One way or another, everybody at 3GT Racing has something to prove in 2017. Paul Gentilozzi will be eager to show that he can make a success of GT racing with the Lexus RC F GT3 after his ill-fated Jaguar XKR project of 2009-2011, while Scott Pruett, the winningest driver in the history of the Rolex 24, has staked his reputation on Lexus after 13 years of racing Daytona Prototypes. But arguably none more have more to prove than Jack Hawksworth, following his 2016 annus horribilis in IndyCar. He told James Newbold why he’s not done yet.
“Especially for somebody as competitive as me, you don’t like to go out there and lose to anyone, never mind everyone!”
There can be no getting away from it, 2016 was the nadir of Jack Hawksworth’s career. The 25-year-old was touted as one of IndyCar’s rising stars after a bright rookie campaign with the single-car Bryan Herta Autosport in 2014, but after a debut podium at Houston and leading a race-high 31 laps at the Indy GP, the move to A.J. Foyt Enterprises alongside Takuma Sato didn’t bring the expected results. There was precious little to shout about in 2015 and it only got worse last year, as Hawksworth finished 20th and last of the full-time runners, without a top 10 finish to his name.
Sato wasn’t exactly on top form either, the Japanese finishing only three places higher in the standings as Foyt’s Texan operation struggled to adapt to running two cars, but while Honda ensured their man remained on the grid with Andretti Autosport, Hawksworth was unable to find another seat that would progress his career. Rather than hold out for an Indy-only deal, he instead opted for a change of scene and has moved across to IMSA to drive 3GT Racing’s new Lexus RC F GT3, reprising his relationship with team boss Paul Gentolizzi from select Prototype Challenge outings.
The numbers don’t paint an especially flattering portrait, but one bad year does not a bad driver make. The Yorkshireman has been a winner in everything he raced prior to IndyCar and made rapid progress through the US single-seater ranks, quickly forging a rivalry with Ganassi protégé Sage Karam. A record eight wins helped the Brit overcome the teenaged American to win the Star Mazda title in 2012, before they faced off again the following year in Indy Lights, this time as team-mates. The pair took three wins apiece, but Karam’s greater consistency gave him the edge.
In a curious symmetry, Karam’s IndyCar career to date hasn’t lived up to its early promise either. Having sat on the side-lines for the majority of last year, he too finds himself at 3GT, sharing the sister car with Scott Pruett, creating a fascinating inter-team duel in a stacked GTD class of 27 cars.
Hawksworth drive the #14 car for the full season alongside Robert Alon, another graduate of Prototype Challenge, with young talent Austin Cindric and experienced hand Dominik Farnbacher joining for Daytona.
“Racing is the most fickle business in the world,” Hawksworth offers by way of explanation. “One minute you’re the talk of the town, the next minute nobody gives a shit. You can be a nobody and then one year later you can be the best thing since sliced bread.”
Hawksworth still sees IndyCar as unfinished business and plans one day to go back and “right the wrong.” All the same, he is relishing the opportunity to start afresh with Lexus and has every confidence that he will come through the experience a more-rounded professional.
“The outside perception is going to change constantly in this game depending on the equipment you’re in and the environment you’re in, so I don’t really pay too much attention to that. I try to analyse what I’m doing myself because I know when I’ve put in a good performance or not,” he said.
“There’s been times in Indy Lights or Star Mazda when I didn’t have a great performance but I ended up winning the race or getting a good result, and there’s been other times when I qualified 18th and I’ve known I’ve done a really good job, so as a driver you need to be able to mentally separate yourself from the variables.
“ was an interesting year for me, I’ve not experienced anything like that before, but you either learn from those things or it breaks you. Mentally, it was a good year for me. I became much stronger and also from a technique perspective I felt like I improved on the road courses, so I don’t really give a shit what anybody thinks about my performance. I know what I can do and as long as I feel like I’m doing a good job, then I’m happy.”
Would it be right to say that he is motivated by proving other people wrong? Not exactly – Hawksworth is more reflective than that.
“That’s why I’m looking forward to this season so much, because It’s going to be an opportunity to show what I’ve learned over the last two or three years,” he continued. “If I look back at where I was as a driver at the beginning of 2014 to where I am now and the difference is huge. I know I’m a lot better than I was back then, so I’m interested to see what I can do with three years of improvement.
“You get to a point where you’re looking for fractions all of the time, you’re close to the ceiling because you’ve done it for so long and you’re so close to the limit anyway, but when I went to the GT car with the extra weight, less aero, much more roll where I was a rookie again, so it was nice to have that challenge of something completely new and very rewarding to be able to make progress.
“It’s such a fantastic opportunity and I’m very grateful for it, because I haven’t had any results for the last two years and those guys stuck by me. I can see myself being in this team for a long time – I like the people here and I want to win races and championships with them.”
Having a good team environment will be important if that is to happen, and Hawksworth is quick to point out that his rivalry with Karam is of a much friendlier nature these days. The pair share an apartment near to 3GT Racing’s Michigan workshop and Hawksworth hopes the two can channel their competitive instincts to speed the development process along.
— Jack Hawksworth (@jackhawkrace) January 8, 2017
“The chemistry in the team has been really good so far, there’s a good atmosphere,” he said. “It’s obviously a competitive atmosphere, racing drivers are always wanting to be the quickest guy all the time, that’s a no-brainer, but in terms of actually how the team is working together, we’re all pushing for the same thing and we all get on well.
“In terms of my actual relationship with Sage, I’ve raced him for a long time so I know what his strengths are, what his weaknesses are and he obviously has raced me for a long time as well. In Star Mazda we were always at the front and the same in Indy Lights, but the relationship is probably better than it was back then because we’re a little bit older and a little bit more mature!
“The big thing for us all is we want Lexus to be at the front, whether it’s the #14 car or the #15 car, we want Lexus to win. I’ve not spent any time thinking about how we can beat the #14 car or is the #14 going to beat us. I think both teams have strong line-ups, I’m very happy with my team-mate Robert and I think he’s happy with me. There’s not really another line-up that I look at anywhere in the series and think ‘they’re going to be tough to beat’, so hopefully we can go out and whoop some ass!”
Of course, a 24 hour race is hardly the ideal circumstance for RC F GT3 to make its bow, but Hawksworth is encouraged by the November and December tests that they have a good package and that it will become apparent sooner rather than later.
“With anything like this if you’re going into a 24 hour race with a brand-new car it requires a significant amount of preparation, so the whole organisation, Lexus, TRD, 3GT, has been really been pushing so that we can hopefully be competitive straight out of the gate. There are some really talented people there and it’s hard not to see it being successful down the line, but having said that, this is our first race as a team in the category, so this is the first step of a marathon.
“It just so happens that one of the biggest races of the season is also the first race of the season. In an ideal world it would be further along in the year, but we’ll just see how everything plays out. Whatever happens at the Rolex, we’ll use it as a stepping stone for the rest of the season. It’s a 24 hour race and we’re going to learn a lot in that 24 hours, so win, lose or draw, we’ll come out of it much wiser in many areas. We’ve got work to do still, but we’ll get there.”