2017 Dakar Rally: Paraguay joins Argentina, Bolivia; Robby Gordon to bypass event

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The 2017 Dakar Rally has one major addition and one significant name missing from the list of competitors.

Dakar Rally coverage begins on Tuesday, January 3, at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

New to the 37th edition of the Rally is the addition of Paraguay to the course map, joining Argentina and Bolivia. Paraguay becomes the 29th different country to be one of the hosts of the Rally over its 36 years of existence, the last nine being held in South America after safety concerns prompted cancellation of the 2008 Rally.

This year’s Rally begins Jan. 2 in Asuncion, Paraguay and ends on Jan. 14 near Buenos Aires, Argentina.

NBCSN’s daily coverage of this year’s Dakar Rally begins on Jan. 3 at 5:30 p.m. ET.

“The route of the 2017 Dakar preserves rally-raid traditions,” new Rally sporting director Mark Coma said in a media release, adding “with a physical challenge that will push the competitors into the world of extreme endurance: 7 selective sections will be over 400 kilometers (248.548 miles) with one of more than 500 kilometers (310.686 miles).

2017-dakar-rally-logo-correct-one-use-this-one“The Rally will be spent 6 days at more than 3,000 meters (9,842.52 feet) above sea level. The balance of difficulties can be illustrated by a double upward trend: the level of difficulty will increase just until the rest day, then a second increase in power will be necessary to reach one’s ideal level for the ‘Super Belen.’ Nothing will be decided until the very last special stage at Rio Cuarto.”

As for the one significant name missing, American driver Robby Gordon – who has starred in IndyCar, NASCAR, off-road racing and is also the founder of the Stadium Super Trucks Series – will not be participating in this year’s event.

“The reason for not running Dakar is that I have been just way too busy with my other projects,” Gordon said in an email to MotorSportsTalk. “Stadium Super Trucks continues to grow, as we have a full schedule in 2017 with races on 3 continents, including 5 races in the US with IndyCar and 2 of our own Stadium Style events. In Australia we have a relationship with V8 Supercars where we have 2 events. And now we are going to China with Stadium Super Trucks for 2 events in 2017.”

Gordon is also working on new projects within his Speed Energy drink, the Arctic Cat 4-wheel platform and continues development of the Gordini Dakar race cars, which will not be ready for this year’s Rally.

However, there are three American competitors to keep a close watch on: motorcycle rider Ricky Brabec, who finished ninth in his Rally debut last year, and Mini driver Bryce Menzies (co-driver is fellow U.S. racer Peter Mortensen). Both Menzies and Mortensen are making their first appearance in the Rally.

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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.”