After GEICO pulled the plug on being the main sponsors the GEICO Honda/Factory Connection Racing team, there was talks of Honda keeping Australian brothers Hunter and Jett Lawrence on in some capacity. Not much was said publicly until the Honda HRC team officially announced its 2021 roster on December 1, but the move was exactly as we expected: both Hunter and Jett each had a spot on a factory Honda CRF250R.
We have to look all the way back to 2008 to see the last factory Honda rider was Benjamin Coisy, as Davey Coombs recalled in Racerhead #39 in December. Shortly after, the Factory Connection team began running the premier Honda 250 program—and didn’t look back.
The Factory Connection team began priming riders such as Eli Tomac, Justin Barcia, and Trey Canard to make the transition from the GEICO Honda 250 team to the factory Honda 450 team and as the old saying goes, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
Well that was the case until the GEICO Honda team was forced to cease operations last fall, as we all know. So now, the premier Honda 250 program is back in the hands of the Honda HRC team.
In a virtual presentation of the its 2021 team yesterday, Honda HRC team manager Erik Kehoe acknowledged the addition of the factory 250 team to Honda HRC. Just as former GEICO Honda riders Jett and Hunter Lawrence join the Honda HRC effort, former GEICO Honda team manager Josh Wisenor has also come on board with the Honda HRC team. Kehoe said Wisenor will become the 250 crew chief, joining Lars Lindstrom as the 450 crew chief.
“The advantages of the new structure with the 250 program joining the 450 team here at Team Honda HRC, we are integrating them into our team to being one, united, stronger team,” said Kehoe. “I think the new, young talent that is coming on board, we will learn from their experience and they can learn from the experience from our 450 program. So I think that ultimately in the end, it's going to make our whole team stronger, more experienced, and ready to go for the championships.”
With the AMA Supercross and Motocross calendar typically completed before the start of September, teams have the opportunity for time off before ramping up for the upcoming season. But COVID-19's impact on the racing schedule left only 97 days between the 2020 Pro Motocross finale and the first Houston round on January 16. In a normal year, the off-season sits at around 130 days.
“I think that this season came really quick,” Kehoe continued. “I know that there was a lot of work to be done integrating the new 250 staff into our program and getting the shop setup. And I think that everything went really smooth. The guys have been working really hard so I believe Team Honda HRC is ready for the new season.”
Wisenor said the upside of the short off-season is the Honda CRF250R bike has remained the same for several years, meaning both the technical team and the Lawrence brothers will both be working on familiar equipment.
“The 250 effort is going to have the same goals that it always has: we go to win,” Wisenor said. "We are pretty much a similar platform to last year so we know that platform is proven, Chase has won two titles on that platform. So taking everything we’ve learned since 2018 when we got this bike, we are just looking to improve it and hopefully bring home another title.”
Jett Lawrence was confirmed to race the 250SX East Region championship. The 17-year-old earned his first step on the podium at the 2020 Salt Lake City 5 Supercross—only about five months removed from his wild night at the Anaheim 2 Supercross. Jett led 16 laps in only his third AMA Supercross race but notoriously crashed into the face of a jump only one turn away from the finish line while battling Dylan Ferrandis for the race win. Although the entire 250SX East Region roster has yet to be announced, the newly-signed Red Bull rider is coming in as one of the fan favorites.
“All that hard work is definitely starting to pay off,” Jett Lawrence said on the Lawrence family’s adventure from Australia to racing in Europe to now a factory Honda HRC rider.
“My goals for 2021 is just to hopefully have a really consistent year, be on the podium every race weekend, be there for every opportunity of passes and that stuff and really ride a lot smarter and more ride like a champion,” Jett continued. “And be smarter with my decisions and make sure I’m always 100 percent there with any mistakes from other riders and just make sure I’m in the top.”
After the roster was officially announced, Jason Weigandt rang up Hunter to check in after a year hindered be a nagging shoulder injury. He said he was thankful for the GEICO Honda team's support, even when the results were not showing his capabilities.
"So obviously this was a huge bummer," Hunter told Weigandt in December. "That sucks, they were such a great team and the people in the team were such great people. Especially Jeff Majkrzak and Ziggy [Rick Zielfelder], I think of them as mates more than I do team boss or team owner. So that really sucks, but our agent, Lucas, he had a few insights and he was piecing things together. I was never really sweating it, but I knew my results weren’t what I was capable of. I was battling things physically and they were aware of it. I wanted to put results on the board just to prove I was capable, just to prove it to myself. The team was behind me the whole time, and I can’t thank them enough for that."
Hunter, who missed a majority of the racing in 2020 due to shoulder injuries, will man the second Honda HRC CRF250R but will be racing 250SX West Region championship. Once it was confirmed the GEICO Honda team was shutting down but the Lawrence brothers had earned spots on the factory team, Hunter said the transition has gone smooth.
“Really good,” Hunter said on the move to Honda HRC. “They’ve welcomed us with open arms and everyone has been really cool and super nice, so it’s awesome. I can’t get underway in the full season and travel in and out each week with them.”
Wisenor also commented on the move.
“The transition has gone well,” he said. “It was pretty grim in the beginning, if I’m honest, a lot of the FCR [Factory Connection Racing] guys we really loved that team and to be there to dismantle it and take it apart and move everything to Honda and get ride of the building that was pretty hard on a lot of us. But now that we’re getting settled in HRC and rebuilding, it’s coming around and we are starting to like it a lot.”
Watch the 2021 Honda HRC virtual presentation in full:
Below is the full press release from Honda from yesterday.
TORRANCE, Calif. – Today in a virtual event, American Honda presented Team Honda HRC's riders and staff for the 2021 AMA Supercross and AMA Pro Motocross season.
German Ken Roczen begins his fifth year with Honda's factory team after winning four rounds in last year's series. "I'm in a good position right now and excited to build on what we learned last year," Roczen said in the presentation. "I feel extremely comfortable on the all-new CRF450R and will work hard to put it on the top step in 2021."
Making his AMA Supercross debut aboard the factory 2021 CRF450R is 2019 and 2020 250SX East Region Champion Chase Sexton, who joined the squad for last year's AMA Pro Motocross series, performing well and winning the final round. "I learned a lot racing the 450 outdoors last year," Sexton said. "I'm excited to take that momentum into Supercross, and I feel like I can contend for race wins and podiums."
As previously announced, the factory squad has taken on the 250 effort for 2021, with CRF250R-mounted Australian brothers Jett and Hunter Lawrence prepared to campaign the 250SX East and West regions, respectively. "All of the hard work is paying off," said Jett, who is beginning his second full season as an AMA pro. "Now, going into the season, I just want to be consistent and ride smart—to ride like a champion and be there for every race."
Jett's older brother Hunter missed much of last season due to injuries, but he is approaching the 2021 season in good health and looking forward to a new challenge. "Having this opportunity alongside Jett is great, because we push each other every day," Hunter said. "Team Honda HRC has welcomed us with open arms and I just can't wait to get the season underway."
The first round of the 2021 AMA Supercross series takes place in Houston on January 16.