American Motocross Fans: Get To Know Hunter Lawrence
Hunter Lawrence is one the many talking points of the 2017 MXGP of USA. Prior to Sunday’s motos, the Australian teenager was practically unknown to the majority of most American race fans. The Suzuki World MX2 rider is currently competing in his rookie season of the Monster Energy FIM Motocross World Championship, a global tour that has exposed Lawrence to new experiences on and off of the track. In the days before the race took place, we were able to spend an hour with Lawrence discussing his career path and what comes next. We discussed the move from Australia to Belgium, working with the team headed by Stefan Everts, and his plans for the next few years. And yeah, that includes a move to the United States at some point.
What were the credentials you had in Australia that had you move to Europe?
It was going across back and forth for the Junior World Championships in Europe. The last time that we went to Spain on the 125 I got third overall and that was sort of the thing actually that Ben Townley spoke with managers of the Kawasaki MX2 team about. He said, "Look you need to give this kid a chance or sign him." And that's what sort of got it started. We got the opportunity with that and it's how we started.
You did the EMX 250 championship with the Kawasaki team and are now a rookie in MX2 with the Suzuki team. How has the transition gone for you?
It's cool and different. In EMX you have ten minutes of a warm-up and fifteen minutes for qualifying, then you don't race for hours until race one, and then the next race is the next day. The GP is a lot better because you have three rides on Saturday and the motos on Sunday. You have a lot more track time which is really cool and it's a good transition. The level is a lot higher, obviously, because it's a world championship rather than just the European.
To move from Australia to Europe, what sort of change in lifestyle is that?
It's massive. The first year it took a lot to get used to, but now we're used to it. Everything like finding a structure in the program, food stores to get good food, a gym, just everything to get a structure takes so long to find. We've got it all sorted now, which is good, and we look forward to having another winter offseason. Because next year will be my second year in MX2 and we know what to work on.
You're based in Belgium. What tracks will you ride for practice?
In Belgium you can find sand everywhere, so it's the hard packed tracks that you have to drive a little bit more for. In Belgium there is Lommel, Honda Park, and a lot of other sand tracks. We have a base in East Germany at Heiko Klepka's (Ken Roczen's father) and that's surrounded by hard packed tracks. For the Valkenswaard GP, we spent the preparation for that in Belgium with all of the sand. But to prepare for Arco or hard packed rounds, we will go to Germany for all of the tracks there.
What spurred the move to Europe? You could have stayed in Australia and cut your teeth there in the National and Supercross series.
Honestly, the Australian motocross in my eyes is not going anywhere. Yeah, it's good and well but it's not a very big industry. European and American motocross is twice as big in spectators and everything around it. I wanted to chase my dreams and to come overseas and race is what it was, to get out of Australia, because it was limited. There are not many rides, if you're not the number one guy in Australia you're not going to earn a living to set yourself up for what you can do in Europe or America. You can set yourself up quite good here or in Europe without being the number on guy, but in Australia you're going to have a good life but it's not going to be what it can be.
You have a good relationship with everyone at the Suzuki World MX2 team. How is it to be with Jeremy Seewer, Arminas Jasikonis, and Stefan Everts?
It's really cool. We all get along and for the flyaway races we travel together as the team. Everyone gets along, which is good, especially when you are traveling to a place like Argentina that has thirty-six hours of travel time. If you're with people you don't like, it'll be the longest hours ever [Laughs]. With that it's very cool and at the races we spend a lot of time together. It's good to have a team relationship and it brings the mood up. If you have a crappy race or something, when you have good people around it helps to bounce back for the next race. Outside of racing Jeremy, Arminas, and I hang out and we're best mates outside of racing. Coming from a different country and not having your friends, this is cool.
One thing I like about the GP series is that it's exotic. You're always traveling to new places, be it Russia one week and then Latvia or South America. How is it to see these cultures?
It's amazing. It's cool to travel and I still have to pinch myself sometimes because being in Australia, if you want to go to another country you are already quite a long ways away. The closest thing that we have is New Zealand. In Europe you can drive from Belgium to Germany or France, and see so many places or things. We got to Russia and Argentina and the coolest thing of all is that we get to see these spots while racing our dirt bikes. The only other spot that would be good to go to would be to have a GP in Australia or Japan. But we go to all over the world and it's awesome.
That's one amazing thing about the GPs. If it's far away, you'll fly in on a Thursday and then will go to the hotel. On Friday you might go on a run or something around the place, and then you go to the track.
What's your favorite country so far?
I really like where I'm based in Germany. It's in the middle of nowhere. I hate cities where there are so many people, because I like doing my own thing. In Switzerland where Jeremy is from, I like to stay with him. He's in the German side of Switzerland and that's not the side with the big mountains, but it's nice there. I think Switzerland and Germany are my favorites.
How is it when you have to find food or other things when you're in a place like Thailand or Indonesia?
