Proposing the match-up between Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato as IndyCar’s most interesting for 2015 should be a surprise. Team Penske alone are offering up a quartet of team-mates that bring with them a myriad of sub-plots – how the ‘frenemies’ Power and Pagenaud get is certainly the tastiest. Whilst the AJ Foyt Racing drivers will not vie for the 2015 title, their partnership could be the most interesting from a different perspective.
The interest stems from Sato being in the second half of his career and Hawksworth entering the first. Sato is unlikely to go any further up the rankings in IndyCar – unless AJ Foyt Racing strike upon something special. The Japanese will continue represent a very good benchmark against which to judge the young Englishman. The essence of this match up is whether Hawksworth really has the ability to follow in the footsteps of Mansell, Franchitti and Wheldon. No disrespect to AJ Foyt – particularly as he continues to recover from surgery – but Hawksworth will be looking at this as his stepping stone to Andretti, Ganassi or Penske.
Sato is fast, undoubtedly. Hawksworth showed himself to be rapid in 2014 too. Up for debate is whether Jack can take that consistently to the sharp end of the grid. Even in the super competitive IndyCar series – the world’s most competitive open-wheel series arguably – being quick in the midfield is not the same as being ‘Firestone Fast Six’ quick. By definition, the closer to the front you go the more technical ability, skill and consistency you need to gain those final tenths/hundredths that make the difference between pole and sixth. Sato will provide that benchmark next season and for his long term options, Hawksworth has to at least be on par.
Consistency is not a word typically associated with ‘Crash-ato’ as Taku has come to be known. Banzai moves and sticking his nose in all the wrong places is something regular fans of the series are familiar with. The fame/anonymity is however only because such moves tend to be near the front of the grid. Sato’s profile would not be so high if he had only ever been diving down the inside for 19th place.
A measure of Hawksworth’s development – which will need to be quick in the still cash-strapped world of IndyCar – will be whether he can run up front with Sato but finish more consistently. Sato has thrown away plenty of gilt-edged opportunities and his propensity for trouble is well documented. As a minimum Hawksworth will need to be as consistent as Sato in 2015 and aim for more.
Though Sato is not from an oval background, his 5 years in IndyCar racing have seen him run increasingly well when turning left. In context, it is a relatively short period of time and once again provides a valuable benchmark. Sato comes with oval pole positions and near misses for wins to his name where, in contrast, ovals were not a happy hunting ground for Hawksworth in 2014. How AJ Foyt’s latest recruit fares on the circuits his team boss excelled on will determine a great deal, not only in terms of 2015 but his long term IndyCar future also.
This match-up is set to be one of the most intriguing of the 2015 season. On the one hand it could signal the arrival of another genuine future champion of the next generation, or on the other it could be a serious bump in the road of a promising career. I for one cannot wait to see which one it is.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.