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HAWKSWORTH: A Very Different Return to Daytona

AIM Vasser Sullivan Lexus driver Jack Hawksworth checks in with Sportscar365 prior to IMSA’s return to racing…

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

We had just completed a test at Sebring and were preparing for the Twelve Hours of Sebring race when the coronavirus lockdown went into effect in early March.

The Sebring race was rescheduled and the foreseeable races like Long Beach, Mid-Ohio and Detroit were either rescheduled or cancelled.

For me, and I think for everybody all over the world, it was such an alien thing. Nothing like this has ever happened in our lifetimes. It definitely took some adjusting.

I’ve always had a structure around my life, knowing what I needed to be prepared for and what I needed to be working towards. When you have that it gives you a sense of motivation and a sense of purpose to wake up in the morning as it does with any job.

When it’s there, and you know what you’ve got to do, that keeps your mind focused and I think everybody needs that.

For me, and for a lot of people, it was really strange to be in a situation where you didn’t really know when you would next be at work or when you were going to be getting on an airplane again.

There was definitely a period for a while where the days were blending in to the next and the whole thing seemed very weird.

During that time, I just tried to keep some structure to my day and stay healthy and stay fit. I did a lot of running and mountain biking and I’ve got an e-bike at home, which is a lot of fun.

We have good countryside and woods where I live in England so you can get out into the outdoors, which I was still able to do while we were in a full lockdown in the UK.

The kart tracks and motocross tracks began to open up at the end of May. That’s around the same time when we were beginning to hear from IMSA that it looked like we were going to go back to racing in July.

Photo: Supplied

At that point, the motivation came back again. I wanted to get into the kart and get the feel of being on the race track again.

So, I got out there and did just that by spending four or five days on the bike and a couple days in the kart.

Shortly after, IMSA announced we were going back to racing and I was able to get on an airplane and come out to the states once IMSA got the dispensation for all of us to get stuff moving.

The flight over to the states was really bizarre! I flew from Leeds Bradford Airport, which is my local airport, to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, which is the center of all of Europe basically. It’s a huge airport and it’s always really busy.

There are always tons of flights coming in and out and tons of people in the terminal. It was so bizarre because when I got to the airport it was absolutely empty and there were only one or two places open to grab a drink of water or a sandwich.

It was really weird to see the whole airport now brought to an absolute ghost town with a few flights going in and out. The airport looked completely different to anything I’ve seen before. It was very bizarre!

The benefit to it was the flight over to America was almost empty, so I had three or four rows all to myself.

I’ve been in Charlotte for the last three weeks leading into this race. I’ve been able to train at Toyota’s Performance Center. It’s added structure back into my day and I have been able to have structured physical training and get my mind in gear for going forward into what is almost like a new season.

We’ve had one race already, but it feels like we’re starting a brand-new year.

The extra kind of kick has been the announcement of Aaron Telitz in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3. Aaron is a really fast driver. He’s been a race winner and a championship winner in junior open wheel racing and he’s always been really good when he’s jumped in one of the AVS Lexus cars.

I think it has strengthened our team overall having him as my teammate going forward.

Photo: Mike Levitt/IMSA

It’s going to be very different racing at Daytona this time. Normally, Daytona is right at the beginning of the year, it’s a 24-hour race and we have a three-day test at the Roar three weeks before and it’s super important to look after your equipment.

Half the battle is just getting to the end of the race, so the mindset is very conservative.

Look after the gear, don’t make any mistakes, do whatever you need to do really to get to the last four hours of the event and then go racing.

In this sprint race, there’s no time to be cautious or to hold back. Qualifying is going to be critical and every lap in the race is going to be an absolute sprint.

It’s a much more aggressive mindset and much more a racers mindset instead of the thought in the back of your head that you have to look after everything and leave something on the table. You can’t give up position. You’ve got to be aggressive with the other competitors.

The other thing that will be different at Daytona is the amount of time we have to prepare on track for the race.

We will be at the track Friday night for a one-hour practice session, another hour practice session Saturday morning and then we’re qualifying and racing Saturday evening. There’s not going to be a lot of time to prepare or build up to speed.

Everyone has been out of the car for five months, so everyone is going to be a bit rusty and fighting their feet.

It’s going to be a unique situation. If you’re just a little bit behind the eight ball you might see more mistakes and errors than what we’ve seen in previous races, which could make it quite exciting.

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

It’s also going to be very warm at Daytona in July compared to in January, but hopefully it won’t be too extreme with the track temperatures cooling down into the evening for the race. It will depend on what the weather is like on that day.

I’m super excited to just have something to focus on again. To have a goal, a plan and a structure.

We know we’re going racing at Daytona and I know my teammates and all of the guys on the AVS team are super focused. We all want to go out there and win races and win the championship. Having Aaron Telitz in the No. 14 RC F GT3 is an extra boost and I’m excited to have him in our Lexus.

I feel like we have all of the pieces for a championship run with AVS this season. I’m super excited to get back to competing again and to get into that competitive mindset because it has been very strange the last five months not really knowing what we’re doing, not really having any competition or anything to focus on.

Now, we’re back in it. We’ve got a lot of teams to race and a lot of races ahead of us so we’re getting back into the racer’s mindset competing every weekend and trying to be the best we can be.

That’s really what I’m looking forward to. That side of it is what’s going to be really exciting.

The Daytona race is finally almost here, and I can’t wait to get out there!

Jack Hawksworth (@JackHawkRace ‏) drives the No. 14 Vasser Sullivan Lexus RC F GT3 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

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