Jenson Button wins first race of Legends doubleheader at Sebring

The Race

Former Formula One champion Jenson Button won the opener of Saturday’s Legends Trophy doubleheader at Sebring International Raceway, leading all five laps from the pole to his first victory in the series.

The Legends Trophy is an eSports league for former racers 40 and older. There were 20 drivers in the virtual race, including Emerson Fittipaldi, Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Jacques Villeneuve, Rubens Barrichello and Max Papis.

Juan Pablo Montoya finished second, 2.16 seconds behind Button, after starting fifth. World Touring Car legend Andy Priaulx took third.

Button was rewarded with a $10,000 donation to the House of Ruth, which helps families victimized by domestic violence.

“It’s amazing how nervous you get on this,” Button said after the race. “I was more nervous on this than I am in real life. For everyone, it’s impressive to see. For Emerson Fittipaldi to get on here and be as quick as he is is really impressive at 73! This isn’t our bread and butter. This isn’t normal for us, it’s definitely different.

“But it’s been a lot of fun to race against people I’ve raced against in Formula 1 and other categories. Plus drivers I wish I had the opportunity to race against. This is pretty awesome.”

In the second race, the starting grid of identical McLaren M23s was based on the reverse finishing order of the first to land five-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro the pole position. Aided by a massive multicar incident on the start, Pirro wasn’t challenged in leading all five laps.

Castroneves finished second, 2.61 seconds behind Pirro. Dario Franchitti held off Priaulx on the final lap to finish third.

Pirro became the fifth different winner in five Legends Trophy races, joining Button, Franchitti, Jan Magnussen and Rubens Barrichello.

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.”