It is always surprising when you hear of a rider changing teams mid-season, as we do not see the cracks in the relationship with their former squad that lead up to the break up. Obviously a guy would not plan on switching teams in the middle of the year; clearly the situation is far from ideal. However, the situation cannot always be helped, which we have seen in the past. In the last seven days, a few riders have moved over to a different squad; some of the moves were surprising, whilst others were not.
Harri Kullas was the first rider to announce his plans last week, as the Finn switched from the Gariboldi Honda squad to the Sahkar KTM team in time for the Swedish GP this weekend. Honestly this was least surprising, as Harri has had a terrible year thus far. I am actually a believer that Harri could be great, in recent years he has shown a handful of flashes of brilliance. Although the past two years have been anything but good for him, he obviously still has that potential, it does not just go away.
When Harri Kullas spoke openly about his split from the Gariboldi Honda squad, he said that part of the reason he was unhappy was that it was almost impossible to get a good start, as he has had just one good start all year. Honestly, that is not surprising; do you remember when Max Anstie could not get out of the gate last year? It seems as though the Gariboldi Honda’s are not up to par, which is unfortunate, as they’re the premier Honda team in the MX2 class. Kullas jumped on a privateer KTM with the Sahkar team in Sweden and posted good finishes; it is no secret that even a near-stock KTM is very strong out of the gate. This should help him to garner some good finishes in the remainder of the year, and catch the eye of some team manages for next year.
Undoubtedly most focus at the weekend centered around Tanel Leok and Shaun Simpson, as the two riders radically changed their programs prior to Uddevalla. Although Simpson hadn’t had a great season prior to Uddevalla, I did not expect him to part ways with TM. However it seems as though the decision to split came from the team, rather than the rider; maybe they wanted to make room for Tanel Leok? Both parties have kept relatively quiet about the deal, as all we have received is the stereotypical, politically correct answer; no one seems to know what went on behind closed doors.
Shaun Simpson ended up on the JK SRS Yamaha team at the Swedish GP; he will be a part of the squad for the remainder of the year it seems. Honestly it was the most obvious place for him to go and it was probably the best option for him also, seeing as he knows the bike from last year, and it really has not changed too much. Shaun went out and posted a fourth in the qualifying heat at Uddevalla, which led most to praise the switch. But we have to remember that he has had a lot of success there in the past; his results in the coming weeks will be the greatest test.
I was shocked when I first heard of the news that Tanel Leok was switching to the TM team, as he has a lot of history with the Route77 Energy MVRD Honda team. But nonetheless Leok turned up at Uddevalla in his new colours. Obviously the switch happened quickly, as he had appeared at Desertmartin one week earlier beneath the awning of his former squad. Again it has been very hard to find out what went on behind the scenes; I would not be surprised if it came down to money to be honest. I cannot think of another explanation; Leok had a couple of great rides on the MVRD machine and seemed happy with the setup.
Prior to Uddevalla, Tanel Leok had not even ridden the TM – so he was going in with his eyes closed a little bit. However, he did ride for the TM squad in 2011. But the team structure has changed considerably since that year, as Ricci Racing is now in charge. Ironically Tanel ended up battling with Shaun Simpson quite frequently at Uddevalla, which was an interesting little fight to watch. I guess that Leok will not be completing the remainder of our domestic series now, seeing as the TM team is Italian based; he only had an outside shot at the title anyway. Leok’s results may suffer at first, as he is returning from a broken collarbone. But remember the Estonian battled with Toni Cairoli on a few occasions aboard the TM back in 2011.
Unfortunately, these three guys really don’t have much time to get accustomed to their new teams, as the FIM Motocross World Championship is touring Northern Europe. It is a bit hard for a rider to make improvements to his program or setup when the races are successive like they are currently, but Harri Kullas, Shaun Simpson and Tanel Leok have to make the most of a bad situation.
Words by Lewis Phillips
Image courtesy of Dave Rich