Coyne’s Sunday at NOLA ends with missed podium shot, crewmember hit in pits


AVONDALE, La. – In strategy-based and/or timed races in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Dale Coyne Racing generally stands out as one of the teams to watch.

A strategic masterstroke from the pit wall put Carlos Huertas into position to win in Houston last year, and the Colombian rookie held the field off for a surprise but still well-executed first career victory.

So go figure Sunday at NOLA Motorsports Park, for the series’ inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana, DCR was in contention despite a last-place starting position.

Huertas, in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, ran second on an off-sequence strategy late in the eventual 47-lap, 105-minute race, before a spin under the fourth full course caution on Lap 36 put him back in the order.

The series sophomore finished 16th, and rued a missed opportunity.

“It’s my mistake,” Huertas told MotorSportsTalk. “I didn’t go massively fast. It was just the way the car was placed when I touched the throttle, but I lost it.

“For sure I lost a podium today. Maybe the win, I don’t know. It’s my mistake. I’m really sorry to the team.”

Coyne’s team also made headlines during the race for the wrong reasons when the team’s second car, driven by Francesco Dracone, contacted crewmember Todd Phillips entering the pits.

Phillips, Dracone’s crew chief and outside front tire changer, was being treated in care center for a cut to lower right leg.

Former DCR driver Justin Wilson provided an update on Phillips later Sunday night, saying he should be relatively OK.

Dracone’s pit contact capped off a challenging weekend where he spun multiple times in practice and also made contact with Helio Castroneves following a restart.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media

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.”