Hinchcliffe looks forward to embracing two-car, team leader role at SPM

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INDIANAPOLIS – James Hinchcliffe isn’t worried about downsizing from being part of a four-car team to a two-car team. If anything, he’s optimistic that it will be easier to get both cars at his new home, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, on the same page.

“It will make debriefs shorter, that’s for sure,” Hinchcliffe joked during his press conference held Tuesday night at Flat 12 Bierworks in Indianapolis.

“It will be a challenge in some respects. One of the strengths Andretti Autosport has is four cars, with four good drivers, with four good engineers. So they could get through a lot of data and testing in a short amount of time.

“But in a year where body kits come in, that will be a huge advantage. So it’ll put huge emphasis on getting the two cars right. But it might give a little more focus.

“Sometimes it’s difficult getting four cars run well, and it could be easier to get two cars to run well.”

Hinchcliffe’s nature of his career has been adaptability to different engineers, as he’s had three different ones in four years. He had Craig Hampson both in 2011 with Newman/Haas and again with Andretti in 2013, with Tino Belli (2012) and Nathan O’Rourke (2014) also serving as his race engineer.

“I’ve kind of had to be; it’s lucky I went to four different elementary schools, so I could frequently meet new people and get along,” Hinchcliffe said. “The ideal thing is to find one you work with long-term. But I’ve got to work with a lot of good guys and learned a lot with each. It’s helped my career.”

He’ll have another new one either way in 2015. Per SPM team manager Rob Edwards, Ben Bretzman will move to Team Penske to engineer Simon Pagenaud’s car. So options are available.

“We have options both internal and external for James,” Edwards said. “The thing that’s our strength is the balance on the engineering group. The way we’ve worked together is good.”

Also per Edwards, he hopes to have Hinchcliffe out on track for his first test in the next three to four weeks.

Hinchcliffe downplayed the new “team leader” status, as he said he always felt part of the Andretti family.

“I never felt left out at Andretti by any stretch, but there were so many good drivers,” he said. “Being ‘team leader’ if you want, puts a bit of emphasis on certain things. My hope it allows us to work in a style more suited to me, or get the car tailored that way, but still help the team overall.”

Lastly from a Honda standpoint, it’s important for the manufacturer to have kept him in the fold for 2015. Hinchcliffe is up for engine development and all the off-track commitments that go with the job.

“It’s a great company to work with, and there’s no question that had a huge impact on where I’d end up,” he said. “They’re a great partner on and off. We’ll push as hard as we can on the engine side, but you know me man, this is what I do (all the off-track stuff).”

Speaking of the off-track stuff, Hinchcliffe is already in season competitive form. During a media event Tuesday night in Indy, media members joined Hinch and girlfriend Kirsten Dee on one of Indianapolis’ Handlebar Indy outdoor bar patio/bicycles to race against the Indy Eleven minor league soccer team on another bicycle. The media team won, aided in part by a great (the other team argued sketchy) restart on the way into Banker’s Life Fieldhouse.

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.”