Unbelievable Baltimore triumph fires Hawksworth up for late-season title push|
Heading into the Grand Prix of Baltimore, Jack Hawksworth had acknowledged that he 'needed' to win to keep his 2013 Firestone Indy Lights title challenge alive - and the talented young Bradford-born ace did that and then some as a commanding triumph vaulted him to within 11 points of the championship lead.
Hawksworth travelled to the demanding harbourside street circuit having emerged victorious there 12 months earlier en route to lifting the Star Mazda Championship laurels during the course of a record-breaking maiden campaign across the Atlantic. He has also been Indy Lights undisputed street circuit specialist this season, so he returned in positive mood.
"Baltimore is a fantastic street circuit - really tight and bumpy and the longest and most technical that we compete on," enthused the McLaren Autosport Award finalist and British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) SuperStar. "There are 12 corners, with some really fast sections and an extremely tricky chicane where you need to use a lot of the kerb and get up close and personal with the wall. If you make a mistake round there, it will bite and you can find yourself ripping corners off your car pretty quickly...
"It's an awesome venue, too, with the downtown setting and huge number of spectators making for an incredible atmosphere - and having successfully resolved the issues we'd encountered at Mid-Ohio, I went into the weekend in confident spirits. That optimism was immediately vindicated when we rolled out on-track, after which we got our heads down to try to maintain our early advantage and really make it pay."
Topping the timesheets to the tune of more than half-a-second throughout practice and affirming that his 450bhp Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) single-seater felt spot-on from the outset, Hawksworth converted his imperious form into a second $5,000 Sunoco Pole Award in a disjointed, red flag-punctuated qualifying session as a mesmerising late effort put pole position well beyond the reach of any of his rivals.
Confessing that it was 'one of the best feelings I've ever had' and that the adrenaline was well-and-truly flowing, the performance sent out an ominous warning to his adversaries, and in the 35-lap race the following day, the 22-year-old Cullingworth native - who 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 Jones - was peerless.
After managing a brace of early yellow flag caution periods to perfection, Hawksworth proceeded to pull inexorably away from his pursuers, on occasion lapping a staggering second-and-a-half faster than anybody else in the field and winding up a dominant 13 seconds clear when the chequered flag fell.
"The first few laps were crazy," he recalled. "Carlos Munoz's accident opened the championship battle right up - and we knew we had to capitalise upon that. The key was to control the re-starts, but I had a superb car underneath me which enabled me to push when I needed to - and once we had got the cautions out of the way, I could really enjoy the whole experience and I had a great time out there!
"That's not to say that it was easy, though, as especially on a street circuit, even when you get out front and build up a gap, you can still never afford to relax. You have to remain completely focussed and settle into a rhythm, because as soon as you become just a little bit lazy or complacent and lock a wheel or make a small mistake, the track will punish you and you can find yourself in the wall before you know it."
No such mistakes were forthcoming as the highly-rated Yorkshire rookie sped away to tally his third triumph of a stellar stateside campaign - a crucial one at that - and sixth podium finish from ten Indy Lights starts. Snaring the bonus points on offer for setting pole position and leading the most laps, Hawksworth has closed from 40 markers adrift of the top of the table to only 11 heading next to Houston and then Fontana for the season finale, where the thrilling four-way tussle for the crown will reach its denouement.
"To win in Baltimore was an unbelievable feeling and such a massive result, which really rewarded all the hard work myself, my engineer Geoff and the entire #77 SPM crew had put in to come back fighting after Mid-Ohio," he concluded.
"Houston is another technical, bumpy street circuit, and having not figured on the calendar for several years, everybody will need to learn it very quickly, which should make it even more exciting. We've not achieved the kind of results we've wanted on ovals so far this year, but I'm confident we know why and that we can improve - so I'm relishing the opportunity to put that to the test at Fontana.
"There's going to be a huge battle ahead, and we've somehow managed to claw our way back into contention - from being 65 points off the pace at one stage and almost down-and-out, we're now right in the hunt. If we can do the same at Houston as we did in Baltimore, regardless of anybody else's result, we'll be leading the championship entering the final round. The momentum is on our side - and we absolutely need to make the most of that."
Report by Russell Atkins