Pirelli World Challenge primer: Austin

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For the first time in 2013, all four classes of the Pirelli World Challenge will be in action at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas. The GT and GTS classes race twice, with the TC and TCB classes racing three times over the course of the May 17-19 weekend. Live streaming is available at www.world-challengetv.com for all races, with TV coverage on the NBC Sports Network on Sunday, June 16, at 5 p.m. ET.

The full entry list is linked here, and here’s a few storylines to follow going into the weekend:

GT: SOFRONAS SEEKS A HAT TRICK

James Sofronas in the GMG Audi R8 LMS has won the last two races in St. Pete and Long Beach, albeit more by good luck than outright pace. A host of challengers though from Cadillac, Volvo, Nissan, Mercedes and Porsche will be nipping at their heels in the 19-car class. One driver switches teams as Tomy Drissi, who drove an LG Motorsports Corvette the first two weekends of the year, enters the GTSport with Goldcrest team with a Porsche GT3 Cup car. Mike Hedlund also makes his first start of the year in another GMG Audi.

GTS: WIDE OPEN AFTER LONG BEACH

Lawson Aschenbach’s Long Beach win for Blackdog Speed Shop in its Camaro validated the team’s switch from GT. Jack Baldwin leads the points thus far in his GTSport with Goldcrest Porsche Cayman after a sweep in St. Pete. The two 2012 title protagonists (Peter Cunningham, RealTime Acura TSX and Andy Lee, Best IT Camaro) have yet to get on the scoreboard and will no doubt be keen to do so in Austin. Kia and Ford, as well, could show strongly this weekend with some of their entries. Series President/CEO Scott Bove, in a BMW E46 M3, is also among the 30 cars entered.

TC: LIKELY MAZDA VS. HONDA AGAIN

Rookie Michael Cooper took a MAZDASPEED 3 to the TC class title a year ago ahead of a host of Compass360 Honda Civics Sis. Although Cooper isn’t in the field again, Mazdas (with two MX-5s and and RX-8) and Hondas (five Civic Sis) are likely to battle for the win in the 16-car class. Mazda took a win with a Continental Tire Challenge-spec MX-5 for C.J. Wilson Racing at Austin in March. Ryan Winchester (third in 2012, Compass360) is the highest returning driver in points.

TCB: HUGE GRID INCREASE FOR YEAR TWO

The Touring Car B-Spec grid grew from barely more a half dozen entries to 21 for Austin. Cars entered include the Mazda2, Mini Cooper, Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta, and Honda Fit. Former SCCA Runoffs champion Joel Lipperini, Shea Holbrook, fourth in TC in 2012, and 15-year-old Ernie Francis Jr. are among the notable driver names entered in this class.

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.”