Jack Hawksworth was duly impressed on his initial visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in October 2011 for a Mazda Road to Indy test on the road course.
“I remember turning up and thinking, ‘Bloody hell, this place is big.’ The size of the facility and the grandstands, especially when there’s nobody in them, is just impressive,” said the native of Bradford, England, who was 20 years old at the time for the Star Mazda test.
His perspective of the iconic 2.5-mile oval was dramatically altered May 5, when he participated in the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program.
“When you’re doing 220 mph the place seems small,” Hawksworth added. “When you get out there, suddenly the track is a lot narrower and you’re flat out coming off Turn 4 and Turn 1 looks a lot tighter than when you’re looking at it from the grandstands or on TV. It’s much trickier; you see that they are real corners. Turn 1 looks like a hairpin the first time you come up on it.”
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Hawksworth, who qualified 13th with a four-lap average speed of 230.506 mph in the No. 98 BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian entry, has handled the upgrade nearly flawlessly. There was that incident May 14, when the car made contact with the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier. It returned to the racetrack the next day for an installation check and rejoined practice May 16.
It was a learning experience, much like this four-race season has been for Hawksworth, who qualified on the outside of the front row for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and has recorded two other top-10 starts. He led a field-high 31 of the 82-lap race May 10 on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in finishing a season-high seventh.
He, along with the six other first-year Indy 500 competitors, were recognized at the Fastest Rookie luncheon May 20.
“Our race pace is a bigger confidence boost for us we continue to chip away and get quicker for the rest of the season,” said Hawksworth, the 2012 Star Mazda champion who placed fourth in the 2013 Indy Lights championship with three victories. “Leading the race, that’s when I feel most comfortable as a driver. The car was just working fantastically and felt pretty easy out front.
“Every single race I’m learning about how the races develop. It’s not like a sprint race where you qualify on pole you probably win the race. You never know who’s going to win until the last stop. I’m beginning to get my head around that and hopefully as I do and the team improves overall we’ll exploit the opportunities.”
The opportunity to drive for the team co-owned by former Indy car driver Bryan Herta and Steve Newey arose from a test Feb. 17 at Sebring International Raceway. Hawksworth had already auditioned with Dale Coyne Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and was making contingency plans to explore being a personal trainer if a full-season Verizon IndyCar Series ride didn’t materialize.
“It was a realistic plan; I didn’t think I was going to be in INDYCAR this year,” he said. “The people around me thought there was more of a shot than I did. I had been doing a bit of karting but nothing really developed on the IndyCar side and I wasn’t going to do Lights again because there really weren’t any options there. I didn’t want to sit all year, so I had a realistic plan to focus on something else and not be bitter if it didn’t work out.”
So far, it’s worked out well.
“I want to win and I think we have a great opportunity to build on what we’ve done from the beginning of the year so I’m really happy,” Hawksworth said. “I’ve been blessed to have this opportunity; it was unexpected.”