MCNews.com.au’s Todd Jarratt caught up with Hunter Lawrence earlier in 2015, following his unceasing domestic success and selection to once again represent Australia at the Junior World Motocross Championships (JWMC). Since that last chat, Lawrence has clinched the MX Nationals Rising Star Rookies championship, two Junior Australian Motocross championships, and most notably finished third at the JWMC in El Molar, Spain. In particular Lawrence’s performance in Spain caught the eye of the Monster Energy CLS Kawasaki Racing Team, which has led to the fresh faced 16-year-old signing a four-year deal with the team commencing 2016. We caught up with Hunter Lawrence to discuss how the deal came about, the major changes to his program, and where we will be seeing him compete in 2016.
Hunter Lawrence: Thank you very much mate! It has actually been pretty surreal seeing all of the support that has flowed in with the release.
TJ: I think it’s something everyone in Australia has hoped for since your podium at El Molar. Can you take us through that event?
HL: Yeah absolutely! The lead up to the event went really smoothly both back home and at the practice track in Spain. I had been putting in 40-minute motos back home to prepare for the race length in the heat, so I was confident in my fitness and felt really comfortable on the bike too. Then in Spain at rider’s briefing it was announced that the races would be shortened due to the heat, from 30 minutes plus two laps to 25 minutes plus two laps. This wouldn’t usually be an issue, but unfortunately I struggled off the start in both races and had to fight my way through the field. I picked my way through fairly well though and in both motos I made up a lot of ground in the last 10 minutes, which was good because it showed me that my fitness was up to scratch. Overall, we entered the event with a goal of finishing in the top five, so to finish third was a big achievement. In years past our 65 and 85 riders have always been pretty competitive on the world stage, but as we get to the 125 class our results seem to plateau out. I think this is because by the age of around 15 or 16 the European riders are operating under a completely different program to us, which is solely focused around racing. So to know that I could remain up front in the 125 class against those guys was something I was pretty happy about.
TJ: Oh absolutely, and obviously it caught the attention of a few international teams, because after all that’s why we are having this conversation.
HL: (Laughs) Yeah, it was actually a really big eye opener for me to come home and have phone calls from the Europeans. We had a few offers from a number of teams, but the Monster Energy CLS Kawasaki Racing Team really stood out to us. They had to source our contact details externally, and still managed to track us down, so knowing that they went to that effort was pretty humbling to be honest. Once we started communicating with the team they made it pretty clear that they wanted to work with us and make it a long term relationship, so we signed a four year deal, which is a dream come true for me. When I see names like Jordi Tixier, Thomas Covington, Dylan Ferrandis, and Petar Petrov associated with the team I’m going to be riding for I know the whole setup is great, so it’s now just up to me to make it work.
TJ: They are some pretty heavy hitting names in the MXGP world, does that put a little more pressure on you to perform?
HL: I don’t think so. Looking at the EMX series up and coming riders, KTM have Prado, Natzke, Mewse and Pootjes, Suzuki has Hsu, and Yamaha have Renaux just to name a few, so I kind of was in the right place at the right time, and I guess also doing the right thing in Spain, because Kawasaki needed a development rider and I fit their criteria.
TJ: You mentioned you will be Kawasaki’s development rider, so what classes does that sit you in during your four-year contract?
HL: So the plan is next year to race the EMX250 class, which is the European 250 Motocross Championship. It races at most of the MXGP rounds except those obviously out of Europe like Qatar, Thailand and USA. It also doesn’t have the age restriction of 23 like the MX2 class does in the MXGP, so basically all of the riders that exceed the age limit in the MX2 and don’t land themselves a MX1 ride drop back to the EMX250 class. Add in the fast young Europeans cutting their teeth and you realise it’s going to be a pretty stacked field. So I’ll be there next year and depending on how I perform I may spend another season in that class or if all goes well I may jump straight up into MX2 for 2017 and then remain there through 2019.
TJ: I’m going to change the topic a little now, because in years past the Monster Energy CLS Kawasaki Racing Team have run WP Suspension, Arai helmets, Scott goggles, Thor apparel and TCX boots – brands that are all new to you. Is this going to be your package next year or will we see some changes?
