Johnstone pleased to have dealt with date shift challenge for Honda Indy Toronto weekend


President of Honda Indy Toronto Charlie Johnstone has taken the logistical and scheduling challenge of the 2015 event in his stride, believing that the revamped format of the race weekend will only help to draw in new fans for the IndyCar Series.

After functioning as a double-header round in both 2013 and 2014, this year’s Honda Indy Toronto has been reduced to just a single race and has been moved from its regular July slot to the middle of June due to the Pan Am Games.

This has produced a number of competitive and logistical challenges for the event organizers, but Johnstone has taken all of this in his stride and instead worked to create a bumper program of racing for the Toronto weekend.

“We’re not without our challenges this year from an operations standpoint,” Johnstone said. “But we’ve known these things were happening for a long time and have planned for them.

“I always chuckle when people ask, ‘What is it you do the rest of the year?’ Well, we plan for these weeks and days leading into it. Here we are race week and we’re ready to go.”

The Verizon IndyCar Series is supported by Indy Lights as per usual in Toronto, but has also been joined by six other championships including the Stadium Super Trucks series and the Canadian Touring Car Series.

“I think that’s the excitement of the weekend,” Johnstone said. “It’s not just about one series. It’s the Super Trucks, it’s Porsche, it’s the Canadian Touring Car Series, it’s the whole Road to Indy that we’ve got.

“Of course, it starts on Friday with Fan Friday so we open up our gates tomorrow for free, and we just ask for a donation to Make‑a‑Wish Foundation. From there, the Honda Dealers Association and Honda match that, so we raise a lot of money for a really great cause.

“It’s really about the whole festival atmosphere. It’s getting people down to the site that maybe haven’t been here before to really see and hear the sounds of Indy cars and see the drivers and get up close. That’s what creates that energy and excitement.”

Johnstone is confident that the festival atmosphere and extensive track action will do a great amount to win over new fans and encourage them to visit an IndyCar race in the future.

“The more we can do that to get people down on‑site, I think that continues for the next race,” Johnstone said.

“It helps the broadcast, people get engaged, they see it, they feel it, they smell it, and they come back next year, so that’s what we’ll continue to build on.”

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.”