"If the performances of drivers like Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly are any indication, Jack Hawksworth will be a Firestone Indy Lights championship contender in 2013," Schmidt added, referring to previous graduates of the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship.
When Hawksworth arrived in the US 12 months ago, he had been a total unknown and there were few expectations on him, especially compared with the likes of three-season veteran Connor De Phillippi and sophomore driver Sage Karam who had been fully expected to fight it out between themselves for the title. Instead, Hawksworth's stranglehold over the season caught the eye of many in the US - even the then-IndyCar CEO, Randy Bernard.
“The goal of the Mazda Road to Indy is to find the future stars of INDYCAR, and Jack Hawksworth is definitely a future star of our sport,” Bernard told SPEED.com
in September. "As a rookie to racing in America, he conquered a very talented class of Star Mazda drivers and won the 2012 series title in dominating fashion."
There was agreement, too, from John Doonan, Mazda's director of motorsports: "Like many of the previous Mazda Road to Indy graduates who are now in the IZOD IndyCar Series, I have a feeling you will be hearing the name Hawksworth for many years to come."
No longer an unknown in the States, then; but that means Hawksworth comes into Indy Lights carrying some pretty sky-high expectations of what he can achieve in 2013 from all concerned - not least from himself.
"It would be great if we could have a similar season to this season," he told Crash.net
. "Obviously, it was fantastic. All I know is that I'm going to go out there and prepare as well if not better than last year, and try to learn from some of the mistakes made last year.
"Even though it was such a great year there's always things that you look back on and think you could have improved on, so what with all the experience from last year and with the same level of commitment then hopefully we can do just as well," added Hawksworth, who hails from Bradford in West Yorkshire and who started racing karts when he was just 13 years old.
"I've driven the [Lights] car already and it's a lot of fun, really good fun car," he continued. "I know a lot of the circuits so in some respects it should be less of a challenge in that everything won't be as new as it was last season. But then obviously the heavier car, more horsepower - it's quite a big step up in performance so there will be a lot to learn. But I don't think it will be a gigantic leap or anything."
Even though the forthcoming Indy Lights season is the biggest thing on Hawksworth's radar right now, that doesn't stop him looking ahead to the next rung on the ladder: racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series itself, and of course the prospect of driving in the greatest spectacle in motorsport - the Indianapolis 500. He's inspired by knowing he's following on the heels of some inspirational British success in the championship in recent years.
"There's been a lot of successful British IndyCar drivers: Dan Wheldon won the IndyCar series once [in 2005], I think he won two 500s [2005, 2011] and of course Dario [Franchitti] has been a really big player over there in the last four or five years," he pointed out. "He's won a lot of championships and a lot of races, so we've had a lot of success over there as a nation. It'd be great to join those guys and have the same sort of success as those guys have had."