfortunately unable to convert that pace and potential into concrete race results – whether that was due to getting caught up in other drivers’ accidents, not quite getting the strategy spot-on or just plain bad luck in terms of reliability.
“That led to a few missed opportunities which was obviously frustrating, but over the second half of the campaign, although we didn’t have the same kind of one-lap speed in qualifying, we were much better at
executing the races and fighting our way through the field – so it was something of a season of two halves. In the circumstances, I think we did a good job.
“I always believed I would be fast – if you don’t think that, there’s no point in even turning up – but IndyCar is a different world compared to anything I had done before. For starters, the cars are so much more technologically-sophisticated, bigger and heavier than in the junior formulae, and with no power steering, fitness is paramount – especially on the bumpy street circuits.
“The races are also very long and frenetic; there is invariably something going on, and with regular caution periods and strategy adjustments, you need to remain 100 per cent concentrated throughout. That makes it both mentally and physically draining, but I consider myself to be in pretty good shape and have always enjoyed the fitness aspect, which definitely paid dividends.
“Overall, I think this has probably been the best season I’ve ever put together and I’m very pleased with my performance. Leading the race – dominating, in fact – at Indianapolis was a very special moment, as was making it into the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying for the first time at Long Beach.
“Reaching the podium in Houston is another great memory – everybody in the team was really chuffed with that – whilst to be as quick as we were at Milwaukee was tremendously encouraging, as that was the first time we were genuinely competitive on an oval.
“BHA is a small team in comparison with some of the IndyCar heavyweights like the Penskes, Ganassis and Andrettis of this world, but they’re a great bunch of guys and for a one-car rookie outfit, I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say we punched well above our weight at times. Now the key will be to maintain this momentum and turn it into a solid run of results in 2015, because my goal is to win races – and ultimately, championships.”