IndyCar: Hawksworth on the doorstep of breakthrough with BHA

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As we head to the final month of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, there’s a handful of drivers who seek to turn in that last jaw-dropping performance that will be remembered heading into the offseason.

One such driver is Englishman Jack Hawksworth, who put in a star turn in a cameo TUDOR United SportsCar Championship role this past weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Filling in for Alex Tagliani in the No. 08 RSR Racing Oreca FLM09 Prototype Challenge car, Hawksworth ran down and passed the team’s sister car, driven by Bruno Junqueira, for a win in his sports car debut.

But he’ll be back to his day job this weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, as driver of the No. 98 Castrol Edge BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda. Entering the weekend, Hawksworth sits a perhaps unrepresentative 17th in points – 30 out of 13th.

It’s been an up-and-down rookie season for the 23-year-old from Bradford, who was a last-minute nomination to the Bryan Herta/Steve Newey-led entry – ironically, where he also replaced Tagliani for the full-season effort.

Hawksworth made a dynamic first impression with three Firestone Fast Six appearances in his first four tries, and a total of four top-10 grid efforts in the first six races.

Yet in the last eight, Hawksworth hasn’t bettered 15th on the grid, and he’s also had to bounce back following his Pocono practice accident where he incurred a myocardial contusion and missed that race.

His results didn’t match the pace in the first six races – a seventh at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis came after leading a race-high 31 laps, and it was one of only two top-15 finishes.

As the qualifying has dropped off, his race results have improved – Hawksworth hasn’t finished worse than 15th since in the last eight, while posting three top-six results and his first podium with third in Race 2 at Houston.

“I think I’ve just been understanding the races more,” Hawksworth told MotorSportsTalk ahead of the Toronto weekend. “I wouldn’t say there’s been one thing where I improved this or that since the start of the year. At this point, it’s more knowing the races, the sport, the strategy a little better.”

That’s in part why his Houston podium was validation both in his own confidence, and the decision Herta and Newey made to enlist their single car to a rookie.

“We’d been quick on a number of occasions, and we should have got it done earlier and didn’t through whatever reason,” Hawksworth explained. “We struggled on pace in Houston, and while race one was good, race two we weren’t that quick. We had some great strategy to get in the mix, then we found the pace to get it done.

“It wasn’t a weight off my shoulder per se, but it was a relief in some sense to get a result.”

The result was particularly impressive as Hawksworth had held off Juan Pablo Montoya and an eager Charlie Kimball for the position.

Hawksworth has punched above his weight as a rookie on a single-car team – which in some respects, mirrors what team owner Herta did some 20 years ago, when he drove a partial schedule for A.J. Foyt before getting injured in Toronto.

“He’s been so good to work with, and yeah, Bryan’s been through a similar thing as he came up through the ranks,” Hawksworth explained. “I think we work well together. It means a lot to come in knowing the quality of the personnel is so high, from the engineering through the rest of the crew. It helps the learning process.”

Had Hawksworth not advanced into IndyCar after a difficult Indy Lights season, where he won three street course races but struggled on ovals and only finished fourth in points, he may have given up the dream to race altogether.

“It really was that close,” he admitted. “It didn’t look like there was that much out there. I’d honestly thought I was done.”

And this is where Hawksworth exhibits a confidence that borders on bravado, but speaks to an inner will to win rather than a simple “happy to be here” attitude.

“But I came in here and even though it was late, yeah, I expected to be quick; I always have been in whatever I’ve done,” he said. “Without being arrogant, I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t been fast. I want to be quickest every time out in any formula. Sometimes you’re disappointed or want more.

“I’m racing to win; I have no interest in being here if I don’t have a chance. If it wasn’t right, I wasn’t gonna do it.”

He has the chops and he’s had the determination to want to succeed. Given the level of parity in IndyCar this season, and fresh off the momentum of a win at Indianapolis this past weekend, it would not be a major surprise to see Hawksworth bag his first IndyCar win before the year’s out.

Carb Day: Tony Kanaan is fastest in final practice for Sunday’s Indy 500

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Tony Kanaan wants to put legendary driver and team owner A.J. Foyt back into Victory Lane at the Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan took a big step toward achieving that goal in Friday’s final practice for Sunday’s 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.

Kanaan was fastest of the 33-driver field, with a best lap around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval at 227.791 mph, more than 2 mph faster than the second-fastest driver, Kanaan’s former teammate, Scott Dixon (225.684 mph).

Foyt won a record-tying four Indy 500’s as a driver. It’s been nearly 20 years since he also won as a team owner in 1999 with Kenny Brack behind the wheel.

Marco Andretti was third-fastest (225.200 mph), followed by Sebastien Bourdais (224.815), Charlie Kimball (224.712), 2017 Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato (224.083), Will Power (223.942), Danica Patrick (223.653), Spencer Pigot (223.584) and Ed Jones (223.556).

Other notable driver speeds included:

* Pole sitter Ed Carpenter was 14th fastest (223.219 mph).

* Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champ Josef Newgarden was 15th (223.186 mph).

* Helio Castroneves, hoping to earn a record-tying fourth 500 win, was 17th (222.913 mph).

* Graham Rahal was 21st (222.526).

* Former 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was 26th (221.916 mph), followed by rookie Robert Wickens (221.821 mph), carrying the mantle for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with James Hinchcliffe having failed to qualify for the race.

* The biggest surprise was 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, who was 32nd fastest (221.374 mph).

We’ll have the full speed grid, as well as full driver quotes, shortly. Please check back soon.

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