HL: I believe I’ll be running the same setup as the MX2 team, so the same gear and bike setup from top to bottom. I’ve never ridden the Kawasaki 250F so that’ll be a totally new experience for me, and one I’m definitely looking forward to! I’ve actually also never worn Arai helmets, Thor gear, Scott goggles or TCX boots, so it’s going to be a fresh start from head to toe, which is cool! Oh and I’m going to have a new number, 96, so that adds to the list as well!
TJ: Speaking of fresh starts, it’s got to be pretty crazy having the whole family uprooting from sunny QLD and moving to the other side of the world to allow you and Jett chase your dreams! How have Mum and Dad been managing the whole situation?
HL: Well as soon as I got the offer I had my bags packed ready to go. My mind was set and I think Mum and Dad saw that in me. I was ready to head off by myself if I had to, but we have been very fortunate in that Kawasaki have been able to offer support to Jett in Europe as well, so the whole family is making the move overseas. I think Mum and Dad have slept a lot less than any of us kids over the last few months, because there is a lot more to this move than meets the eye and they’ve been working around the clock trying to sort everything out. Dad, Jett and I are heading over first, to get things sorted as much as possible, and then in a few weeks time Mum and Tate will fly over. It has worked out well because Tate will get to finish out his school year and Dad, Jett and I will hopefully get into a bit of a routine by the time Mum and Tate make the switch, so it shouldn’t be too hectic.
TJ: Where in Europe will you guys be based? Have your parents got any plans for what they’ll be doing once you settle in?
HL: I believe we will be based in either northern Belgium or southern Holland, which are both close to the team headquarters and near the major sand tracks like Lommel. Then, over the Christmas period while most of that area is apparently frozen over, we will be staying down in southern France training with my teammate Petar Petrov. In terms of the parents plans into the future, Dad has actually been fortunate enough to pick up the role of practice mechanic for Jett and I, so that removes the stress of him having to go searching for a new job in a foreign country.
TJ: What do you see as being the most exciting part of moving to Europe under a professional contract at only 16?
HL: The biggest thing I’m looking forward to is that I will get to grow with the racing, with my competitors, and with my team from a younger age. I won’t be moving over there in my 20’s with the expectation of performing immediately in the MX2. I’ll get my feet wet, learn the ropes and hopefully be an established ‘European’ rider by that stage, which will make it all a lot easier.
TJ: Are there any familiar faces or names that you’ll be seeing in Europe?
HL: I know I’ll be racing quite a few of the same kids I have seen at the Junior World’s in years past, so they won’t be completely new faces, which is good because I’ll at least have a gauge of where I’ve sat against them previously. Then I might see guys like Ben Townley who I met and spoke with earlier in the year at the MX Nationals, or possibly even Josh Coppins who I have been lucky enough to work with before. In saying that though, I am moving to Europe with my family long term so I need to look at it in the light of making new friends and getting comfortable for the long haul. It’s not a nine month racing season where I can come back to Australia over summer and live with my family, this is a permanent change for all five of us, so we need to be in the mindset of getting set up, getting comfortable, making friends and growing accustom to our new home.
TJ: You touched on your work with Josh
Coppins prior to El Molar. How much knowledge and advice was he able to pass on to you in that short period of time, especially in regards to Europe where he was so successful?
HL: It was actually amazing how much information Josh was able to pass down to me, and even the amount of stories he had of his time in Europe over the years was crazy! He is one of those guys you can listen to all day and be totally engaged the whole time. We saw this year how much of a positive impact he had on Jay Wilson’s program, not only with his speed but in his technique too. I got to work with Josh prior to El Molar and like I said that time was invaluable because he has been to Europe, won races and led championships, that is something not many in history have been able to accomplish. Obviously he had some bad luck with injuries hampering his title hopes though, so he didn’t only experience the massive highs of winning, he also had to deal with the dark days and huge lows that came along with those championship blows. I respect him so much for that and admire how he was able to successfully handle the whole process of competing internationally.
TJ: I guess that support from guys like Josh couldn’t have come at a better time either, as it looks like you and Jett will be the youngest Australian exports to ever head to Europe under a full time contract. Does it ever cross your mind that you’re making this step a few years ahead of names such as Michael Byrne, Chad Reed, Brett Metcalfe and Andrew McFarlane?