The team manages the hotels and find the flights for us, so they have all of that sorted. But as far as food goes, when you're in someplace like Russia we were quite lucky. We thought it would be difficult but the food there is good. I think coming from Australia to Europe was the biggest difference. Once you're in Europe, all of the food around Europe is similar and good. The further east you go into Europe, the better the food is I think. It's always interesting in places like Indonesia, because they have some crazy stuff. That's one place that you only eat in the hotel. If you're in Argentina, you can eat anywhere.
How many languages do you speak?
I can speak a little bit of Germany, not a lot but I get by during the week.
What do the next five years look like for you? Would you like to come to the United States and race here full-time?
I would hate to leave Europe without achieving something. To me, America is the next step so if I was to leave and come here without achieving something here, then it's not right. It would feel like I left a door open. My goal and what I'm working on is to be a world champion. Everyone can say that they want to be one, but it's so difficult to get that and I know that. But I didn't move from Australia to Europe to fill the gates and fight for place twelve or seven. In years to come I would love to come and race in America. That's a goal of mine that I would love to tick off.
Being eighteen years old, you're the product of the Chad Reed-Michael Byrne-Andrew McFarlane era. Did they inspire you as a kid?
They were a little bit too ahead of my time. I only really started getting serious into racing when I was twelve. I raced and stuff, but I didn't look out of Australia. I just did small races in southeast Queensland, which is a six-hour radius of a series. But once I got into racing, Reedy was in America at the time that I started to look up to him. We looked into it years later when we found out that he went to Europe and stuff like this. A lot of Aussie guys have come overseas and for me Reedy was a guy. So was Villopoto, he was the guy I looked up to because there wasn't so many great Australian motocross riders at that time. I was at the end of the Carmichael era and sort of the Villopoto was the next guy, so I looked up to him a lot. Now I don't have an idol, because I'm racing and want to be my own guy.
To get on the podium in your rookie year is huge. Are things in the MX2 class easier or more difficult than what you expected?
For sure it was difficult. The first round in Qatar was really cool, my second moto was great, so was qualifying. It was all better than I expected. But the next three rounds I really struggled and it went down fast. When I look back now it was only four rounds that I struggled at so badly with myself and my confidence, but at that time it already felt like round ten and I was struggling every weekend. But we kept working and changed what we worked on. I think that I would have loved to be on the podium more, but we're working and trying. There are a lot of hurdles in the way but I think that everything happens for a reason. Some guys get dealt good cards and some don't, and I think we can keep working to turn what we have into something good.
From the outside looking in, it seems like you've had everything you need in a rookie season happen already. There are good finishes, some struggles to learn from, and an injury (compressed vertebra), all of which will help in the long run. It seems like you can go into next year having gone through every scenario.
Exactly. That's true that you say that. We have learned a lot. The injury looking back on it was an ego thing, but I was in the lead (at an ADAC race in Germany) and was pushing when I didn't have to. I could have won without doing the jump and I did it because I could have been a bit faster. Everything adds up and at the end of the year, when the racing is over, we're going to draw it up on a board and know what to work on. That's what I'm excited about. I want to see how we come to round one next year with all of the knowledge and experience.
You've been selected to represent Australia in the Motocross of Nations. How does that feel? It's something that you've never done before. Have you ever gone and watched it?
No, and I have no idea what to expect [Laughs]. It'll be my first ever Nations that I've gone to and I'm racing at it, which is amazing. Last year I was selected but with my injury I couldn't go, so I was bummed. It's cool with everything about it. You get to do your gear in your country and you race for the country. It's a really cool track, Matterley Basin, I've never ridden there but it's a cool thing. I get used to being around the Euros so long that when you don't speak your own language, you get locked into your own world. When you're in England, you can understand what everyone talks about.
You have a younger brother, Jett, and he is equally badass on a motorcycle. How did your family figure out that you were both so good?
Jett is a world champion on 65cc bikes and he would go to Belgium also. I've pretty much been the guinea pig with my dad. We tried so many things and now Jett is in a good spot. All of the mistakes that I made we tell Jett not to. We're sweeping the path for him a little bit. He is in Europe racing for Suzuki and it's another story of what he want's to do. You'd have to ask him [Laughs].
Is your dad an ex-racer?
No, he sucked at riding a bike [Laughs]. He rode for fun, but was into drag cars. He had the flannel shirt and the mullet, but his mate convinced him to buy a dirt bike. He did it for fun, enduro riding in the bush of Australia, but he was not a good rider.
What pulled you into racing then?
He got me a bike and I was riding, but I wanted to do some racing. I think I did one or two years of racing in Australia, just club days and local races. I would get out of the gate and just stand up to ride around in last place. I just had fun riding around then. But two years went by and I wanted to win, so to get better I started training. We went to some coaches and stuff, and that's how it escalated.