Hawksworth back in the title hunt with crushing Canadian Indy Lights triumph|
Jack Hawksworth proved himself to be streets ahead of his rivals as he blasted back into title contention in the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights Championship with a mesmerising triumph in the Toronto 100 - and with four rounds remaining, he has warned that 'this isn't over yet'.
Hawksworth headed north of the border to Canada eager indeed to return to the street circuits following a torrid oval run, bemoaning his fifth-place finish in his most recent outing around the unique, 'Tricky Triangle' Pocono Raceway as 'pretty average'. There was nothing average in the slightest about Toronto.
"The ovals had been difficult for us," confessed the talented young Bradford-born speed demon and early-season pace-setter. "I was looking forward to the opportunity to start afresh. I love all of the street circuits we go to, but Toronto is one of my favourites and an undisputed highlight on the calendar. It has a lot of character and history behind it, and being just outside of downtown means you can see the city skyline going along the main straight. It really is a spectacular setting.
"A lot of street circuits tend to be composed of a succession of 90° lefts and 90° rights, but Toronto has more variation, which requires you to work harder on the balance of the car so it performs well all the way around the lap - and adapt your driving style accordingly. It has a very bumpy track surface too, and all-in-all, it poses a massive challenge - but the whole team was really pumped-up and I knew we stood a strong chance."
Having thoroughly dominated proceedings around the streets of Toronto's Exhibition Place last year en route to clinching the fiercely-contested Star Mazda Championship crown as a US racing rookie, Hawksworth wasted no time at all in getting down into the groove in practice, lapping comfortably and consistently quickest in his 450bhp Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) single-seater.
Qualifying was held at the crack of dawn the following day, but despite the early-morning wake-up call, the McLaren Autosport Award finalist and British Racing Drivers' Club (BRDC) SuperStar was not caught napping - as he bounced back from an error that saw him nose into the Turn Eight tyre barriers to deservedly claim his first Indy Lights pole position by four hundredths of a second.
"People were sticking it into the wall left, right and centre, which made for a really disrupted session," Hawksworth explained. "At the end, it effectively boiled down to a seven-minute shoot-out between myself and championship leader Carlos Munoz for pole. The two of us have had some good battles this year in qualifying, and it was blow-for-blow as we traded fastest sector times. It was really exciting as he pushed me all the way, so it felt great to come out on top this time."
What followed in the race was a master class, as 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 - didn't let his pursuers get so much as a look-in over 50 laps completed in stifling heat.
Every time second-placed Gabby Chaves threatened to close up on him, Hawksworth responded by going faster still as he had an answer to whatever his adversaries tried to throw at him. He ultimately took the chequered flag almost 15 seconds clear of the runner-up to tally his second victory of the campaign - his first since the St. Petersburg curtain-raiser back in March - similarly snaring the bonus points available for pole position and most laps led as Munoz could fare no better than a distant fourth.
"The first few laps are always extremely important," he reflected, "and after getting a good jump at the start, I then pushed hard to extend my lead. I had a really good car underneath me, and my main focus was on managing the gap. Although Gabby kept me honest throughout the opening half of the race, we always had a little bit in reserve for when we needed it, and I felt comfortable.
"That said, you can never truly relax on such a tricky street circuit - you're constantly under pressure, because with the walls so close, you need to maintain 100 per cent concentration all the way through. Just one lapse is all it takes for it to get away from you, and it can go very wrong incredibly quickly."
Having climbed from fifth to fourth in the title standings and slashed his deficit to the leader from 65 points to 43, the West Yorkshire ace is well aware that he needs to continue to make hay over the upcoming three races whilst the sun is shining. Next up is Mid-Ohio, which he describes as an 'awesome road course' after discovering it for the first time recently, followed by Baltimore, where 12 months ago he left the Star Mazda field eating his dust. There may still be hard work aplenty ahead, but make no mistake - this street fighter is firmly on the comeback trail.
"Toronto was just a fairytale weekend and an amazing result!" Hawksworth concluded. "I think we made a big statement. We've been through such a tough period since Long Beach in April, as things went from bad to worse. It's tremendously difficult when you're experiencing a rough patch and not much is going right to turn the situation around and come out swinging on the other side, but we did it - and I think that's something for everybody involved to be very proud of.
"I genuinely believe we've turned a corner, and that speaks volumes for the calibre of this team. Even when things seemed to be relentlessly against us on the ovals and we couldn't catch a break, we never gave up, always focussing on the next race - and eventually that has paid off. This was a really emotional win.
"I'm particularly pleased for my engineer, Geoff. He was with me all through last year in Star Mazda and he has been under a lot of pressure, so for us to achieve our first win together in Indy Lights was something quite special. He's superb at his job and we have a fantastic relationship, so it was great to see him get the credit and reward he deserves.
"I can't wait for Mid-Ohio now! We went well there in testing, so the goal has to be to do exactly the same as we did in Toronto and hopefully come away with another top result. It's all to play for still. Yes, we have a big hole to dig ourselves out of, but I'm driving well, we've got the speed and the next three races are all at my kind of tracks. We need to extract the absolute maximum from every remaining weekend - and then we'll see where we end up when the final scores are counted. This isn't over yet."
Report by Russell Atkins