Maldonado happy with Barcelona pace, but remains cautious over rivals’ pace

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Pastor Maldonado is refusing to get ahead of himself despite finishing as the fastest driver on the first day of testing in Barcelona on Thursday.

The Lotus driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:25.011 to finish ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in the final classification, but suffered two early setbacks when the car stopped out on track in the morning, causing two red flag periods.

However, he explained to the media in Barcelona that these were minor issues, and he was otherwise delighted with the day’s running.

“Some sensor failures, but very easy to fix the problems,” Maldonado said. “I think from my point in view in terms of reliability, it’s a huge step forward from last year. We saw that even at the last test in Jerez. With a new car, we were running immediately. It’s positive.

“Today was good. I’m a bit happy, but it’s not enough, so we need to try and improve some particulars in the car. I know it’s early but we don’t have a lot of time to think – we need to react and be fully ready for the first race.”

Maldonado explained how he feels more confident driving the E23 Hybrid than he did last year’s car, the E22, but is reserving his judgement on the relative pace of Lotus for the time being.

“Yes, [I have] much more confidence in the car,” he said. “For sure, we need to keep working on the setup and keep working in some particular areas, but a much better feeling.

“There are teams that did not put on the soft tires. We don’t know their level of fuel. What we know is that we’ve always been doing long runs, around 10-12 laps. We had enough fuel to do some different tests and some good laps, and after the laps to do some long runs.

“We still are at that point, checking different things in the car, and it seems like we are understanding the car and improving step by step.”

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.”