Hawksworth gets season back on-track with podium return on oval breakthrough|
Jack Hawksworth brilliantly banished a torrid run of ill-fortune in the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights Championship with race-leading form and a podium finish in the Sukup 100 at Iowa Speedway - as he rediscovered his mojo in style.
After stunning his rivals by magnificently triumphing on his Indy Lights debut at St. Petersburg and consolidating that success with the runner-up spoils at Barber Motorsports Park a fortnight later, Hawksworth subsequently endured a brace of DNFs and a distinctly uncharacteristic last-place finish in the following three outings at Long Beach, Indianapolis and Milwaukee.
That left the early-season pace-setter somewhat on the back foot approaching round six at Iowa, where only 12 months earlier, he had been denied a rostrum at the very least in the Star Mazda Championship when a mechanical failure pitched him into the wall at high-speed whilst running in a challenging third place, right in the wheeltracks of the two leaders - causing what he described as the biggest accident of his career.
"I think we felt Iowa owed us one!" quipped the talented young Bradford-born ace. "Having been quick there in Star Mazda, I was determined to claim the reward in Indy Lights. It's a short, ultra-fast oval and a track I really enjoy.
"We'd had three really rough races since Barber, but each time we had picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves down and kept working away in the knowledge that eventually our bad luck would turn around. You go through these dips sometimes in racing, but I have a superb team around me so it didn't knock my confidence at all, and we went to Iowa ready and prepared to do the best job we could."
Swiftly dialling his 450bhp, #77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) single-seater into the nuances of the 0.875-mile Midwest circuit during practice, Hawksworth proceeded to claim his fourth front row qualifying spot of the campaign - and his first on an oval in Indy Lights. Describing his car as 'a whole different animal compared to Milwaukee', he missed pole position by a mere whisker and entered the 100-mile, 115-lap race in bullish spirits.
"I managed to get a really good start to grab the initiative," recounted the McLaren Autosport Award finalist and British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) SuperStar. "I had a great car underneath me which naturally breeds confidence, and I stayed in front for the first 48 laps, but I think I must have shifted up to sixth gear just a fraction too early which cost me some momentum - and with it, the lead.
"After getting back on it, I closed the gap right down but then as we threaded our way through lapped traffic, one of the guys I was passing made a mistake and got it all crossed-up, which almost forced me into the wall and allowed the driver in third to overtake me. I had caught the top two again by the end, and as we all flashed across the line to take the chequered flag, there was next-to-nothing to choose between us..."
Only one other driver was still on the lead lap at the finish, such was the frenetic pace of the flat-out three-way tussle for glory in the unusually caution-free encounter, and the winner - undefeated at Iowa since 2010 - confessed that it was one of the hardest-earned victories he had ever achieved.
Whilst admitting that it was a 'bittersweet outcome, Hawksworth acknowledged that he took heart from having proven himself to be as quick as anybody else out there - no mean feat considering the majority of his adversaries practically grew up on ovals, whereas he only discovered them for the first time last year as a US racing rookie.
His breakthrough oval rostrum and first in any kind of race since early April, 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 - now sits fifth in the standings, 50 points shy of the championship lead in his quest to make it back-to-back crowns the other side of the Pond after storming to the fiercely-contested Star Mazda laurels in his maiden campaign stateside last year.
Having given his momentarily stalled title bid a well-deserved kick-start, as he looks ahead to the second half of the calendar - beginning with the unique challenge posed by the fearsomely-fast, 'Tricky Triangle' Pocono superspeedway where he forecasts a 'draft-fest', followed by Toronto, where in 2012, none of his pursuers saw which way he went - Hawksworth is palpably up for the fight.
"I'd really thought we were going to win at Iowa," he reflected, "but on the positive side, it was my first oval podium - and it's good to get that particular monkey off my back. The remaining races are dominated by tracks that should really suit us - street circuits and road courses, which are much more like 'home turf' for me - and there are still a lot of points up for grabs. I'm looking forward to really building upon this result and returning to victory lane - it's been a while. That's our focus, and then we'll see where we shake out come season's end."
Report by Russell Atkins