Hawksworth back to full strength, looks to add to Toronto success

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TORONTO – We’ve had one first-time winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season (Carlos Huertas), and rookie Jack Hawksworth could well be another one in this weekend’s Honda Indy 2 in Toronto (Saturday & Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra).

First off, Hawksworth is back to full strength behind the wheel after his Pocono accident two weeks ago. He did some training this week, his first since the accident on July 5.

Secondly, if the talented 23-year-old English rookie loses either of the two Toronto races, it’ll mark his first time not winning on the streets around Exhibition Place.

Hawksworth, driver of the No. 98 Castrol Edge BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda, is a perfect three-for-three thus far in Toronto in his career. He swept the pair of Pro Mazda (then Star Mazda) races in 2012 and added a third victory in Indy Lights last year. All three have come from pole position.

Rather than take the opportunity to toot his own horn, Hawksworth was modest and praised his equipment when it comes to his Toronto success.

“I’ve always had good cars, and really, that’s the big thing here,” Hawksworth told MotorSportsTalk. “It’s a technical street track and I tend to run well on street and road courses. Really we’ve just been able to convert. It’s a fun place here; there’s a lot to it, and it takes nailing the concrete patches and surfaces.”

Hawksworth also praised the nature of the 1.755-mile street course, which he said is a nice change of pace compared to some of the other street courses on the schedule.

“This place is really fun, and it’s so much different than a generic one,” he said. “Houston for example is 90 (degree) left (corner), 90 right, 90 left, 90 right, whatever.

“Here, it’s very different. It’s 90 and widens out, then has a tight corner after long straight (Turn 3), a fast (Turn) 6, then has like a road course section left, right, left. There’s so much going on here you’re trying to keep up! It’s a 59-second lap in an IndyCar… you think it should be a 2-minute one with what you’re fighting.”

While Hawksworth is a perfect three-for-three in Toronto entering the weekend, he looks to better his best result of third overall in IndyCar, set in Houston Race 2.

Even with half the purse and no fans, Indy 500 still has major team value

Indy 500 purse fans
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Even with reportedly half the purse and no fans in attendance, NTT IndyCar Series driver-owner Ed Carpenter believes it remains “absolutely critical” to hold the 104th Indy 500.

“Far and away it’s what makes and breaks our season as teams,” the Ed Carpenter Racing namesake told reporters during a Zoom media availability last week. “It’s the most important event to our partners. It 100 percent sucks not having fans there and not even being able to have the experience with our partners in full being there. But it’s necessary.

“We’ve got to look at all the hard decisions now of what we have to do to be in a position to have fans in 2021. It’s critical for the health of the teams that we have this race to make sure we have teams back here next year. That sounds a little dramatic, but that’s the reality.

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“We live in not only a very volatile world right now, but our industry and motorsport in general, it’s not an easy business to operate. When you lose your marquee event, it’s a lot different than looking at losing Portland on the schedule or Barber. They’re in totally different atmospheres as far as the importance to us and our partners.”

Robin Miller reported on RACER.com that IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske told team owners last week the purse for the postponed Indianapolis 500 was slashed from $15 to $7.5 million. Miller reported holding the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) would be a $20 million hit to the bottom line.

Carpenter still is supportive of Penske’s “outstanding job” of leading the series through the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Even with a 50 percent purse reduction, the Indy 500 remains the linchpin of teams’ economic viability.

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The schedule has taken many hits with the cancellation of races at Barber Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas, Detroit, Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca and Toronto, and another race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio has been indefinitely postponed.

That leaves the 2020 slate at 12 confirmed races of an original 17, which has raised questions about how many races teams need to fulfill sponsor obligations.

“It’s a moving target,” said Carpenter, who announced the U.S. Space Force as a new sponsor for the Indy 500. “I think we’ve been pretty blessed as a team with the level of commitment of our partners and their understanding of COVID-19 and the impact on our schedule, our contracts.

“All of it is out of our control, out of the series’ control, the promoter’s control. At the end of the day is there a firm number (of races) I can give? No. But definitely every one that we lose, it does make it harder to continue having those conversations.

I think everyone’s as confident as you can be right now with what we have in front of us with what’s remaining on the schedule. Things are so fluid, it changes day-to-day, let alone week-to-week. We just have to take it as it comes. Right now the focus is on the 500 and maximizing this month to the best we possibly can given the situation.”

That’ll be hard this month for Carpenter, who grew up in Indianapolis and is the stepson of Tony George, whose family owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway for decades.

Having spent a lifetime around the Brickyard, Carpenter will feel the ache of missing fans as he races in his 17th Indy 500.

Ed Carpenter, shown racing his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway last month, led a race-high 65 laps and finished second in the 2018 Indy 500 (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“Over that time you develop relationships that are centered around standing outside of your garage in Gasoline Alley,” he said. “It stinks, it sucks that we don’t get to share that passion we all have that is the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately it’s the reality we’re in right now.

I think this is the best that we can do unfortunately. Without a doubt it’s going to be a different environment. You’re going to be missing the sounds and a lot of the sights and colors. For sure I’ve thought about it. It’s going to be a different morning, different lead-in to the race. After 16 of them, you have a cadence and anticipation for the buildup. That’s all going to be different this year.

“I’m confident it’s not going to affect the type of show we put on or the excitement and how aggressive we are fighting for an Indy 500 win. It’s still going to mean the same thing. We’re just not going to have our fans to celebrate with after the fact. But it’s going to be historic.”