First impressions, Team Pelfrey team manager and race engineer Geoff Fickling recalls, about Jack Hawksworth were universally positive. That the 21-year-old Brit will have a lasting impression on the team and Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear is more impressive.
“When Jack came to us, we knew he was a bright, young talent even before we tested him the first time,” Fickling said of the native of Bradford, England. “It’s the beauty of this level of racing when a young driver comes to you they’re not necessarily groomed or polished and not necessarily that champion when they do that first test.
“It’s the hard work that they put in throughout the year and their willingness to gel with the team and to buy into what we’re teaching to grow and become that champion once it counts. That’s what was so neat about this season with Jack is his growth. He was always at speed; that was never a question. It was a matter of harnessing it and becoming a well-rounded driver that he blossomed into.
“We’re not talking about speed or braking. It’s the preparation, the mind-set of being a well-rounded professional race driver.”
Hawksworth won the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear title this season in commanding fashion and is sizing up opportunities to compete in the next step of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, Firestone Indy Lights, in 2013 armed with the $500,000 champion’s scholarship. The calculated move from Europe (he finished fourth in the Formula Renault UK standings in 2011) to the States reaped instant benefits.
“We weighed all the options and what offered the best return for success and it was a bit of a no-brainer with the Indy Lights ride prize at the end of the season, which is something not offered in Europe,” said Hawksworth, who earned the title by a wide margin though he sat out the season finale at Road Atlanta no Oct. 19. “To take that next step on the ladder, it was the only way.
“I’ve enjoyed being part of Team Pelfrey and the Star Mazda series and I’ve really enjoyed racing on street circuits, which is something I had never done before. You really have to hustle the car around those circuits and that’s a challenge. The series overall has been fantastic; the competition has been really tough and INDYCAR with the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship package is the greatest place to race in the world right now. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
With victories in half of the 16 races he competed in, it’s no wonder. As Fickling noted, Hawksworth quickly adapted to the car, circuits and racing in addition to the “new everything” in the States.
“Since the start of the season it’s been about consistency,” Hawksworth said. “It’s something I’ve worked on and is one of the most important things for a racing driver to be able to run lap after lap without mistakes and turn up at a circuit every time, approach your weekend in the correct way.
“I’m always looking to move my game on, and maybe that’s why my consistency has been more than other drivers this season. I’ve worked my socks off and the team has worked its socks off this year and made good decisions. I have some natural ability and along with working hard it has led to this year.”
Hawksworth’s competition isn’t complete this year, though, as he’ll participate next month in the McLaren Autosport BRDC young driver award testing at Silverstone. Each of the six finalists will drive a Williams F2, Mercedes DTM and McLaren GT3 car plus go through a battery of fitness tests and be interviewed by the judging panel. The winner will be announced Dec. 2.
“It’s nice to be recognized even though I’ve gone on the other side of the world,” said Hawksworth, who raced at Silverstone in Formula Renault UK. “It’s a testament to the Mazda Road to Indy series as well. INDYCAR is growing in Europe. People in Europe are looking at it now for what it is, which is a great series.”
Then it will be on to testing in a Firestone Indy Lights car (he’s scheduled to join three others at Sebring International Raceway in mid-November).
“I want (the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights opener at) St. Pete to be next week. I want to start it all again,” Hawksworth said. “It was great to win the championship, but the fun part was the challenge. I’m massively excited and probably more motivated for next season than I was for this season.”