Hawksworth's California dream comes true as he swoops in to lift Star Mazda crown|
Jack Hawksworth had vowed that he not only wanted to win the 2012 Star Mazda Championship, but that he wanted to do so in style, and in claiming his eighth victory of an outstanding maiden campaign the other side of the Pond at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, he did just that - turning his California dream into reality on another record-breaking weekend.
Having belied his rookie status right from the word 'go' to thoroughly dominate Star Mazda proceedings this year, Hawksworth arrived at Laguna Seca for the penultimate outing on the calendar lying 61 markers ahead of his closest challenger in the points standings, with 93 left on the table and four drivers still in contention.
Third-quickest in practice around the legendary Californian circuit in his Team Pelfrey single-seater, the talented young Bradford-born speed demon dug deep when it mattered the most to annex a record-extending 11th PEAK Performance pole position of the season in qualifying, pipping his principal rival to the all-important top spot by the slenderest of margins of just six thousandths of a second. To put that into perspective, the pair of them were more than a quarter-of-a-second clear of the rest of the 20-strong field.
Adamant that there was still much work to do, however, Hawksworth acknowledged that whilst 'a lot of things could be going through my mind right now if I let them', it was imperative that he remain 'head down and nose to the grindstone' during Saturday's race. Under sustained pressure throughout, the 21-year-old British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) Rising Star handled the high-stakes situation admirably and never once ceded his advantage, even if an unexpected late scare momentarily threatened to derail his celebrations.
"Gabby Chaves was right behind me the whole race and I couldn't shake him but equally he couldn't get by, so I was surprised when he suddenly appeared alongside me in the Corkscrew on the last lap," he recalled. "There wasn't room for both of us, so I knew I either had to let him by to win the race or go off in the dirt and keep my foot in like Alex Zanardi did years ago.
"At that point I was determined to win, and so was he, so we were both off in the dirt but we managed to keep the cars in a straight line and I stayed in the lead. It was a heart-stopping moment, but we survived it and it was just a tremendous victory for Team Pelfrey. Every single team member worked incredibly hard to give me the tools to do this job, so it was up to me to see it through."
Back in 1996, two-time IndyCar Champion Zanardi famously pulled off an audacious, race-winning last lap manoeuvre on Bryan Herta at Laguna Seca's daunting Corkscrew corner - hitherto never considered an overtaking opportunity - and as he drew inspiration from the Italian's fabled heroics, Hawksworth's eighth success of the season set a new Star Mazda record, as well as ensuring him of both the coveted championship laurels and the 'Rookie of the Year' honours.
From third on the grid for Sunday's encounter, the highly-rated Cullingworth hotshot battled set-up issues and fading tyres to follow that triumph with the runner-up spoils - his 12th podium finish of what has been a truly extraordinary stateside adventure, and a result that helped to secure Team Pelfrey the teams' trophy for the second year in succession.
Better yet, his title glory has earned Hawksworth more than $600,000 of scholarship funding from the prestigious 'Mazda Road to Indy' programme to graduate in 2013 to Indy Lights, the next step on the ladder towards his eventual goal of IndyCar and a series that last year's Star Mazda Champion is currently leading. It is, he recognises, a career-making prize - and just reward for a near-perfect campaign.
"It's been the best weekend of my life so far," enthused the TORGOEN Swiss brand ambassador, formerly a leading light on the national and international karting scene, "and I can't begin to tell you how relieved I am.
"I came into this season knowing I needed to win the championship if I was going to have any chance of continuing my racing career, and I'm so happy to have had Team Pelfrey helping me and supporting me all the way. They've given me fantastic equipment throughout, so it's just an amazing feeling to wrap it all up and achieve everything we set out to achieve at the start of the year.
"I haven't driven an Indy Lights car yet - I wanted to focus on getting the job done in Star Mazda and not tempt fate by dividing my attention - but now I've won the scholarship, perhaps I need to start having a bit of a think about what I want to do next year..."
Race Report by Russell Atkins
Photos by Eric McCombs