Looking back at the Australian's first outdoor series in the US during 2019.
With the 2021 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship firing to life this weekend at Fox Raceway, MotoOnline’s latest Rewind looks back at Hunter Lawrence’s roller-coaster debut 2019 season in the 250 Class.
In May 2019, the 19-year-old Australian lined up at the opening round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship at Hangtown. Despite sitting astride a Geico Honda and having been a regular visitor to the MXGP podiums over the previous two seasons, Lawrence entered his first US 250 championship as something of an unknown on the American scene.
Prior plans to race that year’s Monster Energy Supercross championship had been thwarted after he broke his collarbone before the season started, which kept him waiting until the outdoors to make his US debut. After qualifying seventh-fastest in his first appearance, the Sunshine Coast rider kept a level head and posted consistent 11-12 results for 11th overall at Hangtown.
The next weekend at Pala, though, Lawrence burst into the limelight and could’ve won the overall if it hadn’t been for a first-moto tangle with Jordon Smith while running in third place. Unable to restart the bike – the oil cap had been dislodged earlier in the race by a rock – he was forced to retire.
In the second moto, Lawrence came out firing and stalked championship leader Adam Cianciarulo before sling-shotting into the lead. It was short-lived though, as he tipped over in a soft crash a few laps later and handed back the lead to Cianciarulo. Even though he finished the day in ninth overall, that runner-up result in the second moto proved to everyone that Hunter Lawrence was the real deal.
After a solid eighth overall the following weekend at Thunder Valley, Lawrence’s season ‘high point’ came at High Point, Mt Morris, PA when he stormed to his first race win on US soil.
In the opening race the enigmatic Australian rounded the first turn in third, then passed Colt Nichols and Justin Cooper in the same corner on consecutive laps to jump into the lead. As a Star Yamaha battle raged behind him, Lawrence rode a smooth, fast race to take a momentous victory. He followed it up with an impressive third place in the second moto to finish the day a career-best third overall.
“It was the best day of my life,” Lawrence said afterward. “I got an awesome start and made some passes, but the last three laps of that first moto were so hard. Everything and anything popped into my mind and I just had to tell myself to focus on the job and get both wheels across the line. It would’ve been awesome to go 1-1, but my start in the second race wasn’t as stellar as the first one and I took too long to get around Colt.”
The results kept coming for Lawrence, as he clawed his way up the 250 leaderboard. With the exception of an 11th overall in the deep sand of Southwick, Hunter racked up top five results at Florida and Redbud, then returned to the podium with another commanding race win at Spring Creek.
In difficult, muddy conditions the Geico Honda rider dominated the opening moto, winning by more than 13 seconds, before finishing sixth in the second race after a mediocre jump off the gate. He had muscled his way up to fourth in the standings with four rounds remaining when disaster struck during a practice session with his team.
In what was dubbed a ‘freak accident’, an engine malfunction saw it seize at the top of a jump and the talented racer landed heavily, breaking his collarbone for the second time that year. Lawrence only missed two rounds before he returned to racing at the Budds Creek National, where he qualified fourth and finished 12th overall with a 10-13 scorecard.
However, bad luck would again strike before the final round at Ironman, IN, when he tore his ACL and meniscus and mildly sprained his MCL during a training incident: “I’m gutted is an understatement,” he said at the time. “It’s a bit of a rock-bottom moment for the year, but I don’t doubt I’ll be back… it’s not how I wanted to end the year, but hey, it happens.”