Rosberg quickest in first practice for Russian GP in Sochi

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Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg has finished fastest in the first free practice session for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in Sochi.

As the F1 paddock continues to send its prayers and support to Marussia’s Jules Bianchi following his accident at last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, the on-track action got back underway this morning in Russia as the drivers took to the Sochi Autodrom circuit for the first time.

In a mark of respect to Bianchi, Marussia has confirmed that it will run with just one car in Sochi this weekend, with Max Chilton being the team’s only representative in FP1.

The new circuit posed a challenge to a number of drivers as they enjoyed their first real running in Sochi, with Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso both having off-track moments in the first session.

Nico Rosberg complained that he did not feel totally comfortable with the setup on his Mercedes car during the session, but rallied to finish fastest with a lap of 1:42.311, less than one-tenth of a second faster than teammate and championship rival Lewis Hamilton.

Despite his spin, Button managed to produce a good result in third place, with Alonso in fourth ahead of McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen.

On home soil, Daniil Kvyat made an impressive start to the weekend, finishing seventh for Toro Rosso behind Sergio Perez. The Russian youngster was followed by Kimi Raikkonen and Toro Rosso teammate Jean-Eric Vergne.

Valtteri Bottas rounded out the top ten for Williams, but his session came to an early end when his tire blanket malfunctioned and burned a hole through his tire.

Down the order, Sergey Sirotkin’s first practice session for Sauber saw him finish 18th, some 1.5 seconds slower than teammate Adrian Sutil, while Roberto Merhi finished down in 19th place for Caterham.

This weekend’s race marks the first ever Russian Grand Prix to be part of the F1 world championship, and the early signs coming out of Sochi are encouraging. The challenge of working with a new circuit is one that all of the drivers will be hoping to live up to, but once again it appears that Rosberg and Hamilton will be the men fighting for the race win on Sunday.

You can join us for FP2 live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 6am ET today.

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.”