Drivers that came up short at Long Beach look for big runs at Alabama

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If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

That may be a well-worn axiom, but it perfectly tells the mindset of several IndyCar drivers heading into this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Some drivers, like Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power, had strong runs in this past Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, but didn’t feel they got as much as they could or should have from their cars when it comes to overall finish in that race.

Others, like Marco Andretti, hopes to turn around what has been up to this point a struggle of a season through the first three races.

Here’s what several drivers in this weekend’s have to say about their hopes in the first true road course race of the season:

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Helio Castroneves (No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet): “It has been a couple of years since we’ve had the type of finish at Barber we look for in the AAA Chevrolet. We won the pole last year, but the race didn’t turn out very well. It’s a challenging track. We’ve had three podiums and a win here and need to get back to that type of performance. I feel like we’ve let some opportunities get away so far this season. Last week at Long Beach, we led a bunch of laps, but not the right ones. Not unhappy about the start of the season at all. We just need to get some better finishes and we will.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We’ve had a tremendous amount of success at Barber in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy, leading quite a few laps, so we’re looking forward to getting on the track there this weekend. We haven’t won a race there since 2012, so I do want to change that. I wasn’t particularly satisfied with our Long Beach result, which makes getting right back to it this week good for us. Obviously, it has been an up-and-down start to the season for us and getting a good result at Barber can get us on the right track as we head into that important month of May.”

LUCA FILIPPI (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): “The Barber Motorsports Park event is the first road course race of the season so it will be interesting to see how we can perform there. Also, after a disappointing weekend (finished 17th at Long Beach), it’s good to have a race the weekend right after and to already be focused on a new race. Barber is a place I like. I had a good weekend there last year. It’s a very technical track so I think we will have to do fine-tuning work for the qualifying car and the race car.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 hhgregg/Snapple Honda): “Barber would be a good place to get my season going. It’s been a rough start (ranked 19th in the standings) and we need to turn things around this weekend. The cars felt good at the Barber test, so hoping to build on that. As a permanent road course, I love Barber – it’s fast, flowing and fun to drive.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda): “I’m so happy that we only have to wait a couple days to get back in the car after what was certainly a weekend to forget in Long Beach (finished 20th). This will be the first road course race for us and, based on the test that we had here last month, I am going in with high expectations. We really need a strong weekend and I know all the guys will be pushing hard to make that happen.”

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