DOWN ON THE UPSIDE WITH HUNTER LAWRENCE
By Eric Johnson
Photos by Ray Archer
"Eric, what are you doing?" asked Hunter Lawrence, likely bored out of his skull while tooling a passenger car through the Netherlands on his way to Germany. "I'm glad you called as I have some things I wanted to talk with you about." In what will be his final year of MXGP MX2 competition before making a well-documented exodus from Europe to put stakes in the ground here in California as part of the GEICO Honda organization, Lawrence has one final GP left to be run, that race set for storied Imola circuit in Italy in less than two weeks' time. From there, the Australian world traveler will pack up his gear bag and fly to America to line up for the rapidly approaching Motocross of Nations and RedBud in Michigan. Despite experiencing a season replete with ups (podium finishes) and downs (injuries and a handful of ill-timed miscues), Lawrence closed fast. Hovering in and around the top five at the last four Grands Prix, the speed has certainly been there and the number-96 Honda rider proved that last Sunday by posting up the TAG HEUER fastest lap in the MX2 class at the MXGP of The Netherlands. Behind the wheel and with some time on his hands, Lawrence got this writer up to speed on his immediate and not too distant future. Friendly, modest and a bit of a comedian, Lawrence, as always, made for interesting conversation. Read on.
What's happening, Hunter? Do you have a few minutes?
Yeah, sure, I've got more than a couple of minutes. I've got six hours.
Where are you headed?
I'm heading out to Kenny Roczen's old place.
Where is that?
Well, I'm in Lommel in Belgium and it's about five and a half hours from here. It's 550 kilometers east into Germany. They're on the east side of Germany. It's where Kenny grew up. There's a track there and a gym and stuff. I once lived there on-and-off for two years. It's cool.
Okay, looking back over your shoulder a few days. You placed eighth overall at the MXGP of the Netherlands at Assen with 6-10 moto scores. What's your take on the weekend?
Dude, honestly, it was the most mentally frustrating weekend of my career.
What went wrong?
Ah, it was just bonehead moves. Honestly, I've never been so close and on the speed in sand compared to those KTM and Husqvarna boys. Ever. This weekend I had all the speed in the world. It should have been an overall win for me or at least a second overall in my mind. The whole weekend in the pre-practice and timed practice and qualifying, the worst time I got was a fifth and that was in warmup on Saturday. In timed practice I was second. Then in the qualifying race, I just got cleaned out at the start. I've seen some pretty cool photos of me being run over. I ended up going from last to ninth. On Sunday in the warmup, I was third and was feeling good and wasn't pushing above over my head. In the races, I was looking for two starts that I'd been praying for the whole year. In moto one I was second and passed [Jorge] Prado in the third corner and was leading and I just tried a different line. He got me on that. I pushed to try and get him back and sort of forced myself into making a bit of a mistake. I picked myself up in fourth. I then tried to pass [Thomas] Covington. I was faster and just rushed a pass and I ended up crashing again. I ended up sixth. In the second moto, I was really motivated and super-keen to get back out there and not make those mistakes again. I got another awesome start and was right behind Prado and was second. From there I just fell over. I had to come from last and, honesty; it was just a nightmare with my bonehead moves. I just embarrassed myself. I had all the speed and everything.
Well, you have one Grand Prix left and that will be in a fortnight's time at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy.
Yeah, for sure. It'll be my last GP in Europe. I really want to do well at the last one. I'm looking forward to it. This is the last one for a while and what-not, but I'm looking forward to America. I mean I'm super-excited to go there and to be on the GEICO Honda team. I'm really looking forward to a good off-season on the bike and just having a good really level training and racing platform.
The Motocross of Nations is now only a few weeks away. To many, that race totally put you on the global racing map last year. You ready to hit it again?
Yeah, exactly. I'm super-pumped for that. I can't wait. It'll be my first race with the new team, so I want to do well. I want to do awesome for my country as well, you know? Being able to represent Australia again awesome. That's something you dream of as a kid. When you're a kid you think about how sick it would be to race for your country at the top level of the sport. It's like a dream come true, actually. Yeah, I'm a little bit excited about that.
Kirk Gibbs and Mitchell Evans will join you on Team Australia. Were you at all surprised that Chad Reed wasn't placed on the team?
Yeah, for sure. Everyone has their thoughts on that and stuff. I think it's awesome that he still wants to race. At his age, he still thinks he's got it, and he does. He still shows good results. I think at the Motocross of Nations last year at Matterley, Kurt Gibbs was really good on Saturday and on Sunday in the first moto he was also really good. That was his first Motocross of Nations, so I think from his performance at that event, it was kind of like, 'Hey, he earned his spot for 2019.' Okay, he's had injuries this year which is kind of a bummer, but I've also had injuries. And Mitch Evans, our MX3 guy, he stepped up to the 450 this year and has been the only guy to stick it to [Dean] Ferris in the Australian Championship. As far as Chad and the Motocross of Nations, yeah, there are mixed emotions for everyone. Hey, I think it's awesome he's still racing and stuff. I'm looking to watching him race the Monster Cup for JGR the week after the Nations. I'm excited for him. I've seen the videos on social media and he looks good. Yeah, best of luck to him.
So the U.S.-based GEICO Honda team is going to run you at RedBud, huh?
Yeah, that will be my first race with the team. My contract is done October 1. Yeah, it's going to be my first race with the team so it's cool. I'll get a chance to feel out the team. I've met most of the guys and it should be awesome. I'm looking forward to it. Everyone there is pretty cool. I'll bring over my race mechanic from this year who has been killing it. He's doing a really good job. We've had no bike failures or any problems. It'll also give me that confidence to go an work for one of the best teams in the world. It should be a nice, refreshing and fun weekend. The Motocross of Nations, there is no other event like it. It's one of the coolest races of the year ad it should be awesome.
The MX2 class at RedBud features an impressive roster of talent. What's your take on the guys you'll line up against?
I'm excited to race Aaron Plessinger. The other guys in MX2 I've been racing all year. I'm pretty sure the only guy I'll be racing that I haven't raced before is AP. I'm excited to see where I stand. Obviously, he's a double champ this year and I'm coming over, so I think it's great that we can race him and just kind of see where we are at before we really get to work. I'm excited to see what the level is. I want to do well. I want to win. I'm racing for Australia and for myself. I want to win. That's normal. Every other guy on the gate wants to win.
Have you been able to investigate Red Bud at all?
Yeah, I got the opportunity to go to Red Bud earlier this year at the National. I got to go to the National there while I was in America. The team had me come out to Red Bud to get a feel for the track and to just get a feel for the Nationals. It was cool. I was able to watch and check out the track and the National. That way my first AMA race that I got to see so that was pretty awesome. It was a race I watched as a kid while growing up. To finally get to experience it was pretty cool. It's a good feeling. The track looks really cool and I like how they use the natural landscape.
Okay, last question: What's Hunter Lawrence's master plan following the running of the Motocross of Nations?
I'm going to be out in the Cali sun and getting a feel for what it's like out in California. Everything is going ahead now and we're packing up the house at the moment here in Europe. Yeah, it's all happening. We're chucking all of our stuff into a couple of gear bags and moving countries again, so it's pretty cool that it's happening. I can't explain how stoked I am. This is what I've always wanted and for everything to finally be in motion and everything working out and actually going smooth, it's just unbelievable, you know?