‘I will never quit, I will never, ever quit. If you are going to put 110% in, you have to sacrifice 110%.’ Those are the words of 16 year old Graeme Irwin in an interview back in 2008, the year he became MX2 Irish and Ulster champion on a Suzuki. That year he broke his collarbone in a moto, but got up and finished the race to get the points that would ultimately win him the championship. ‘It was the sorest thing I have ever done in my life, but it was well worth it’ he said at the end of the season.
That attitude and commitment is just the same now at the end of 2012 as it was four years ago and, just like he was 2008, Graeme is back on Suzuki machinery and gunning for a double title success. This time the goals are bigger – he has his eyes set on the MX2 Maxxis British Championship and the Red Bull National titles.
2012 was a big year for Irwin, he had just had his first two professional seasons in the British Championship and GPs wrecked by injury, yet he came to the first round of the British Championship in 2012 full of confidence and promptly put it on the podium. His speed would remain high all year, and this time he stayed healthy, finishing his season off with another podium in the British Championship.
His 2012 performances has earned him a deal with Neil Prince and Suzuki GB and Graeme hopes this relationship will take him to the next stage in his career.
We spoke to the Carrickfergus man just after it was made official that he will be back on Suzuki next season and, he is already super motivated to achieve his goals for 2013!
You are now officially on Suzuki for 2013, I’m sure you are glad you have got the deal sorted!
Yea I am really, really happy. I gelled with the Suzuki when I rode it back in 2008. I won the Ulster and Irish MX2 titles on it and the bike has came on a whole lot from then, so it is really, really good.
I believe a big thing that clinched the deal for me was getting to work with Neil Prince. His experience alone is priceless, you can’t buy that.
Neil has helped the careers of guys like Bobreyshev and Mackenzie and seemed to take them to another level, obviously you are hoping he can do that with you as well.
Yea, 100%. I think everybody knows I have got the speed, I just need to polish the rough edges and I think he is the man for the job. Adam Lyons will also be helping guide me in the right direction as well. With them two behind me it should hopefully be a really good guide. Fingers crossed we can make something happen next year.
Are you going to be based in England or Northern Ireland next season?
I’m not sure what way it is going to work just yet. I haven’t got a place sorted in England yet but I will be mostly in England because of the training facilities and it’s just easier to ride out there and I want to work very closely with Neil.
2008 on Suzuki it was your breakthrough year, does that give you a boost going into this season being back on Suzuki?
Well the way I saw it then was all I ever wanted to do was win. It has taken a lot longer than expected and I have had a couple of years out with injury but I had the speed back then and I believe I had the speed this year, but I was just a bit unlucky not to get a win. I think definitely think next year should be good working with them guys.
Going back to this season, given your last two years of injury and not doing the GPs anymore, it was a big year where you had to really prove yourself all over again, and you did that in a big way with a podium at the first round and again at the end of the year, but did you feel that at the beginning of the year – that you had to show people your speed was still there?
Yea exactly 100%, I am really happy with how this year went. I had a big crash at the start of the year with Tonus which wasn’t really my fault, I was quite gutted about that because I really felt strong and everything was coming together quite nicely. I think if that hadn’t happened it maybe would have went different. I lost third place in the British Championship by six points behind Bryan MacKenzie, I know there is a lot of ifs and buts however, it would have been nice to do that.
This year was exactly as you said – it was about getting my name back out there. After having two seasons totally off, the first year with two shoulder operations and the second year with breaking my neck. That’s two serious injuries. So sat down and said it is going to take a year to get back into it and get the speed back, but for next year I want to be at the front.
Looking at the first round of the British Championship at Fat Cats, how big was it to get that podium in your first race back after breaking your neck, and to run close to Tonus and Osborne at times.
Yea it was really, really good, especially because they were on factory bikes and I wasn’t. I think it proved the work that I had put in over the winter was really paying off and the speed was good. As I say it was just the second round of the British Championship where I had that big crash that wasn’t my fault, but before that everything was looking really strong.
I finished the season strong too. I went 1-2 at the final Red Bull. In the second race I crashed in the first corner and got back from dead last back to second and still nearly won the race, I only lost by a second. At the very last round of the British Championship to get on the podium again was good way to end the season.
You had a really good ride at the Des Nations as well, did that give you a lot of confidence that you were able to run the pace of the GP guys?
