On his debut weekend in the Star Mazda Championship, Yorkshireman Jack Hawksworth has well and truly made a name for himself in America, with a stunning performance at St. Petersburg seeing him take his maiden victory and a ten-point championship lead.
Hawksworth signed a deal to compete in the series with Team Pelfrey earlier this year after a strong maiden season in car racing last year saw him take a home victory at Croft on his way to fourth in the Formula Renault UK championship.
Despite a strong season in Formula Renault, Hawksworth never anticipated such a positive start to his career stateside. After only two half-hour practice sessions around the Florida street circuit, Hawksworth secured a superb third place on the grid for opening race in qualifying, less than two tenths from pole.
21 year old Hawksworth headed into the races hoping for a podium and got just that in the opening race, as he explains: “St. Petersburg is a spectacular circuit and it's so cool racing right through the middle of a city. It was a lot of fun to drive, but you couldn't afford to make a mistake, because even just the tiniest error would put you in the wall. At the same time, though, you still had to push and get as close to the barriers as you dared…
“In race one, I got off to a good start to hold position in third, then after several laps, I could see the guy in front of me was beginning to lose his rear tyres a bit. I was able to capitalise on that, and made a move on him at the end of the start/finish straight. I then set off after the leader, chased him down and was right on his tail by the end – we just ran out of laps. I was really pleased with second place, though – it was a very good start to the season, and by setting fastest lap, as well, I earned myself pole position for race two.”
Hawksworth finished the opening less than half a second adrift of the winner, a superb feat on his debut race on a street circuit against many more experienced rivals. His weekend got much better the next day, a superb drive from pole seeing him lead from lights to flag to win the race and take the championship lead.
The BRDC Rising Star commented: “I was really pumped. I knew all the cards were in our hands, we were masters of our own destiny, and that provided I made a good start, I could then dictate the race from there. Over the first few laps I was able to pull out a three-second lead, but then the safety car came out and bunched the field right back up. After five laps, the race went 'green' again, I opened up another lead and then, guess what – another safety car period!
“We had seven more racing laps before the finish, during which time I managed to eke out another gap. Those kinds of situation are frustrating, because you pull out a margin and think you can start to ease off a bit and just control everything, and then suddenly you find yourself needing to do it all over again. I was concerned about the re-starts, because they're another chance for someone to have a run at you, but I had a plan for when I was going to drop the hammer, and I managed to pull it off perfectly each time.
“It's just been an awesome couple of days! It's always good to get the first win out of the way, especially so early on in the season – it takes a bit of the pressure off – and it feels so good to get this kind of result after all the hard work we put in during testing. In terms of racing on streets, I was pretty much starting from ground-zero – so to win first time out was particularly special. I really couldn't have asked for much more.”
The TORGEON Swiss brand ambassador leads the championship by 10 points heading in to the next rounds at Barber Motorsport Park in Alabama, but with 15 races to go, Hawksworth isn't thinking about winning the IndyCar Series-supporting championship just yet.
Hawksworth added: “I'm in a really good place at the moment, with a really good team around me. It's going to be a long, tough championship, with a lot of different disciplines in terms of the tracks – street circuits, road courses and ovals – but I think we can be confident in our ability.
“The competition level in Star Mazda is really high; I would say there are six or seven guys out there this year who can win races, and three or four of them will have a good shot at the title, too. It's really close, and it's going to be a very exciting season. It's far too early to be talking about the championship yet, but this result has given us that little bit extra motivation and hopefully we can go on and push for more wins now. I know everybody in the team is really hungry for that – and I certainly am!”