Alonso fastest in delayed first practice in Austin

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Fernando Alonso has finished quickest during first practice for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, but two large delays meant that it was hard for many of the teams to deduce much from the shortened session on Friday morning.

The start of the first free practice session was delayed by forty minutes due to a thick layer of fog that had descended over the Circuit of the Americas, with race control shortening the session to one hour as a result. Conditions did eventually improve and Austin was soon bathing in bright sunshine. Kimi Raikkonen’s stand-in, Heikki Kovalainen, was the first driver to go out on track as he looked to get to grips with the E21 car, but it was the McLaren pair of Jenson Button and Sergio Perez who set the early pace. American driver Alexander Rossi – deputizing for Caterham’s Giedo van der Garde on Friday morning – also got out early to post a time, although it was far from representative, being four seconds down on Button in P1 and six seconds ahead of Charles Pic.

However, the session was soon red flagged after fifteen minutes of running due to a problem with the medical helicopter. Had there been a crash that required a driver to be airlifted to hospital, this would not have been on hand, meaning that all cars were forced to return to the pits and wait for the arrival of the back-up helicopter.

After a delay of around thirty minutes, the helicopter arrived and the session was able to get back underway with just thirty minutes left on the clock. The drivers were quick to get back out and make up for the lost time, with Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber being the first drivers to displace the McLaren drivers at the front. Valtteri Bottas also popped up into second place briefly as the track began to evolve, and the rest of the runners soon put in a competitive lap time. However, some drivers still lacked grip as Adrian Sutil became the first man to run wide at turn nineteen whilst Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez both locked up heading into the first corner.

Most of the teams opted to focus on their long runs due to the delay, with Sebastian Vettel filling his Red Bull full of fuel and failing to bother the front-runners as a result, eventually finishing in eighteenth place. Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat got his first taste of running at a grand prix weekend, and posted a respectable time in comparison to full-time driver Daniel Ricciardo. Alexander Rossi made the most of the delayed session to finish ahead of Charles Pic, strengthening his case for a full-time seat, whilst Heikki Kovalainen quickly got to grips with the Lotus car to finish just behind Romain Grosjean. Esteban Gutierrez also put in a good display to finish in fourth place, delighting the sizeable Mexican contingency in Austin.

Due to the delays though, it was very hard for the teams to deduce much from the session, meaning that they will have to regroup and squeeze more running into the second practice session later today.

You can watch FP2 live on NBCSN from 1pm ET.

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.”