Hawksworth back in the title hunt with Canadian Indy Lights win
Jack Hawksworth proved himself to be streets ahead of his rivals as he blasted back into title contention in the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights Championship with a mesmerising triumph in the Toronto 100and with four rounds remaining, he has warned that this isnt over yet.
Hawksworth headed north of the border to Canada eager indeed to return to the street circuits following a torrid oval run, bemoaning his fifth-place finish in his most recent outing around the unique, Tricky Triangle Pocono Raceway as pretty average. There was nothing average in the slightest about Toronto.
The ovals had been difficult for us, confessed the talented young Bradford-born speed demon and early-season pace-setter. I was looking forward to the opportunity to start afresh. I love all of the street circuits we go to, but Toronto is one of my favourites and an undisputed highlight on the calendar. It has a lot of character and history behind it, and being just outside of downtown means you can see the city skyline going along the main straight. It really is a spectacular setting.
A lot of street circuits tend to be composed of a succession of 90 lefts and 90 rights, but Toronto has more variation, which requires you to work harder on the balance of the car so it performs well all the way around the lapand adapt your driving style accordingly. It has a very bumpy track surface, too, and all-in-all, it poses a massive challengebut the whole team was really pumped-up and I knew we stood a strong chance.
Having thoroughly dominated proceedings around the streets of Torontos Exhibition Place last year en route to clinching the fiercely-contested Star Mazda Championship crown as a US racing rookie, Hawksworth wasted no time at all in getting down into the groove in practice, lapping comfortably and consistently quickest in his 450bhp Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) single-seater.
Qualifying was held at the crack of dawn the following day, but despite the early-morning wake-up call, the McLaren Autosport Award finalist and British Racing Drivers Club (BRDC) SuperStar was not caught nappingas he bounced back from an error that saw him nose into the Turn Eight tyre barriers to deservedly claim his first Indy Lights pole position by four hundredths of a second.
People were sticking it into the wall left, right and centre, which made for a really disrupted session, Hawksworth explained. At the end, it effectively boiled down to a seven-minute shoot-out between myself and championship leader Carlos Muoz for pole. The two of us have had some good battles this year in qualifying, and it was blow-for-blow as we traded fastest sector times. It was really exciting as he pushed me all the way, so it felt great to come out on top this time.
What followed in the race was a master class, as the 22-year-old Cullingworth nativewho is carrying scholarship funding from the Mazda Road to Indy as well as backing from Sparco USA, Exa Networks, Core Pilates, Arai Helmets and Nicholas Jonesdidnt let his pursuers get so much as a look-in over 50 laps completed in stifling heat.
Every time second-placed Gabby Chaves threatened to close up on him, Hawksworth responded by going faster still as he had an answer to whatever his adversaries tried to throw at him. He ultimately took the chequered flag almost 15 seconds clear of the runner-up to tally his second victory of the campaignhis first since the St. Petersburg curtain-raiser back in Marchsimilarly snaring the bonus points available for pole position and most laps led as Muoz could fare no better than a distant fourth.
The first few laps are always extremely important, he reflected, and after getting a good jump at the start, I then pushed hard to extend my lead. I had a really good car underneath me, and my main focus was on managing the gap. Although Gabby kept me honest throughout the opening half of the race, we always had a little bit in reserve for when we needed it, and I felt comfortable.
That said, you can never truly relax on such a tricky street circuityoure constantly under pressure, because with the walls so close, you need to maintain 100 per cent concentration all the way through. Just one lapse is all it takes for it to get away from you, and it can go very wrong incredibly quickly.
Having climbed from fifth to fourth in the title standings and slashed his deficit to the leader from 65 points to 43, the West Yorkshire ace is well aware that he needs to continue to make hay over the upcoming three races whilst the sun is shining. Next up is Mid-Ohio, which he describes as an awesome road course after discovering it for the first time recently, followed by Baltimore, where 12 months ago he left the Star Mazda field eating his dust. There may still be hard work aplenty ahead, but make no mistakethis street fighter is firmly on the comeback trail.
Toronto was just a fairytale weekend and an amazing result! Hawksworth concluded. I think we made a big statement. Weve been through such a tough period since Long Beach in April, as things went from bad to worse. Its tremendously difficult when youre experiencing a rough patch and not much is going right to turn the situation around and come out swinging on the other side, but we did itand I think thats something for everybody involved to be very proud of.
I genuinely believe weve turned a corner, and that speaks volumes for the calibre of this team. Even when things seemed to be relentlessly against us on the ovals and we couldnt catch a break, we never gave up, always focussing on the next raceand eventually that has paid off. This was a really emotional win.
Im particularly pleased for my engineer, Geoff. He was with me all through last year in Star Mazda and he has been under a lot of pressure, so for us to achieve our first win together in Indy Lights was something quite special. Hes superb at his job and we have a fantastic relationship, so it was great to see him get the credit and reward he deserves.
I cant wait for Mid-Ohio now! We went well there in testing, so the goal has to be to do exactly the same as we did in Toronto and hopefully come away with another top result. Its all to play for still. Yes, we have a big hole to dig ourselves out of, but Im driving well, weve got the speed and the next three races are all at my kind of tracks. We need to extract the absolute maximum from every remaining weekendand then well see where we end up when the final scores are counted. This isnt over yet.