Dominant Hawksworth shrugs off misfortune to take fifth victory of 2012|
Had it not been for another driver's error, Jack Hawksworth would likely have toasted a second consecutive victory double in the 2012 Star Mazda Championship at Indy Edmonton, but a dominant triumph in the weekend's final encounter has nonetheless seen the US racing rookie strengthen his grip on the title standings.
Jack arrived at Edmonton buoyed by a faultless performance at Toronto Indy in which he had consummately wiped the floor with his rivals, leaving him bullish about his prospects of maintaining that winning form. Better yet, with the circuit being new to all 19 Star Mazda competitors, it was a level playing field right from the outset.
"The track is awesome!" enthused the talented young Bradford-born speed demon. "It's an interesting mix of street course and airport circuit, bumpy but very fast. It has a couple of long straights leading into first-gear, hard-braking zones, and the middle part of the lap is very technical with a nice flow. I really enjoyed driving it."
Untouchable in practice, Jack praised a 'fantastic car' from Team Pelfrey as he lapped a staggering three-quarters-of-a-second out-of-reach of any of his adversaries. A change in conditions the following day caused the highly-rated Cullingworth hotshot to go the wrong way on set-up, however, and allied to a couple of driving mistakes, he wound up third on the race one grid - albeit still firmly convinced he had a race-winning car underneath him.
"I was quite aggressive at the start and moved immediately up to second," he recounted. "When it began to spit with rain and the circuit became greasy, we struggled a little and fell to fourth, but as that petered out and the track gripped up again, we were able to take quite a lot of time out of the three leaders.
"Halfway through, it then started to rain more heavily, and lots of drivers pitted under a caution period to change over to wet tyres. I had just overtaken the guy in second place at the time, and we committed to staying out on slicks, which put us into the lead when it came to the last lap re-start.
"With half the field on wet tyres and half on slicks, it was perhaps inevitable that something would happen when the safety car peeled off the track. I was obviously hoping that wouldn't involve me, but unfortunately when the race went 'green' again, my team-mate behind in second lost control in the slippery conditions and slid into me under braking, sending us both spinning. The most galling thing was that all we had needed to do was get through the next few corners safely and we would have won..."
With slight damage to his car, Jack recovered to take the chequered flag a disconsolate and unrepresentative seventh, but with his chief championship rival only two places ahead, in the circumstances it was very much a case of damage limitation. What's more, by setting comfortably the fastest lap, the British Racing Drivers' Club Rising Star secured his sixth PEAK Performance pole position of the campaign for race two, which would provide a far more accurate barometer of the true Star Mazda form guide in 2012 as he bounced back in fine style.
"Myself and the team were fired-up to put things right after Saturday, and I was able to pull away consistently at the rate of about half-a-second-a-lap," he recalled of an effortless performance during which he barely even broke a sweat. "That was without pushing flat-out, either - there was plenty left in reserve. The car was perfect and I could run the race the way I wanted. I was just having fun out there and feeling pretty relaxed, and then towards the end, the safety car came out..."
The last thing Jack wanted to see with an 8.5-second advantage, the safety car bunched the entire field together once more and eradicated his lead in one fell swoop. Impressively unflappable, the 21-year-old TORGOEN Swiss brand ambassador handled the pressure and his pursuers' attacks flawlessly to bring the #82 car home for maximum points - pole position, fastest lap and race victory. Heading next to the prestigious Grand Prix de Trois-Rivieres in Quebec with a 49-point championship lead, he is indubitably Star Mazda's form man.
"The season is going brilliantly at the moment, and to have won five of the ten races so far, I honestly couldn't have asked for any more," he reflected. "A huge part of that success is down to Team Pelfrey and all my mechanics and engineers, so I owe them a massive 'thank you' as always.
"Our approach at Trois-Rivieres will be exactly the same as at Edmonton - to nail the set-up on Friday, qualify at the front and then take it from there. The championship battle is getting more serious now and any mistakes will be acutely punished; the key will be to keep consistently scoring good points in every single race. It looks like being another track that should really suit us - tight, twisty, technical and a lot of fun to drive - and the team won there last year, too, which is encouraging. It can't come soon enough!"
Race Report by Russell Atkins
Photos by Eric McCombs