Hawksworth tipped to shine at the highest level after 'impressive' IndyCar test debut with RLL
Jack Hawksworth has confessed that his maiden test outing in a fully-fledged IndyCar was 'a dream come true' - and so strong an impression did he make, that the talented young Bradford-born ace has been tipped to enjoy a bright future indeed across the other side of the Atlantic.
After storming to the fiercely-contested Star Mazda Championship laurels during the course of a record-breaking rookie campaign stateside in 2012, Hawksworth is currently embroiled in the midst of a thrilling four-way scrap for title glory - and the 'Mazda Road to Indy' scholarship prize that accompanies it - one step further up the US single-seater ladder in Firestone Indy Lights.
With three victories and six podium finishes to his name from ten races to-date - and having led more laps than any of his rivals - the 22-year-old's performances this season have clearly captured the attention of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL), whose eponymous co-founder Bobby Rahal elected to put him into the cockpit of one of his 650bhp Dallara-Hondas at Sebring International Raceway in Florida.
True to form, Hawksworth gave an excellent account of himself, setting some consistently quick and eye-catching times around the 1.65-mile former airfield - on a par with the regular IZOD IndyCar Series front-runners also in attendance - and betraying no ill-effects from the circuit's famously bumpy and abrasive nature as he handled the physical demands in his stride. RLL engineer Eddie Jones was left convinced that the McLaren Autosport Award finalist and British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) SuperStar is very much the real deal.
"Jack was very impressive," Jones affirmed. "He has a great attitude and focus. From the first outing, it was quite clear that he is very capable and he had a very intelligent approach to the whole test. We made some good changes to the car that we were interested in as a team and his feedback was accurate and compared well to the data - and he was fast. There is no doubt that he has all the ingredients to be a very good driver at this level."
Having made no secret of the fact that the IZOD IndyCar Series is where he wants to be in 2014, Hawksworth was buzzing after climbing out of the car at the end of the day, as even a late afternoon downpour could not rain on his parade or dampen his enthusiasm.
"I was so excited beforehand," reflected the highly-rated Cullingworth native, who carries scholarship funding from the 'Mazda Road to Indy' as well as backing from Sparco USA, Exa Networks, Core Pilates, Arai Helmets and Nicholas Jones. "I'd been waiting for this day ever since the test had been agreed, and it was an incredible opportunity. I was very much looking forward to getting out on-track in one of the fastest cars in open-wheel racing and really making the most of the experience.
"I felt comfortable and at home right from the 'off' - both in the car and also with the team. Everybody at RLL immediately made me very welcome and really helped me to settle in and get quickly up-to-speed. There's so much knowledge and expertise and such a positive energy inside the team, and it's obvious how much the guys all love being at the track - it's what they live for. When you see it from within, it's easy to understand why RLL has made so much progress this year.
"I loved how aggressive you can be with the IndyCar - you can push really hard and get down to the limit, which was a lot of fun. The way you need to approach and attack the corners is quite similar to in Indy Lights, to be truthful, but the major differences are in how much more aerodynamic downforce and grip the IndyCar has and the carbon brakes, which allow you to hit the pedal so much harder. There's generally just a lot more to think about.
"That said, we were instantly on the leading pace right from the first session, after which the focus turned to development testing - which is something I've always enjoyed anyway. It was really cool and a big confidence boost that the team put their faith in me to do that and trusted the feedback I gave them. It was great to be a part of it all and to see how an IndyCar outfit really works at the top level.
"It was a dream come true to drive at the pinnacle - one of the best days of my life, and I didn't want it to end. I need to say a huge 'thank you' to Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Honda, Firestone and all the people involved in my career that made this fantastic opportunity happen. It was just an awesome day, and one that I will definitely remember!
"It's a really exciting time at the moment, and it's crazy to think that it was less than three years ago that I had my first-ever single-seater test. Sometimes I struggle to take in how much has happened over that short amount of time and how far I've come. It's been an amazing journey."
That it indubitably has. And maybe - just maybe - a new one is about to begin...
Report by Russell Atkins