Motorsport Memories with Jessica Hawkins

It’s British racing driver Jessica Hawkins’ turn to take a trip down memory lane as part of Adrian Flux’s Motorsport Memories series.

You can read Hawkins’ thoughts or listen to them by clicking play on the embedded video below.

Third favourite memory – 2011 BNL Karting series victory in Genk, Belgium

A few years prior to this I’d won the British Championship and a few other championships along the way and I remember there was this big European race out in Belgium at the time, it was in Genk – awesome circuit firstly. I begged my dad so much to do it, so much, as it would have been my first European race. But he was like ‘Jess, I can’t afford it, I can’t afford it’ and I was begging him: ‘Please let me do it, please let me do it.’ Anyway, he gave in.

It was a double-header round basically so you had a whole race meeting on Saturday and a whole race meeting on Sunday. I was actually poorly for the Saturday one, I didn’t do it and it was a bit of a disaster before it even went ahead. I remember it was all fine, it was all dandy, and I think I was starting fifth on the grid for the final [on Sunday]. I was fast enough to win so we were going for the win.

I remember being on the grid, you take your karts down to a parc firmé area where you have to put your tyres on, so the tyres are kept by race control to make sure no one tampers with them or puts any softener or anything on them I guess. So I put the slicks on and in the distance there is this massive black cloud, it is going to absolutely pee it down. Within two minutes, we’ve got the slicks on, we’re ready to go, we’ve got five(ish) minutes until we need to be on the grid and set and ready to go. And I swear to God it rained so hard, I have never seen anything like it in my life, it only rained for a very short amount of time.

The track was absolutely soaked. So everybody’s rushing around putting wets on, taking their slicks off, putting wets on. I’m looking at my dad thinking ‘why are we not putting wets on dad?’ And he just turns round and says: ‘Jess I couldn’t afford to buy any. We don’t have any wets to put on’. And I’m like ‘right okay’, so I just accepted it anyway. I started thinking in my head: So I’m starting from fifth, most people around me are on wets’. There were about 35 of us on the grid and back in those days, you have drop-down bumpers now, it used to be a little bit more aggressive. I’d say 70 to 80% of people were on wets and I remember sitting on the grid in fifth place looking at my dad thinking ‘what are we doing? We’ve messed up so hard here’.

Literally a minute before they waved the green flag it was bright sunshine and like a completely different circuit. The track was steaming it was drying so quickly but it was still kind of half wet, half dry. Anyway, so we went out for the formation lap and I knew that if I started in fifth place I was going off at the first corner. I knew it. There was actually one other person at the front on slicks, there were several dotted around the grip but me and one other on slicks at the front. So I pretended I had an issue on the rolling up lap. I put my hand up, looking at the engine as if there was something wrong with it, so I basically took myself to the back of the pack because I knew I was going off at the first corner if I didn’t.

I came up to the lights, and all this time it’s drying and drying and drying. Everybody on slicks went off, even a few people on wets, and I was there at the back and was probably in about 15th position after the start. Every lap it got drier and drier and drier. I went backwards a little bit after that and then I started going forwards rapidly. By lap eight or so I was literally hunting down the leader, I was in second, and I overtook him and I must have won the race by half a lap, something like that. It was crazy, all because my dad couldn’t afford to buy wets.

I remember literally coming round the last corner at Genk, my dad is laying, he doesn’t smoke anymore but he used to, he’s laying on the barrier with a fag in his hand with his feet up and I was just thinking ‘you’re so jammy, so jammy and I’m so happy’. I think it was actually the world champion that finished second but he was on slicks and went off at the start and lost so much time at the start. The image of my dad laying on that barrier with a fag in his hand with his feet up will stay with me forever.

Second favourite memory – Last race of 2019 W Series season at Brands Hatch  (finished seventh to claim 11th place overall in the final standings)

I had had an awful season prior to the last round and I’d had a DNF and a few things hadn’t fallen in my favour throughout the season. Basically the top 12 in the championship made it through to the following season. I had to finish in x place to make it through, I had to finish in front of someone else and then they had to have a bad race but it didn’t matter if someone else had a good race – it was a little bit confusing.

But I remember on the last lap, I think I finished sixth or seventh, and I was over the radio to my engineer: ‘Have I made it through, have I made it through?’ And he replied: ‘I think so’ and I’m like ‘what do you mean you think so? Am I through or am I not?’ and he just kept saying ‘I think so, I think so’. So on the final lap I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or what. I remember coming through, I had quite a few friends at Brands Hatch because it was our home race, and pulling up and getting out of the car and my friends running over and they’re like ‘you made it through, you made it through’. And I’m like: ‘Are you sure, don’t tell me I’ve made it through if I haven’t.’ And they were like ‘100%, we’ve worked it out, we’ve worked this out and we’ve worked that out, 100% you’re through.’

I just remember, firstly, not believing them and just being so relieved and happy that it had finally come together on the last race and something had fallen in my favour and I did what I needed to do to make it through to the next season. I felt like I’d won the world championship but I hadn’t, all I’d done is finished 11th in a championship.

To be honest, throughout the whole season my speed was never the issue. I’d not been racing for a very long time before the start of the season and, apart from the first round where admittedly I wasn’t quite quick enough, I’d always go out in both free practices and be top three quickest and if I wasn’t top three I’d be top five. In my mind I was quick enough to make it happen and realistically I shouldn’t have been as quick as I was because I was just so far behind on experience compared to everyone else. What would happen is I’d get to qualifying and something would happen and I’d always be right down the bottom in qualifying and I could never explain it. That made the races hard work for me and I think it was a combination of – because I never went testing or anything I never knew how to get the best out of the new tyres – and I was putting myself under a lot of pressure because I knew I was quick enough and qualifying was when it really counted, it just wasn’t all coming together.

