Dakar: Robby Gordon hits Stage 5 podium; Russia’s Vasilyev takes narrow win (VIDEO)

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Robby Gordon’s roller coaster of a 2015 Dakar Rally continued on Thursday.

This time, however, he and co-driver Johnny Campbell went way up.

Gordon, who opened the event with a second-place finish in Stage 1 but has since been bitten by mechanical issues, started Thursday’s Stage 5 from Copiapo to Antofagasta, Chile from the 18th position.

He quickly settled into a front-running pace and actually led the field early at the second way point. His No. 308 Gordini lost time going into the next way point, but Gordon would ultimately move back into podium position at the 10th and final way point before finishing third, 1 minute, 25 seconds behind winner Vladimir Vasilyev of Russia.

It’s a big result for the Gordon/Campbell duo after a tough ending to their Stage 4 on Wednesday. Gordon opened that stage (Chilecito, Argentina to Copiapo) strong with the second-fastest time through the first way point.

But a mechanical problem in the Gordini’s drivetrain forced the team to stop and make repairs. The issues led to the loss of almost an hour and a half on the clock and a dismal 47th-place finish.

Wednesday’s problems came two days after Gordon and Campbell lost more than four hours in Stage 2 because of overheating brakes and then a tow-in to the finish after an additional breakdown.

“With stage wins in previous Rally events and good runs like today, we prove that we can run with anyone,” Gordon said Thursday in a release. “None of our issues this week were really avoidable and they were freak incidents. We’re hopeful that these weird issues are behind us and our plan is to win multiple stages before the end of this year’s Dakar to make our presence known.”

Altogether, it’s been up and down for the former NASCAR and IndyCar driver so far. With two podiums in five stages, it appears the Gordini has a decent pace to work with as long as it can hold up and stay reliable.

But whether you’re a single-car privateer like Gordon or part of a multi-car squad from big boys Mini, Peugeot, or Toyota, attaining dependable reliability in the Dakar can be quite the struggle.

Up front, Mini driver Vasilyev and Toyota’s Yazeed Alrajhi swapped the lead in the final stretch before Vasilyev won the stage by a mere 20 seconds after having held a lead of six and a half minutes over the Saudi at the fifth way point.

Vasilyev keeps Mini a perfect 5-for-5 in the 2015 Dakar after holding off Alrajhi, who looks ready to score his first Dakar stage win very soon after two podiums in the last three days. Still, the rookie didn’t sound like he’s ready to raise his expectations too much.

“I think I can do better, but we’ll see what’s going on and when we can push more,” Alrajhi said. “I hope that I’m one of the main actors in the race and that we win the Dakar soon. Not this year – this year, I’ll take it easy and not take risks.

“After all, my fans would be angry saying, ‘Why on your first time did you fight to win and you’re out after 6 stages?’ There’s a long way to go but if this year, I finish, I hope, on the podium, then next year, there will be no excuses for me and I’ll have a good chance to win.”

Nasser Al-Attiyah was fourth-quickest on Thursday, down 3 minutes, 24 seconds to Vasilyev. But he was able to extend his overall lead to more than 10 minutes over Toyota’s Giniel de Villiers, who finished off the podium for the first time in the 2015 Dakar with a sixth-place showing. Peugeot’s Stephane Peterhansel was fifth.

NBCSN’s coverage of the Dakar Rally continues Friday at 4 p.m. ET.

2015 Dakar Rally – Overall Standings, Cars
(After Stage 5 – Copiapo to Antofagasta)
1. 301-Nasser Al-Attiyah (Mini), 16hrs, 53mins, 26secs
2. 303-Giniel de Villiers (Toyota), + 10mins, 35secs
3. 325-Yazeed Alrajhi (Toyota), + 20mins, 29secs
4. 307-Krzyzstof Holowczyc (Mini), + 48mins, 55secs
5. 314-Erik Van Loon (Mini), + 53mins, 25secs
6. 315-Bernhard Ten Brinke (Toyota), +56mins, 19secs
7. 310-Vladimir Vasilyev (Mini), + 1hr, 9mins, 52secs
8. 309-Christian Lavieille (Toyota), + 1hr, 13mins, 59secs
9. 302-Stephane Peterhansel (Peugeot), + 1hr, 19mins, 17secs
10. 329-Aidyn Rakhimbayev (Mini), + 1hr, 21mins, 32secs

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.”