Indy Lights: Carlin’s Ed Jones on top in opening race at St. Pete

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ST. PETERSBURG – Ed Jones and Carlin Racing have opened their American account and the new era of the Dallara IL15 Mazda in perfect style.

Jones delivered a dominant drive to win the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season-opening Mazda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Peninsula Pipeline, Round 1 on the season and one of two races to open the 2015 campaign.

From pole, the Dubai-based driver got out to an early lead in the No. 11 entry while the rest of the field scrapped for second behind him.

Jones’ teammate Max Chilton, the ex-Marussia F1 driver and future NISMO LMP1 driver, was swamped on the start by Jack Harvey, Spencer Pigot and Scott Hargrove.

Chilton fell back before he and Felix Serralles made contact exiting Turn 2 on Lap 2, which put the race under a full-course caution.

Once the race resumed, Jones streaked away and didn’t have much competition at the front of the field – at least from humans.

“The race was really hard and the tires start to go off. You can’t go too hard on power,” Jones said.

“I kept seeing birds on the track and one time it caught me out completely. But other than that it was fine. I didn’t have to use push-to-pass, but it was nice to have.

“It was a good start for me, got the jump on Max and kept my head down.”

Harvey finished second, 3.7085 seconds in arrears, with 2014 Pro Mazda champion Pigot on the podium in his Indy Lights debut.

Hargrove and Kyle Kaiser completed the top five finishers.

Elsewhere Matthew Brabham’s race ended in 11th after incurring a drive-through penalty for contacting RC Enerson at Turn 1. Brabham sustained front wing damage in the incident and needed repairs.

Race two occurs tomorrow. The full package from the weekend, with Round 1 highlights and Round 2 in full, will air on NBCSN on Sunday, April 5, at 4:30 p.m. ET.

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.”