Hawksworth reborn in the USA as mind-blowing Star Mazda test seals 2012 switch|
After sensationally blitzing the timesheets on his Star Mazda Championship testing debut around the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was perhaps always inevitable that Jack Hawksworth would be swiftly snapped up - and having now duly agreed terms to race for front-running outfit Team Pelfrey in 2012, the talented young Bradford speed demon is set to be reborn in the USA.
Off the back of finishing a superb fourth in his rookie car racing campaign in the fiercely-contested Formula Renault UK Championship in 2011 and eager to steer his fledgling career in a new direction, Jack was offered the testing opportunity with Florida-based Team Pelfrey, who made waves by brilliantly clinching the Star Mazda teams' title this year at the first time of asking. He might have had only four hours out on-track over the course of two days stateside - but the 20-year-old made sure he took full advantage.
"I began thinking casually about going to America back during my karting days," he explained, "and we started considering it more seriously midway through this year. A fresh start is what I've been needing, and it's possible to forge a real career path over there, which is a major attraction.
"I went there with an open mind and no real expectations - and both the track and the car were totally different to anything I'd been used to before. Indianapolis is one of the most iconic circuits in the world. It's mind-blowing to drive; you've really got to respect the track and the drivers around you, because the speeds are just crazy! The circuit is absolutely unreal, and the facilities are unbelievable - there are grandstands the size of which you would find at Old Trafford right the way down the main straight!
"The Star Mazda is amazing, too - really, really enjoyable. Under braking, it barely moves at all - it's so stable. You have a bit more to think about than in the Formula Renault, and it's consequently not quite as easy to drive - you have to hustle it a little bit - but I clicked with it really quickly.
"Once I had adapted to the style of driving required, I worked with the team and we made some improvements and everything just came together. I knew I had to impress to secure a drive in Star Mazda next year, and I set a really good lap time by the end, without even being fully up-to-speed. There's still more to come."
Jack certainly got to grips with the high-tech, 260bhp single-seater - capable of accelerating from 0-60mph in a mere 2.8 seconds, the literal blink of an eye - in double-quick time, and as he hit speeds approaching an eye-watering 160mph around Indy's fabled, fearsome oval banking, the highly-rated Cullingworth-based hotshot turned heads the entire length of the pit-lane.
To say that he set 'a really good lap time' by the end of the test is to modestly do himself a disservice - he was the fastest driver in attendance, and by a commanding four tenths of a second. If it was a job audition, then it was one that he passed with flying colours - and barely a week later, the deal was done.
"Following the test, the momentum snowballed and we had an offer from practically every single team, which was pretty amazing," confessed the BRDC Rising Star, "but it was always my number one choice to go with Team Pelfrey and I'm thrilled to have agreed terms to compete for such a successful operation.
"I really like the way Team Pelfrey work, their preparation is excellent and it's good to be in such a professional environment. Right from the start, they understood me and I understood them - we worked really well together and moved forward productively. We just gelled.
"It's great to get everything sorted out so nice and early, too; everybody has worked really hard since the test to make this happen, and the cards all fell into place. It means my mind will be settled over the winter now, and we can hopefully hit the ground running right from the start of next season. I feel like I'm in a much better place than this time last year, I can't wait to get back in the car and I believe we can carry our testing form forward into 2012."
"We are delighted to welcome Jack to Team Pelfrey," added team manager Geoff Fickling. "He is exactly the type of driver our team looks for - quick, intelligent, dedicated and easy to work with. It's great that he's made the decision to pursue a career of it in the States, and we look forward to great things this coming year and feel that Jack has an extremely bright future within the Mazda Road to Indy."
Indeed, the former national and international karting star admits that he is excited by the prospect of racing around such 'spectacular' and 'awesome' street circuits as Baltimore, St. Petersburg, Toronto and Detroit, 'mental' ovals like Indianapolis and road courses of the ilk of Laguna Seca.
What's more, in evidence of the fact that opportunities to progress are far more plentiful the other side of the Atlantic, the Star Mazda Champion is granted a subsidised drive in Indy Lights - the next step up the ladder - with the reward for winning that a helping hand towards the holy grail of an IndyCar Series cockpit the following season. As a high-speed training ground and recognised stepping-stone for future stars of the sport, the incentives, Jack acknowledges, are compelling - and now, he reasons, is the perfect time to sign up.
"It isn't about the prize money," stresses the TORGOEN Swiss brand ambassador, who along with his family had to make some fairly major sacrifices to fund his 2011 Formula Renault UK campaign, "but equally, if I want to do this for the rest of my career, I need to earn a decent living out of it! Staying in Europe would be so much more expensive, and ultimately, where does the money come from to keep going?
"Over in the States, it's all so different; I immediately felt happy there - happy in the paddock and happy in myself. It's just as professional as it is in Europe, but the atmosphere is better. It feels like the teams are trying to help you rather than rob you.
"As soon as I returned home from Indy, I wanted to go out there again, and it was good to be back at the top of the timesheets. Prior to the test, I did have a few doubts - I didn't have the confidence I'd had at the start of the year - so it was a bit of a surprise to be the quickest, but once I got into the groove, everything was good and I really felt like I got my confidence back.
"The whole experience was just so much fun, and it was really encouraging to get up-to-speed in the car and around the circuit as quickly as I did - especially as the other guys testing were no slouches! That all bodes well for next year.
"This is a big opportunity and a massive step for me. Yes, it is a leap into the unknown in some respects, but at the same time, the structure is there to move forward and I feel comfortable with it all. It's hugely exciting, and hopefully my career can really take off from here. The Star Mazda grid numbers are usually pretty healthy - the standard is really high and it certainly won't be an easy challenge - but I'm not bothered how many drivers are out there, to be honest, because whether I'm competing against ten or 30, I just want to win!"
As a postscript, British drivers have traditionally fared well over on the other side of the Pond - with the likes of Nigel Mansell, Dario Franchitti and the late Dan Wheldon all having sped to title glory in America - and Jack concedes that he hopes to be able to 'do a good enough job to follow in their footsteps'. On the basis of his first test, he is certainly on the right track...
Report by Russell Atkins