Weeks of lawsuits and nonsense surrounding the IndyCar Series have been replaced with a series of positive moves, including Jacques Villeneuve returning to race at the Indy 500 where he’ll be joined by NASCAR star Kurt Busch. And now we have another curveball to enjoy, courtesy of 2011 Indy 500 winners Bryan Herta Autosport.
The single-car team went through a series of driver evaluations in the latter stages of the 2013 season, sampling ex-Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand and GP2 veteran Luca Filippi in the No. 98 entry, but in a surprise move, the Honda-powered team, which was expected to sign the rapid Italian, has chosen Indy Lights standout Jack Hawksworth to lead the team.
“We’ve been in contact with many drivers over the winter and the interest has been strong, and we’ve decided to go with Jack,” Herta (LEFT, with Hawksworth) told RACER. “He’s had a really strong junior formula career, but hasn’t done a lot of car races, which was a concern, so we tested him at Sebring last month and the speed was right there.
“But, even more than that, he did a great job of impressing the engineers with his feedback and didn’t feel to us like a rookie. He wasn’t wide-eyed and there was nothing overwhelming about all the other things that are going around him in an IndyCar that aren’t going on in the junior series.”
Hawksworth claimed the Pro Mazda championship after dominating the 2012 season for graduating to Indy Lights with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The 23-year-old Briton scored three wins with SSM and has three IndyCar tests to draw from as he begins preparations for a run at Rookie of the Year honors.
“I have to say a big ‘thank you’ to Bryan and all at BHA for placing their trust in me, and to my management team WH Sports Group and everybody else who was involved in putting the program together,” said Hawksworth. “It’s just unbelievable, and it still doesn’t feel quite real – it’s been an incredible journey!
“This is where everything gets serious, but I’m convinced the BHA guys will give me a great car and I can’t wait to get going! This is what I’ve been working so hard towards ever since I moved to America at the end of 2011. Not many people get this kind of shot at chasing their dream and really making it happen, and I’m absolutely delighted.”
After going by “Barracuda Racing” in deference to its primary sponsor Barracuda Networks, the team will also return to using Bryan Herta Autosport as new sponsors have come in to replace their former partner.
“At the end of December, we were notified by Barracuda Networks they were not coming back and, prior to that, we were under the impression they were,” Herta explained. “We knew Castrol was coming on board, and that really completed the puzzle for us, so when Barracuda made their decision, that forced us to take two steps back and work on filling in that space which is what has pushed this process later than we had hoped.
“We’ve been working on rebuilding the program for more than just this year, but a few years down the road, and that’s taken most of the last two months to get there. We’ve brought on The Collection Auto Group, and that’s big for us, and with what we saw from Jack in testing, it was all a good fit to bring everything together and move ahead.”
Herta has nothing but kind words to offer for Filippi and Hildebrand, and hopes to have them in a BHA car in the future.
“We have a great affinity for Luca and if I can add another car at some point, Luca would be the first guy I’d call,” said Hera. “And I’m frankly surprised no one else has hired him. I’m sure we’ll see him in a car this year – either ours or for somebody else. And it’s a similar thing for JR. If we add a second car for Indy, I can’t think of anyone better to put in the car.”
BHA and Hawksworth will make their first public outing on March 17-18 during IndyCar’s Spring Training test at Barber Motorsports Park.