Could Long Beach provide the venue for Pagenaud’s first Penske win?

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – If there’s one track that immediately stands out as a place where Simon Pagenaud could get his first win with Team Penske, it’s Long Beach.

And if that lede reads similar to a post I did two years ago asking whether Long Beach could be the place to provide Pagenaud his first overall win in the Verizon IndyCar Series, it’s because it is.

No, Pagenaud hasn’t won in an IndyCar at Long Beach… yet.

But given Penske’s early season prodigious pace and Pagenaud’s Long Beach pedigree, there’s good reason to think the driver of the No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet could be standing in Victory Lane come Sunday afternoon.

In 2006, a then 21-year-old, unheralded, but much longer-haired Frenchman made his U.S. debut on these same streets in the Formula Atlantic race, finishing fourth and sandwiched in-between fellow future IndyCar drivers James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal.

In 2010, Pagenaud pulled out an incredible last lap pass on Adrian Fernandez to win the American Le Mans Series race here, in a down-on-power HPD P2-spec prototype compared to Fernandez’s screaming Lola-Aston Martin V12 P1-spec car.

And in 2012, Pagenaud so nearly caught Will Power in the waning stages of the race as Power sought to save fuel. It marked his first career podium finish in IndyCar.

“For me it’s a special place,” Pagenaud told MotorSportsTalk during Thursday’s media luncheon ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

“It’s the first place I raced in America. For me, it’s where my career really began in the U.S.

“It’s a track I really like from a driving standpoint, and where I’ve had great success. Even on a bad day, we have had good success.

“I feel like it’s the start of the championship run. I’m with the best team now. So I’m really excited to get to show our pace.”

Last year, of course, the two nearly came to blows after Power contacted him at Turn 6.

Pagenaud has a more recent sparring partner in the form of Ryan Hunter-Reay, when the two collided last week at NOLA Motorsports Park. The subsequent contact that took both them and Sebastien Bourdais out of the race ended the race as a whole.

Pagenaud confirmed his chassis for this week is the same tub, fully repaired and ready to go this weekend.

“It looks brand new. And for proof, I just looked at it, and they waxed the skid under the car!” Pagenaud said.

After qualifying second and finishing fifth in St. Petersburg and starting fifth and losing the potential of a second straight top-five last week, Pagenaud looks to recover this weekend and is determined to secure his first win with his new team.

“That’s the goal. It’s gonna come,” Pagenaud said. “I’m actually not pressuring myself. It’s gonna happen. I can see it.

“We’re plenty fast. Not missing any pace. We just need the luck to turn for the 22 team, and we’ll be fine.”

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.”