British driver Jack Hawksworth took a big risk with his motor sports career when he decided to move to the US in 2012 at the age of 21, to try his hand in US open wheel racing in the Star Mazda Championship - the first step on the 'Road to Indy' ladder to future stardom.
To say that the decision to move to the States proved a massive success is an understatement. The former Formula Renault UK driver smashed all expectations in his rookie season in America, setting new Star Mazda Championship records for the most wins, poles and fastest laps (eight, ten and ten respectively over the course of the 16 completed rounds of the year with Team Pelfrey) on his way to clinching the 2012 title.
"Yeah, it was really good decision," Hawksworth told Crash.net
at the weekend while attending the Autosport International show in Birmingham. "I made the decision at the start of last year that we were going to try a something a little bit different and were going to go over to the States.
"I thought I had a good opportunity out there. A lot of things came together and it ended up being a really good year, and now because of that I've got another really good opportunity to go racing out there next year and potentially keep climbing the Road to Indy ladder system," he added.
Crucially the championship comes complete with a $600,000 scholarship to put towards a seat in the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights Series, and it had been this incentivising aspect of the US open wheel racing system that made all the difference to Hawksworth when trying to determine the best way to further his motor racing career.
"It was actually the sensible thing to do," he explained of the decision to move to America 12 months ago. "Racing in Europe at the moment is difficult to climb the European ladder system. There's not really any scholarships or prizes for winning championships or anything.
"You're really relying on somebody to step in and take you to the next level whilst in America there is that kind of certainty that if you do win the championship there is going to be the scholarship funding from Mazda to take you up to the next step," he continued. "So it made a lot of sense to go out there, purely because of the fantastic support of Mazda, and stuff like that."
The scholarship money that he won in 2012 has now helped secure him a seat with the top team in the Firestone Indy Lights series, Sam Schmidt Motorsports, which was previously behind Tristan Vautier's championship-winning campaign last year.
"I'm really pleased to have Jack join SSM in 2013," team owner Sam Schmidt said when the signing was announced in December. "I watched his progress very closely this year in Star Mazda. He did a fantastic job, especially since he had not raced in the US before and everything was unfamiliar.