Vettel storms to pole in wet Canada qualifying

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Sebastian Vettel has claimed his third consecutive pole in Canada for this weekend’s race, excelling in the wet conditions which saw the entire session completed on intermediate tires.

However, the big surprise from the session was Valtteri Bottas’ excellent performance to qualify 3rd, marking Williams’ first foray into Q3 this season as the team looks to score for the first time in 2013. He will start between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, with neither driver able to continue Mercedes’ pole position streak. For Vettel, his championship lead looks set to be extended after championship rivals Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen qualifying 6th and 9th respectively, although, as Felipe Massa proved with a crash, mistakes can be costly in Canada.

A short rain shower before Q1 left the teams with a dilemma over which tire to send their drivers out on, and despite the first runners using the dry compounds, they struggled to stay on-track and all returned for intermediate tires. Hamilton and Rosberg were the early pace setters alongside both Red Bull drivers, but many struggled in the damp conditions: Sutil, Massa and even Canada-specialist Hamilton all made mistakes. Massa did manage to improve and went quickest with three minutes to go, only for Webber to top his time. Vettel eventually finished quickest, whilst Alonso and Bottas also ran strongly at the top, but at the bottom it was a battle between Romain Grosjean, Esteban Gutierrez and Paul di Resta to get into Q2. Gutierrez pulled out a great lap to finish P12, yet Grosjean and di Resta could not improve and joined Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi, Max Chilton and Giedo van der Garde in the Q1 dropzone.

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Conditions failed to improve ahead of Q2, and once again it became a battle between Mercedes and Red Bull at the top of the timesheets, joined by Jean-Eric Vergne for Toro Rosso. The trio of Hamilton, Sutil and Massa all made very similar mistakes into turn three, and Massa complained of a lack of grip on the intermediate tire. Perez was informed that the times were not improving, yet Vettel managed to open up a big gap at the top, only joined late on by Webber and Bottas. The session was red flagged after Massa crashed at turn three under braking, with the Brazilian driver being very frustrated to leave him in the dropzone. On the restart, the drivers queued two-by-time at the end of the pit lane, all gunning for one final lap time. Button failed to cross the line in time and was eliminated, and the Briton was joined in the dropzone by Hulkenberg, Perez, Maldonado and Gutierrez. However, Valtteri Bottas made it through to Q3 for the first time in his career, finishing an excellent 4th.

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Bottas was the only driver not to go out immediately in Q3 as the wet weather persisted, meaning that intermediates would be used until the end of qualifying. The first set of runs saw Vettel edge out Hamilton and Rosberg at the top, with Toro Rosso impressing to stand P7 and P8, but Bottas once again stood out to sit P3 when the drivers pitted for fresh tires. However, as the rain intensified in sector three, the times failed to improve, allowing Vettel to remain on pole after Hamilton made an error on his final timed lap. The big story from the session was Bottas’ excellent run to P3, finishing ahead of Rosberg, Webber and Alonso. Vergne was once again impressive to qualify 7th, with Sutil, Raikkonen and Ricciardo completing the top ten.

This result sees Vettel claim his third pole of the season, and his third in a row at the Canadian Grand Prix, but all eyes will surely be on Bottas off the start tomorrow after such an excellent performance. As qualifying was completed on intermediate tires, the teams will have all of their dry compounds available for the start tomorrow.

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