Jess Hawkins has excelled in her first outing in the VW Racing Cup at Brands Hatch. Coming into the weekend with limited testing, Hawkins showed excellent speed from the outset with a strong qualifying session as she set lap times comparative with previous race winners. Despite only coming away from the weekend with a best result of eighth, Jess set the second fastest time in race two, narrowly missing out on fastest lap of the race. Taking her relative experience into account, Hawkins should be thrilled with her pace and will be targeting a full-time campaign in the VW Racing Cup next season.
Improvement throughout the day was going to be crucial for Jess with a qualifying session followed by three races on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit. Having taken part in limited test sessions prior to the weekend, Hawkins knew she had her work cut out to challenge for the top places. Nonetheless, she improved her times consistently during the course of the 20-minute qualifying session to set the 11th fastest time. More encouraging however, was her consistency and proximity to regular race winners, including out-qualifying multiple victor Kenan Dole.
Race one began shortly after with a quick turnaround following qualifying. When the race got underway, a multiple car incident ahead of Hawkins meant the race was red flagged with the restart taking place over just 10 minutes. Jess sustained no damage and took the restart looking to make up ground from her starting position. After the opening lap of the restarted race, Hawkins was running in ninth but was shuffled down a position by Darrelle Wilson with the former race winner recovering after a moment on the opening lap. Jess got into her rhythm and improved on her best lap time in qualifying by over a half a second and made a move on Ben Wallace for ninth place on the penultimate lap. Despite closing in on Paul Ivens on the final lap, Jess was unable to make the move but a solid top-10 result on debut was a great way to start her VW Racing Cup career.
The second race of the day took place after lunch with Jess starting from ninth courtesy of her race one result. Making a good start, Hawkins held onto ninth after the opening lap before dropping to tenth shortly after. A moment at Graham Hill bend dropped Jess down the order but she was on a mission to make up for lost time. Setting her fastest lap time of the weekend, Hawkins was back up to 11th as the race passed the halfway mark with more time still to come. A series of impressive overtakes saw Jess up into eighth by lap 17 with her best lap of the race less than a tenth away from the overall fastest lap. Closing within one tenth of Kenan Dole on the final lap, Hawkins finished in eighth but claimed the second fastest lap and ran consistently faster than the leaders during the closing stages.
After her fantastic performance in race two, Jess was hoping for another charge through the field in race three starting from 12th position with the grid set by the second fastest time set in qualifying. Unfortunately, the race lasted less than a lap for Hawkins who had a mechanical failure and was forced to retire, a disappointing end to an extremely positive weekend for the talented young driver.
Jess should be very satisfied with her debut weekend driving for Team HARD Racing in the ultra-competitive VW Racing Cup. Making her first single seater start for a number of years, Hawkins was able to fight with former race-winners and improve her lap times significantly in a short space of time. Jess will be focussing on securing the budget required for a full-season in the VW Racing Cup for 2017 where she will surely impose herself as a title contender with an experienced team behind her.