The trouble with one make championships is that everyone assumes that all cars are equal and that it’s all down to the driver. Sometimes it’s not obvious when a car has a hidden issue and its performance is slowed.
Jessica Hawkins had just such a problem with her Mini Challenge Cooper at Donington park which limited its straight-line speed. This meant she came to last weekend’s championship decider at a points disadvantage despite having some of the best results of anyone in the championship. The dropped score rule where you drop your two worst scores also was playing to her disadvantage as where other drivers had zero-point scores to drop, Hawkins incredible consistency left her dropping some big points. She has struggled for funding for much of the season and only just managed to raise enough to finish the year. This meant there was no money left for an engine change after her Donington issues and so she feared that the straight-line speed issue would occur once again.
Snetterton is one of the worst tracks of the year to have a lack of straight-line speed and so as Hawkins headed into qualifying she knew she would have to push to her and the car’s limits to have any chance of a good grid slot especially as the circuit was dry with no chance of rain. A session of driving to the absolute limit left her in fifth but with a time just eight tenths of a second off. Unfortunately, title rival Matt Hammond was up in second place. But Hawkins knew she had wrung the most out the car.
“If only we had the straight-line speed, we’d be flying.”
Race one was later that day. Hawkins would have to try and hang on to the top four and possibly make up some places either through slip streaming or if the others run into problems. She got a great start launching up to fourth place. She found she could hang on to the top three by slip streaming down the straight. She was quicker in the corners but every time she drew alongside, her rivals would power away again on the next straight. Her title rival Hammond was up ahead in second so things weren’t looking good for the title despite Hawkins driving every lap like a qualifying lap. Approaching the final lap it looked like fourth was the best Hawkins could hope for but then her two rivals ahead in second and third got in a bit of a tangle allowing her to take advantage to nip by into second place where she took the flag. It was a great result, made even better by Hammond dropping to fourth. She had also set fastest lap of the race during once of her quick sliup streaming laps at the beginning of the race. Her title bid was still very much alive!
The second race was on Sunday morning and once again there was no chance of rain which would have reduced the disadvantage she suffered from her straight line speed issue. She got a good start from second on the grid but slipped to third on the first corner as a rival caught her down the straight.
She then came under attack from title rival Hammond. Some defensive driving and throwing her car through the corners like she was on a qualifying lap every time, kept her ahead and she took third place ahead of him. It would all now come down to the final race. Ideally Hawkins would need to win with Hammond failing to finish or finishing down the order. There was a slim chance of taking the title from second but nothing else would be good enough. Hawkins was starting in third with Hammond in second, it was going to be very tough.
Hawkins made another good start but in the first lap fighting Poole got past her. Hawkins, though passed Hammond an important move. Hammond then slipped back past Hawkins, she needed to pass him. For the rest of the race the two battled. The trouble was even if Hawkins had passed Hammond, it wouldn’t be enough to take the title.
Hammond appeared to know this and kept her busy trying to pass him. With some defensive driving he stayed ahead and with the top two pulling away, there was nothing Hawkins could do. Even if she now passed Hammond, the top two were just far enough ahead that she wouldn’t be able to pass them both in the time remaining. Even if she somehow did, as long as Hammond finished she wouldn’t be able to take the title.
But it was all academic as Hammond defended his third place to the flag with Hawkins following him home in fourth.
The title was Hammond’s but Hawkins was runner up. In a season where it looked like she may only be able to compete in half the races due to her lack of budget it was a great achievement. Yes with a bit more funding she could have changed the engine and cured the straight-line speed issue but she had done the best she possibly could with the equipment she had available.
She was the first to congratulate her rival when they got out the cars despite feeling gutted that the title had slipped away despite putting in maximum effort driving every lap of every race flat out.
Sadly, she won’t be racing in 2018 but this isn’t the bad news it first seems. As you may have already seen she’ll be joining the stunt team for the all new Fast and Furious show as it tours the Uk and the rest of the world. She’s already been in training and the shows start in London in January. She is joined on the stunt team by drifter Michelle Westby who we’ve also featured in the past. We hope to bring you more on the shows soon.
Jessica Hawkins may not have claimed the Mini challenge title she hoped for but the future still looks very bright for this talented young driver. By Marc Waller