Vettel leads incident-packed FP2 at Suzuka

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As he seeks his fourth Japanese Grand Prix win and potentially, a fourth straight Formula One World Championship, Sebastian Vettel topped the timesheets once again in Friday’s second 90-minute free practice.

Vettel is the first driver this weekend to dip into the 1:33 range at the 3.6-mile Suzuka Circuit, a 1:33.852 with 55 minutes remaining and on Pirelli’s medium (alternate) tires.

Mark Webber was next in the second Red Bull Renault, in a new chassis (1:34.020), ahead of Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and the pair of Lotus Renaults, Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean.

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), Daniel Ricciardo (Toro Rosso), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Jenson Button (McLaren) and Fernando Alonso (Ferrari) completed the top 10.  All from Webber to Button were in the 1:34 range.

With the fast laps done early most of the rest of the session was spent in full race runs on both the hards and mediums; lap times generally were in the 1:39 to 1:40 range.

Raikkonen’s session ended early when with more than half an hour left, he lost control at the tail end of the Esses. His Lotus snapped at Dunlop and beached itself in the gravel. Fortuitously for the Finn, he was near the back of the paddock entrance, which made for a short walk back to the team garage.

While Raikkonen’s off was one part of the session, it wasn’t the biggest moment. Sergio Perez lost control at Spoon 17 minutes into the session, when his right side wheels got onto the painted surface on driver’s right at corner entry to the left-hander. His McLaren snapped and he smacked the tire barrier at an almighty rate. Perez was a bit dazed and had to take a few minutes to collect himself before getting out of the car under his own power.

Alonso had a spin at the entrance to Degner 1, with no damage, while Pastor Maldonado had an incident at Degner 2 when he ran wide and slid through the gravel, into the tire barrier. After his lost wheel in FP1, it was a lost day for the Williams driver.

Webber also had a moment when he came upon Paul di Resta’s slowing Force India, again through Degner, and allegedly cursed out the Force Indias over the radio.

Charles Pic resumed in the Caterham after missing FP1 and led teammate Giedo van der Garde and Marussia’s Max Chilton at the back of the field. The usual 22 cars were down one this session with Jules Bianchi out after crashing in FP1.

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.”