Interview – Fighting back
22nd July 2016
Following a tumultuous 2015 in which he was replaced as one of the Infiniti team’s drivers in acrimonious circumstances, British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) driver Richard Hawken has ambitious plans for 2016 and beyond.
Having played a central role in bringing the pioneering, not-for-profit Infiniti Support Our Paras Racing team into the Dunlop MSA BTCC in 2015, the season turned sour for Hawken in May when he was replaced by former Formula 1 driver Martin Donnelly.
After confronting rumours that his seat was under threat, and having received assurances that there was no truth in the rumours, Hawken was not only replaced, but was made aware of the news by a fan on Facebook.
Hawken, whose accomplishments include driving his Nissan Primera to the BRSCC Super Touring Car Trophy in 2010 and 2011, explains to MSD: “I have never spoken about the situation publicly, other than what I was advised to say legally when the news of my replacement broke. Despite efforts, Martin Donnelly and the paras were the only people who spoke to me at Thruxton.
“I am lucky to have many friends in motorsport at all levels. In the week before Thruxton, one or two had called me concerned at rumours I was being replaced; something I knew nothing about. When questioned it was denied by the team’s management in writing. It transpires the deal was being done with another driver completely behind my back, which shocked but didn’t really surprise me. My sponsors and I had felt a very icy wind from the team’s senior management at Brands Hatch and, of course, my car wasn’t ready. Another of my sponsors, D&B Coachworks Ltd, had worked literally a 30-hour shift through two nights to prepare the bodywork for Brands Hatch, believing the car would be ready.”
Through no fault of his own, Hawken parted company with Infiniti Support Our Paras Racing team, which was created to help raise awareness and funds for Support Our Paras, the official charity of The Parachute Regiment; a charity that he still has a great deal of reverence for. “It has been nothing but a pleasure and honour working with members of The Parachute Regiment and charity in motorsport – a bunch of guys I have an enormous amount of time, respect and admiration for,” Hawken says. “I would ask that we all continue to support our injured servicemen and women in any and every way we can.”
For a man who was dealt such a bad hand in 2015, Hawken, who had his first taste of racing after buying a kart with his father before he was even a teenager, remains remarkably positive. He is aiming to get a “solid year of BTCC experience under my belt” in 2016, while a career switch from the finance sector to the automotive sector is also on the cards. Looking beyond 2016, Hawken has grander plans on track.
“I am working with a new manufacturer currently who I hope – everything is crossed – will make their debut in the championship in 2017,” he says. “I believe professionalism attracts professionalism, so, as before, I will aim my sights high.”
It may sound like an ambitious plan, but given his track record, it would take a brave man or woman to doubt Hawken, who can also claim to be a member of the “200mph club”, having driven the TWR Le Mans spec Jaguar XJ220 at 205mph at Millbrook. “I set myself goals in life and set about my journey to achieve them,” he says with an undoubted air of confidence. “I wanted to win a championship in karting and I did it. I wanted to be a stock market trader – I did it. I wanted to win a championship in a touring car (Nissan Primera Super Tourer) – I won three.
“I’ve always wanted to race in the BTCC; it’s the ultimate saloon car race, it’s professional, it’s encapsulating, which built and fuelled an obsession in me. I did race in the BTCC, but nowhere near enough. I believe if you put your mind on a mental rail track, don’t deviate, and live, breath and dream it, you will make it happen. It’s just a shame I got mixed up with the wrong people who derailed me slightly. But the track is intact so I’ll be back on track for some unfinished business in the BTCC with a proper team to show the world the real Richard Hawken.”
“If you put your mind on a mental rail track, don’t deviate, and live, breath and dream it, you will make it happen”
With so many irons in the fire, the future certainly looks set to be busy for Hawken, but his “unrelenting drive, enthusiasm and total loathing of the need to sleep” should help to get him through.
The events of 2015 would have had a lasting and negative impact on many racing drivers, but Hawken remains confident and largely unaffected by the bad experience. If anything, it has increased his faith in the sport and his desire to succeed.
“I’ve had several top level BTCC teams invite me along for a chat recently,” he reveals. “I think the entire championship knows the truth and has judged accordingly. The fact is it could have been handled differently. I know what I would think, if I were a third party, of a similar situation. One thing that has staggered me, though, is the support I’ve received from the BTCC fans, marshals and the media. It has been quite overwhelming if I’m honest. A day will rarely pass where I don’t have a conversation with at least one fan. BTCC is all about the people and I love that side of it. I was a fan once and now I’m on the inside of the fence. With humility, I want to be a driver who will always make time to talk to people, no matter what I drive.”
With ambitious plans afoot and extra fire in his belly, 2016 certainly looks sets to be the start of something special for Hawken.
Track Days / Test Days / MotorsportDays.com