That is something that was quite frustrating. The first race I rode a bit tight, I wasn’t relaxed, so for the second race I was like ‘right this what needs to happen, I need to pull something out of the bag,’ because my fitness was really good. I crashed in the first turn but my lap times were in the top ten of the MX3/MX2, and in MX2 my lap times were right up there which again was really, really nice to do that. It is just in me that I always want to be better than what I am. It just would have been better to get a good start and not get taken down in the first corner and be up there instead of saying I could have been up there.
Are you able to do any GPs this year?
We have talked about maybe doing six GPs but first of all, and I respect Neil for saying it, if my speed is not there or I am struggling a bit in the British Championship then we will not do them. If everything is going to plan we are going to do as many as possible.
That is obviously a big motivation to try and do as many as possible and get back in there, you know yourself you probably have the speed but it is just showing people that now in GPs…
Exactly, it is really good if I can get into a couple of them and push towards near that top ten and if I can get in there they are all factory bikes so hopefully somebody from Suzuki can see that as well.
You are going to be one of the favourites to win the British titles this year. Is that your goal or are you shooting for top 3?
I know it sounds cocky to some people but, next year I really, really want to win. I want to give it my best shot, I work hard, I am not a guy that says he wants to win and goes out in the week and rides the bike and expects it to happen at the weekend. I am a strong believer in you only get out what you put in. My training has started already, I am only a month in and I am a lot fitter and in a better position that what I was this time last year because I came in from breaking my neck and I had no base fitness at all as I wasn’t able to do anything for 5/6 months. So I am really looking forward to the season, staying away from injuries and getting into the year a s healthy as possible.
Going back to your neck injury, I remember talking to you at Desertmartin in 2011 and you were finding it hard to watch the race. Did that time off the bike make you even hungrier, obviously you are known as being motivated anyway, but did that add fuel to the fire?
Yea, when I broke my neck it was a big spot in my career, I never ever thought about quitting, that was never in my head. Some people were like ‘ you’re so lucky,’ (not to be paralysed) but at the end of the day it’s what I love and it where my passion is.
Watching it was frustrating, whenever we were at the British at Desertmartin and also the Red Bull there, it wasn’t easy at all. I think it has made me a smarter rider, I think this year I had to have an injury free season and I did that. I think every motocross rider picks up wee niggling injuries like when I had the crash at the start of the year I picked up a couple, but they are all gone and I am 100% healthy. So I am just looking forward to 2013.
Last June at Desertmartin you caught EBB in the first moto and you were lining him up for a pass when you went down. Knowing you have that speed to do that, it must give you a lot of confidence and with Neil Prince behind you must think you can do that regularly in 2013.
Yea exactly. The first race I had quite a bad start because I struggled a lot with the bike that day, I am not sure what it was, but it felt like I was underpowered that day. I was gutted about Desertmartin, it didn’t go how I wanted at all. The first race I finished second, but I believe I should have been in a better position at the end of the day but hopefully next year I can change that.
If you are up battling the championship lead, similar to Crockard ten years ago the crowd should be big and really behind you going there this season, it should be some atmosphere.
Yea that’s the thing, whenever I was challenging EBB for the lead it is just crazy. In Northern Ireland and all of Ireland the people get so behind the riders and it is really nice. To have a British Championship on your home track it’s great. At MXDN the Irish fans are definitely knows as the craziest at that event too. You get such a buzz from them, coming from the back section of the track at Desermartin to the front sections you can hear the whole crowd going nuts! It is such a good feeling, it is a buzz and I don’t know anything that can replace it.
One of your first rides on Suzuki will be at the Arenacross in the Odyessy in front of your home crowd…
Yea I am really looking forward to it. I am going to start riding the bike in the first or second week of December and I am going to do a lot of testing for it because I think I am doing all of the arenacross series depending how I get on in the first couple of rounds.
I have got to be smart about it. If I am struggling I will knock it on the head and concentrate on trying to win the British championship and the Red Bull Nationals, because the arenacross is really high risk of getting an injury.
I just want to say big thanks my sponsors; Chris Scarlett of WJ Scarlett and Sons, Bodylab NI, Edgar electrical, JRM Pallet solutions and of course Heads and All Threads Suzuki, Troy Lee Design helmets and Alpinestar Gear and boots for backing me in 2013, I am really looking forward to next season.
Interview by Jonathan McCready
Image by Elliot Spencer