“He is only eighteen but the family have already had to sacrifice so much to come over here. I think it made him grow up a lot more than many other eighteen year olds. I think he is already really mature.” So speaks 114 Motorsports Team Manager Livia Lancelot; the recently retired multi WMX World Champion who is now overseeing the 2018 title push of a special talent in the MXGP paddock.
For many Hunter Lawrence is in the same mould as other racers from his country like Casey Stoner and Chad Reed; the youngster from the Sunshine Coast – now a resident in Lommel, Belgium at least until his transfer to the United States and the revered Geico Honda team for 2019 – has the technique and the speed (and the mentality evidently) to go a long way in this sport.
“From the very beginning I realised that he was a special kid,” says friend, 2017 MX2 championship runner-up and teammate at Suzuki Jeremy Seewer; the pair were together on the yellow bikes last year in what was Lawrence’s rookie Grand Prix season. “On practice days in the winter I could see that he was quick and smart…and I could also learn from him also.”
It could be said that Lawrence approaches an interview in the same way he guides a dirtbike; he is honest, gives his full attention and effort and places careful emphasis on his answers at the right time. Sometimes he loses his thread and the nerves of being a teenager (but one that is already surfing a crest of hype) and not used to the spotlight comes through: he’ll have to get more au fait with the interrogation process.
There is some classic racing narrative to his story: his family battle to support his racing efforts, receive an offer from Europe, sell everything and move across the world and endure homesickness swapping the Australian climate for the frequent grey skies of northern Europe. He won almost immediately in the EMX250 European Championship – the feeder series to Grand Prix – but then injuries his knee in 2016. 2017 in Grand Prix and on the Suzuki starts a little rough. “I made a lot of stupid decisions and a lot of mistakes came from the fact that I doubted myself,” he recalls. “Many of the early GP crashes came down to that and I was struggling. I had no confidence on the bike and was thinking ‘if I do this, then what is the bike going to do?’”
By the end of the season Lawrence had it figured out. Two podium finishes from the last two rounds, a race win and then success at the Motocross of Nations for his country and the Ricky Carmichael Award as best young rider led to confirmation at Geico, as well as the chance to get used to the Honda at 114 Motorsports in a hurried attempt at the MX2 title in just his second term before America and Supercross calls.
For 2018 Lawrence is standing on a bridge. His story means that pressure is a constant part of the job, and it must be a lot for an eighteen year old to bear but, perhaps in almost-stereotypical style, he has a character to deal with the ticking clock. “We had five garage sales, we sold the cars, the house and all we had to chase this dream,” he reveals. “Some might say it is stupid but we had nothing to lose. In Australia we were struggling to put food on the table every week and if we sold everything and started again from zero in Europe it would be no different for us. Do we stay with nothing or leave with nothing and chase some dreams? In the end, as a family, it was a no-brainer.”
“I would say I have quite a calm and easy-going personality and not many things bother me,” he continues. “I’m quite relaxed…and a bit of a clown! I can be talking crap with mates a minute before the gate drops but when that 30 second board goes up then it’s work time. I couldn't be at the racetrack all day and be over-thinking stuff. Perhaps it is just a trait of an Australian and in some ways it is good and some ways bad. I don't get fazed too much and I think it is hard to get in my head. I don't take crap from anyone and I don't mind ‘dishing it out’. I think I’m ‘what you see is what you get’.”
For all of his resolve, both as part of his character and what has been instilled into his competitive persona through circumstance, Lawrence knows his MX2 goals and the will to be world champion balance on a narrow beam. “That's true. And I have switched from telling myself that all winter to just blocking it out,” he admits. “I think if you keep stating that the title has to be won then it’ll get to you. I’ve been working a lot physically and mentally in the off-season and as far as I’m concerned [Pauls] Jonass [reigning champion] is coming in with the red plate and the only thing he can do is repeat 2017. [Thomas Kjer] Olsen [3rd in 2017] can only go two better so I think they have pressure to do better and not worse. I’m on a privateer team and not on a factory bike and I think there are odds stacked against me. It is going to be interesting and I like a challenge and love to be the underdog. We’re looking at this shot from every aspect we can think of and we want to give it our all. If we are not going to be in-it-to-win-it then we want to make it bloody hard for the other guys. That's my angle.”
2018 could be an objective too grandiose for someone so young and relatively inexperienced to seize but with his family (including fast younger brother Jet making speed) and people like Lancelot in his corner then the next six months could be a special chapter in a fascinating trajectory. “From what I have seen already I think he can be world champion, and needs to put all the little details together in his racing to make it happen,” Livia says. “He just needs to limit the mistakes from wanting it so much.”