I actually saw a sports psychologist who instantly sorted me out. The problem wasn’t 100% fixed but it was a remarkable improvement. The last three races are really where I started to get there. I was fifth in Norisring [Germany] with two laps to go and I had a coil pack failure so unfortunately I DNF’d from that one. And then I think I finished sixth or seventh at the following race and I knew that all I needed to do was kind of be sixth, seventh or something like that – it kind of depended where everyone else went but I knew I had the pace for it.

I worked a lot with my sports psychologist and we came up with a plan and we stuck to it really. Admittedly I had the pace to be a little bit higher but we certainly made steps in the right direction. Yes, it was a bit of pressure, but all I could do was drive as quick as I could. I genuinely think that he believed in me. I never met him face-to-face, it was all over Zoom because he lives in Sweden I think, but even just hearing his voice just calmed me slightly. So before the race [at Brands Hatch] I actually rang him and the signal was terrible for him at the time and I was freaking out because I couldn’t hear him properly. But he settled me down a bit, we went through a bit of a process, and him and my friends and family just said ‘just go and enjoy it’ which I did.

I remember actually being on the last lap and I’d caught someone and my engineer had told me that I need to get past this person to make it through so I actually spent the whole lap thinking that I wasn’t going through. The thought did enter my brain, and I was quite far behind but I was there, and I thought ‘do I just go for a kamikaze move and if it comes off I’ve made it through and if it doesn’t I’ve not lost anything because I’m not going through anyway.’ Anyway, I didn’t quite get close enough to do it but luckily I didn’t because I’d made it through anyway. Can you imagine if I’d have gone for this kamikaze move and speared her off and I would have been through anyway?

Favourite memory – BTCC debut at Snetterton in 2020 (finished 22nd, 21st and 20th out of 27 in three races for Power Maxed Racing)

This has been difficult to choose from all of the memories. So since I’ve been a young girl, I don’t know why, before I even knew what racing was really, I’d always been drawn to British Touring Cars. And that’s always where I’ve strived to be and I never thought it would be possible because it’s a big budget and budget is something that I’ve struggled to get. I don’t come from large family wealth or anything like that so getting sponsors on board and stuff, especially in these times, is very difficult.

Lucky, for me anyway, Power Maxed had pulled out of the season due to Covid-19 at the beginning and they were looking to put a different driver in at every round of the season. I got the phone call to do one and I was thinking to myself: ‘God where am I going to find the budget for this?’ Luckily I had some amazing sponsors come on board in Fastr, Motorsport Legal, Clapham North MOT and EB Watches. They helped me get together for the race and made it achievable for one race.

I literally had the best time of my life. It was everything that I dreamed for and more and it’s just made me want it even more for a full season. I was a little bit disappointed with the result but I think everybody around me was thinking that I overachieved. Power Maxed said to me: ‘If you can get in the top 20 in your first race meeting you have done an amazing job.’ And we got in the top 20 but we had pace for top 12. It’s such a competitive championship, we had extra ballast on that guest drivers have to use. But I can’t actually still believe that it happened and I just remember sitting on the grid before saying over the radio: ‘Guys, I don’t know if I need a shower, or sit on the toilet, or if I need a wee or if I need to run around and scream.’ It was just the most amazing feeling, it’s what I’ve worked for my whole life and now I’m just so excited about the prospect of having a full season so I’m going to try and put that all together. It’s literally what I’ve dreamed of since being a little girl, British Touring Cars, and although it was only one race I still made it happen.

Looking back, I made a great relationship with the team – Power Maxed were outstanding to work with – and it was all a bit of a blur to be honest, it still is. I felt like I waited an absolute eternity for it to come and it felt like it was all over and done with, within five minutes. I am my worst enemy, not just in racing just in life in general. I put myself under so much pressure just to do myself proud more than anything and to make all of my dreams everything that I wanted it to be. I guess maybe I should have taken a little bit of a step back and just enjoyed it. Although I did enjoy it, maybe I was chasing something that was never achievable anyway, although I guess it was because we had the pace for top 12. 

I would have liked to have been top 15, which I think in my first weekend would have been outrageous and going by the pace it was possible. Maybe I was just a little bit race rusty and it didn’t happen but I literally had the best time of my life and it’s just made me want more. 

Jessica Hawkins was talking to Gavin Caney 

Photo credits (in order): Chris Walker/Kart and Pete Aldridge. 

Adrian Flux Insurance 

Adrian Flux Insurance is one of the UK’s largest specialist motor insurance brokers, with bespoke policies available for high performance, imported and modified vehicles.

Do you take part in motorsport or track days? Find out more about Adrian Flux’s Race Vehicle Insurance and track day cover. 

Related Articles

Adrian Flux are one of the chief partners for a brand new racing team, Brundle Motorsport, fronted by Alex Brundle.
Commentator and fellow racer Alex Brundle details how you can save money on your car insurance.
Asha Silva and Anji Silva Vadgama are two of Team BRIT’s newest drivers, but they’re already making big waves in the motorsport scene.
Commentator and fellow racer Alex Brundle looks back at another action-packed weekend at Spa, where Max Verstappen continued to make history.