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Hawksworth targets 'another great year' after inking 'dream' SSM Indy Lights deal

It has been quite a whirlwind week for Jack Hawksworth, as just days after picking up the prestigious Henry Surtees Award at the glittering annual British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) Awards luncheon, the gifted Bradford-born speed demon has firmed up his racing plans for 2013 - by announcing an agreement to compete for the benchmark Sam Schmidt Motorsports (SSM) outfit in the Firestone Indy Lights Championship.

Hawksworth stormed to a sensational Star Mazda Championship title triumph during the course of a dominant maiden campaign the other side of the Pond this year with Team Pelfrey - breaking practically every record in the fiercely-contested junior single-seater series along the way. That meant that he was arguably US open-wheel racing's very hottest property come season's end, with a whole number of teams clamouring for his signature.

Ultimately, however, following an impressive testing outing at Sebring International Raceway in Florida in November, it was multiple Indy Lights champions SSM that sealed the deal - and the 21-year-old McLaren AUTOSPORT Young Driver of the Year finalist, BRDC Rising Star and TORGOEN Swiss brand ambassador reflects that as he bids to make it back-to-back rookie crowns in 2013, he could not be in any better place.

"I am delighted to be joining a team with such pedigree and hunger to add to their ever-growing list of achievements," enthused Hawksworth, who will carry branding and financial support from Mazda next year in recognition of his Star Mazda glory. "The team's success speaks for itself. This is the dream ride in Indy Lights - everyone in the series wants to drive for Sam Schmidt, and I am over-the-moon to be able to do so.

"The results prove that the team takes Indy Lights extremely seriously and professionally - as much as its IndyCar Series programme. Sam has a lot of good guys working for him, and one of the reasons that drew me to the team was the people and their abilities. SSM captures everything I want in a team, and I am really looking forward to working with all the guys there, helping them achieve the best results possible in 2013 and beginning what will hopefully be a great and prosperous relationship.

"As always, the series is going to be extremely strong; indeed, from what I have heard, 2013 is shaping up to be the strongest year Indy Lights has had for a while - a challenge that we will relish. The target will be to score as many points as possible and maximise the potential of both myself and the car. If we can do that, then I am sure we are in for another great year.

"I know that just as in 2012, I will have a brilliant group of people surrounding me, which is a privileged position to be in, and I have to say a big 'thank you' to everybody who has helped to put this together."

SSM has clinched the Indy Lights laurels on no fewer than six occasions since 2004 - and is undefeated since 2010 - making it the most decorated team in the series' history, with 53 race victories to its credit and an unrivalled track record of producing drivers' champions.

What's more, Tristan Vautier scooped the 2012 honours after graduating like Hawksworth direct from a title-winning campaign in Star Mazda - and the Indianapolis-based operation's chief engineer Chris Finch and team owner Sam Schmidt are both convinced that their new signing has everything required to follow in the Frenchman's footsteps.

"We've run several drivers straight out of the Star Mazda series, and Jack seemed to adapt very quickly to the Lights car," remarked Finch. "He got up-to-speed very fast and provided very analytical feedback. It will be great to see his nuances as he establishes his driving style in a Lights car."

"I'm really pleased to have Jack join SSM in 2013," echoed Schmidt, a former racer himself. "I watched his progress very closely this year in Star Mazda. He did a fantastic job, especially since he had not raced in the US before and everything was unfamiliar. We've already tested a couple of times, and there's a lot of raw talent there.

"It's an honour to facilitate the 'Mazda Road to Indy' scholarship for the third year in a row. It has been proven to properly prepare drivers for the next level, and if the performances of the likes of Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly are any indication, Jack Hawksworth will be a Firestone Indy Lights championship contender in 2013."

The 12-event Indy Lights season will rev into life at St. Petersburg in Florida on March 23, in support of the headlining IZOD IndyCar Series, Hawksworth's ultimate career goal - and if his rivals are not already concerned about the highly-rated Cullingworth hotshot's potential, then perhaps they should be. You see, in his only previous appearance at St. Petersburg - on his US racing debut nine months ago - he won.

Report by Russell Atkins
Photos by Chris Jones

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