de Silvestro leads Barber Saturday morning practice

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Simona de Silvestro paced the final practice session before qualifying for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Saturday morning.

The KV Racing Technology driver led the 14 drivers that dipped into the 1:07 range in the early session. Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dario Franchitti completed the top five.

“I’m sure it (leading practice) does a lot (for my confidence),” she said. “I think the car is pretty good this morning, we have to see how the track is going to change for a little bit later, but the car has been pretty quick and the whole KV crew has been working really hard during the test here and when we got back.”

AJ Allmendinger in seventh led the three Team Penske cars, fresh off the news he’ll also be racing at Long Beach in two weeks (more to come on that later this afternoon). Will Power was only 10th with Helio Castroneves, fastest on Friday, in 12th. The top 24 cars were within 0.9088 of a second of de Silvestro.

Qualifying begins at 11:25 a.m. EST with TV coverage on at 5 p.m. EST on the NBC Sports Network.

Qualifying groups for the three rounds of knockout qualifying are below, via INDYCAR:

Group 1                Group 2
#98 Alex Tagliani    #3 Helio Castroneves
#77 Simon Pagenaud     #55 Tristan Vautier (R)
#9 Scott Dixon         #12 Will Power
#2 AJ Allmendinger     #5 E.J. Viso
#14 Takuma Sato        #16 James Jakes
#1 Ryan Hunter-Reay    #19 Justin Wilson
#10 Dario Franchitti   #22 Oriol Servia
#11 Tony Kanaan        #27 James Hinchcliffe
#83 Charlie Kimball    #78 Simona de Silvestro
#7 Sebastien Bourdais  #25 Marco Andretti
#15 Graham Rahal       #67 Josef Newgarden
#6 Sebastian Saavedra  #4 JR Hildebrand
#18 Ana Beatriz        #20 Ed Carpenter

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”