HL: Ah yes and no. Obviously Jett and I will be the youngest to make the move, but we can’t compare ourselves to those names because you have to earn that through being successful in Europe or USA. There is a big difference between making it to Europe and making it in Europe, so we need to remember that and just keep doing our thing. Obviously from the outside people will compare us to guys like Reedy and that is actually a bit of a pat on the back I guess because it means people think we’re in the same league as him, but for now I’m just going to keep working hard and focus on our progress. Yeah, I would love to chase a career like Chad’s but it’s a long road and a lot of things can happen hey. I just want to stay healthy and see where a solid few years takes me. Whether I stay in Europe long term or move to the U.S. one day to race the AMA Supercross series is another question because that is something I definitely want to do. But like I said, I’ll just see how all of this pans out first.
TJ: Now that you’re so close to the moving date, what is the plan for schooling for the family? Obviously you’re now a professional motocross racer at 16, so that will be the end of schooling for you, but Jett and Tate have a few years left before they’re old enough to leave school?
HL: Jett will actually finish his year of school off by home schooling in Europe, whereas Tate is staying back in Australia and finishing his year off at home. Then once we get settled in either Belgium or Holland both Tate and Jett will attend school, while I’ll be doing the training side of things. Jett is still young enough where he should be all sweet in picking up a second language, so by the time he is maybe 15 or 16 he should be able to speak a second fluent language. Tate is a few years older and with his autism and A.D.D it may be a little harder for him to adjust to the languages and that kind of thing, but we have spoken to a few friends who have been over previously, and they said the support is great for young guys like Tate so that will be all cool I think.
TJ: Finally, because this is kind of like your final goodbye to Australia and your Australian motocross family, is there anyone you would like to say a particular thank you to before you jet off?
HL: Oh dude there are literally so many people that I need to thank. We have been travelling the country racing since I can remember and it’s all of the little pieces of support and advice along the way that really add up and have gotten us to where we are today. So, first and foremost I need to thank Mum and Dad, not only for supporting us kids, but for believing in us too. I also want to make a special thanks to our first ever sponsor – MAD Accessories. They are a small dirt bike shop in Mooloolaba, but made a big difference to our racing early on and I think that is something I’ll always remember. I also want to say a huge thank you to Paul Baericke from MPE Suspension, who tuned my bikes from back when I was on a 50 all the way up until I moved to Yamaha for 2015. Pauly was a big part of our program, especially when Dad was away working so I can’t thank him enough for everything he did for our family over the years. Then of course there is Greg Moss from Moss Institute. Mossy played a massive part in our career from an early age and both Jett and I learnt so much from him, so a huge thank you must go to Mossy for his coaching and mentoring.
I would also really like to thank Tam Paul and KTM Australia for their support through most of my junior years as well as Jett’s more recently. It meant a lot to have their backing from such a young age and we really appreciate everything they did for us. Finally, I would like to say a massive thank you to Scott Bishop, Mike Ward and Yamaha Australia for their support in 2015. Bish and Wardy weren’t just guys doing their jobs, they were great mates to me and took me under their wings. There were days when Mum and Dad couldn’t take me out riding, so Bish and Wardy would give up their time to come out with me, and that meant a lot to our family. They put 100% into my racing this year and I honestly believe their support this year played a big part in the opportunity I have now. I was only with the team for 12 months but it felt like I had been apart of their family from the start, so that’s a testament to how well we all got along! So yeah, Scott Bishop and Mike Ward are two guys I will always have huge amounts of respect and admiration for. They went above and beyond for me this year, and I really do appreciate everything they did! I know there will be people I have forgotten, but I just want everyone that has been involved with either myself or Jett’s careers so far to know that we, as a family really are thankful for the support, and hopefully we can make you all proud.
TJ: You’re a true champion Hunter and I think it goes without saying that everyone in the Australian motocross community would like to wish both you and your family the very best of luck for the big move and your future endeavours! Have fun and stay safe mate!
HL: Thank you very much mate I really do appreciate it! I hope I can make Australia proud!
Be sure to follow both Hunter and Jett’s progress via their associated Facebook and Instagram Pages:
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