Flat tire deflates Hunter-Reay’s hopes in Brazil

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Defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay appeared to have a good chance of converting the Sao Paulo Indy 300 pole into his second win of the season. But the Andretti Autosport driver’s chances for victory in Brazil were done in around the middle stages of the vent by a flat tire on his No. 1 DHL/Sun Drop Chevrolet.

The American paced the first nine laps before Tony Kanaan took the lead from him in the Turn 11 hairpin. Hunter-Reay settled into second place until the first caution period, where he managed to win the race off pit road by beating Kanaan and Scott Dixon out of the pits. Lining up 10th for the subsequent restart, he quickly made his way back toward the front on the second stint and inherited the lead on Lap 34 during a green flag pit stop cycle.

Takuma Sato, however, managed to take the lead from Hunter-Reay on that very same lap before giving it back when he pitted under yellow at Lap 37. Hunter-Reay and Kanaan swapped the lead under green on Laps 44 and 45, but two laps later, the former was forced to come to pit road in order to get rid of his flat Firestone.

That cost Hunter-Reay key track position and after being forced to save fuel for the final stint of the race, he wound up 11th at the checkered flag — a result that he called “extremely disappointing.”

“[We] absolutely had the car to win,” he said. “Guys gave me a great, great car…the pit stops were awesome. [We] definitely needed to capitalize on this opportunity, but we got a flat tire about halfway through the race which pretty much sidelined us.

“We pit super early on the last stop, had to save fuel the remainder of the race. I was lifting halfway down the straightaway so…We were wounded and stayed that way.”

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

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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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.”