Marshall Pruett says…
Jack Hawksworth gave IndyCar fans just what they needed—hope for the future. The kid Robin Miller dubbed “Union Jack” had as many highlights as lowlights, and that wasn’t entirely unexpected with a rookie, but when he was in his element, the 23-year-old Briton made it easy for everyone to appreciate his prodigious talent.
He rocked the Pro Mazda series on his American debut in 2012, ragging the !&*# out of the tail-happy open-wheelers, found the understeering Indy Lights cars to be a mismatch for his driving style, and once connected with the Dallara DW12’s oversteering tendencies, he was in fine form on road and street courses. Three visits to the Firestone Fast Six in his first five races sent a clear message that Bryan Herta, Steve Newey, and the excellent Todd Malloy had a gun slinger on their hands, but accidents, poor showings on race day or strategy mistakes limited Hawksworth’s finishing positions.
Qualifying 13th for his first Indy 500 was an astonishing feat given his limited oval experience, but with his youth and lack of miles, inconsistency was a steady and expected theme during Jack’s debut season. He and the Bryan Herta Autosport team hit their high point in the middle of the championship at Houston, and like clockwork, Hawksworth hit the literal and figurative rookie wall at Pocono, and from that point on, his season had the look and feel of what 2013 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Tristan Vautier experienced.
The costly, chassis-destroying crash parked the team for the weekend, put a dent in BHA’s budget, and with the team’s primary sponsor defaulting on their payments two weeks later at Toronto, Jack found himself mired in a situation where bringing the car home in one piece trumped racing to within an inch of the limit at all times. It’s the same reason Vautier’s performances were less thrilling in the second half of 2013, and with bigger budgets in hand, it’s fair to say both drivers would have been free to attack at will.
A sixth at the second rainy, crazy round at Toronto would mark Hawksworth’s only single-digit finish after Pocono. He was visibly off the pace on his oval return at Iowa, started to get his mojo back at Milwaukee, and by the season finale at Fontana, Jack was on the gas and appeared to put any fears that stemmed from the hard hit at Pocono behind him.
It felt like he finished higher in the standings than 17th, but given the financial constraints that he dealt with and the fright that came on the Tricky Triangle, Union Jack finished where he deserved as a rookie. Taking all he’s learned in 2014, he should end 2015 much closer to the top 10.
David Malsher says…
The eyes were trained on the No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport car that weekend at Iowa. Less than a week earlier, Jack Hawksworth had failed to start the Pocono race after a big, tub-busting, heart-bruising shunt in practice. The big question for BHA was whether the rookie would now be intimidated by ovals. Well, if that was his biggest test of the season, he came through it admirably. Qualifying 20th and finishing 15th at Iowa may not sound impressive, but in context, it was a recovery of sorts, as was grabbing a Top-10 finish at Milwaukee. What was clear was that
Hawksworth wasn’t driving over his head: he had spare capacity to check his mirrors, let the front runners through without losing his own pace. As Rick Mears always says, to build confidence on ovals, you need miles under your belt, and to get those you need to finish the race.
At the start of the year, I feared Hawksworth might be that little bit too cocky, get himself into situations where adrenaline would overtake common sense.
Wrong! Attitude-wise, he actually played it nicely, exemplified by that battle with Montoya on his way to a third-place finish at Houston. He left enough room for his rival but also did enough to show that he wouldn’t be cowed by the reputation of one of racing’s hardest competitors.
Of course, we all remember his bad luck at Long Beach (ABOVE), one of the victims of the pile-up, but at least qualifying fifth had been a superb take-home memory of the event. His front-row slot for the Grand Prix of Indy was about opportunism in the weird circumstances of that final qualifying session, but the confidence he showed while leading was pure inspiration and maybe unfortunate strategy/yellows is all that separated the rookie from victory. We’ll never know.
Hawksworth’s/BHA’s misfortune wasn’t over. Another great qualifying effort saw Jack qualify third at Detroit, so to see his race halted by a brake disc crumbling like a Tums on pitlane was very sad. Thereafter, his season reflected that of a rookie on a one-car team – he never again qualified beyond the eighth row of the grid, for example – but he shone when he could, battled hard and made few crucial mistakes. A really impressive rookie campaign; he belongs in IndyCar.
Robin Miller says…
Whether it was pulling away from the pack on the IMS road course, dicing wheel-to-wheel with Juan Montoya at Houston (BELOW) or throwing down a flyer during qualifying at Long Beach or Detroit, there was much to like about Jack Hawksworth in 2014. The 23-year-old rookie looked all the part of a newcomer to the Verizon IndyCar series on ovals but his performance on street and road courses was nothing short of dazzling on many occasions.
Driving for Bryan Herta with no teammate and the smallest budget in the paddock, the Indy Lights grad handled more horsepower, a new car and the fierce competition more like a veteran than a wide-eyed kid. The stats will show Union Jack only garnered one podium but that would be misleading because he was a factor in a third of the races.
From his eye-opening debut at St. Pete (he started eighth) to making the Fast Six at Long Beach in only his second start to sharing the front row in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Hawksworth had everyone’s attention.
With veteran engineer Todd Malloy and Herta providing a steady, encouraging hand to Jack’s unflappable demeanor, it all came together on the IMS road course in early May. He led 31 laps, most of them comfortably, before an untimely caution cost him a chance at victory and he was shuffled back to seventh.
Running second at Detroit after qualifying third, he had a brake rotor explode and ruin any chance of a good finish but finally had no drama at Houston where he came home third following battle royal with Montoya. That alone showcased his moxie as well as his talent and a sixth in the second show at Toronto was the final highlight as he staggered a little bit down the stretch.
But nothing could dampen such a strong start to his IndyCar career or deny his considerable ability.