Shaun Simpson isn’t your regular stereotype GP superstar, low key and modest, Shaun spent the last few weeks making a driveway at his parents’ house in Scotland…not the glamorous lifestyle you would associate with a Factory GP rider!
Shaun had a pretty successful year in 2012 riding for Steve Dixon’s Yamaha team and the Rinaldi team at the end of the season. However, second place in the British Championship and eleventh in the World, just fell short of his pre-season goals which were to be British Champion and to get top ten in the MX1 World Championship. That about sums up Shaun’s two years in MX1 – good, but not quite where he wants and expects to be.
Simpson is currently spending his final month back home in his beloved Scotland before he starts his travelling again in preparation for the 2013, where he will campaign a Factory TM run by the experienced Ricci racing squad.
The move may have surprised some but Shaun is genuinely excited about the bike and team, and can’t wait to get things under way.
We caught up with the flying Scotsman just after he returned from Sardinia testing with TM to get his thoughts on the 2012 season, why he signed for TM and of course the GB Des Nations omission.
Calm, thoughtful and articulate, the always polite and friendly Simpson is hoping he can put all the pieces of the puzzle into place next season and show everyone just what he is capable of in the toughest motocross series in the world.
You have signed for TM, it took a while before you were able to get a ride sorted out, but are you happy with the way it turned out?
Yea it is difficult now in MX1 with there being so many good riders since the age limit in MX2 is under 23. It is making more riders available but they aren’t any more teams. That only leaves ten or eleven factory rides available but maybe twenty guys that are worthy of a factory ride so it makes it difficult to get one of those. The manufacturers are looking at the MX2 riders and three MX2 riders that have come up from this year have taken three factory rides, so that mean three guys that had rides this year have now been pushed back or have to ride elsewhere.
I had a couple of good options with KTM UK and TM, I was also speaking to Ice One Racing but they decided to go with a different plan. The two deals I had on the table were with KTM and TM, I had to weight up what work for me. I knew the KTM would be a great bike, it is a team that I know but they were struggling with budgets and things were uncertain about the deal with KTM, so I couldn’t really take the risk signing without having some concrete deal on the table.
TM picked up the pace and offered me a deal on the table with a contract that would cover my costs for the season and some bonuses to try and make it worthwhile. Ricci racing is running the team for TM factory and it is a factory bike as well.
With me being the only MX1 rider I felt like they could focus 110% for me rather than having a couple of other riders the team are accommodating for.
I’ll be the number one person so that is what swayed me and I am delighted with how things are going. I am happy with the bike and the team – to be honest I am a little bit excited about it!
There is a perception the TM isn’t a good bike but when you look at the facts Tanel Leok had really good results, as did Boissiere, so the bike has shown it is capable of good starts and good results.
I think that is an excellent point, everyone thinks ‘ Oh, TM, no- one knows it, no-one rides it’ They are just unsure of it, it is easy for even myself to think that, but from testing the bike – the power, the suspension, the handling, everything works well.
They have really thought about it and they have hand built a lot of their own stuff, to be honest it is one of the best bikes I have ridden in while. Yamaha was a great bike in certain aspects, Honda was a good bike in certain aspects, but I think TM have got everything they have got and a bit more, but it is hard for people to believe you.
I am looking forward to getting out there and showing people it is a good bike.
You are a still a factory rider as well…
It is a factory bike at the end of the day. I have been to the factory and watched them build frames, engine cases and everything. They are a really knowledgeable company. I have been a factory rider for KTM and this year with Yamaha and have another factory ride with TM.
I think it something to desire and to want as a young rider (to be on a factory team). To be a factory rider again is great, I know from personal experience it has its pros and cons but I feel because TM is a bit of an underdog, I still have things to prove for myself and the bikes point of view and I am looking forward to doing that.
As I have said before the team is 100% pushing for me, they have a rider in MX2, EMX2 and the 125 European series, so they are covering all their bases but they are focused on me and the 450. I have a good mechanic who is experienced, my team manager is a great guy and he would do anything to help you and that is what I need. I am 24 years old and I have had a couple of rough years with injury and then the last two not really producing the results I wanted to.
People don’t understand that you can have a good bike and a good physical state but if you are not in the right mental state or the right support from you team that can have an impact on your results on the track. In motocross every little bit counts and all the boxes have to be ticked. It is about being able to approach the team as well to say ‘maybe we need to change this’ and them being motivated to change it and make it better and not just saying this is how we run it. It is nice to have an open book and to be able to get things how you want them.
Where are you living next season, will you be based in Belgium again or move to Italy?
I would like to stay in Scotland but it’s a bit far away! I have a place in Belgium that I would like to continue using. I have the opportunity to stay with the team or at the factory, which are a couple of hours apart. I will be doing the Italian championship which is three rounds before the GPs start, so that will be quite nice to get things tested.
I might come back to Scotland for a couple of weeks here and there, and maybe stay in Belgium for the majority. I would like to broaden my reach of tracks and get on the hard pack in Italy and have the sand in Belgium and just do what I feel is right at the time.
Are you going to be able to do any of the British Championship this season?
I think I will possibly do a couple, the way the British Championship is, it costs a lot to do if you team isn’t already doing it. For the team to come from Italy, or Belgium, it costs a lot of time and effort to come over. Eight rounds is quite a big championship and the teams have a lot of work with 18 Grand Prix , physically it is demanding to do let alone all the travelling to get to the race.
I think the whole series is going to be a no go, but I might turn up at a couple to keep my hand in and see the British crowd but it is not really cost effective to do the whole championship.
I will mix it up with some Belgian races, Dutch races, a couple of British and obviously the Italian Championship pre-season, but the main goal is to get up there in the GPs.
Will it be harder to fit the national championship races in this year since there are 18 GPs?
It is going to be difficult since the GPs are starting earlier this year, In real time it is the 13th of January all ready so it is close to the first race, it feels like we have been pushed that month forward in terms of riding and testing and pre-season.
It will be hard to fit in other races but they plan their events round the GPs so that’s fine and as you say I do like to do a lot of other races, I feel it keeps me excited and gives me something to do. The Belgian races are only usually half an hour from where I live, so you get up in the morning and are back home for evening dinner so it isn’t too much stress.
What are your thoughts on the changes to the GPs this year with the extra travelling to Thailand/Qatar and the mixed classes?
It doesn’t bother me where we have to go, the flying or the racing, but I do feeling sorry for the teams. The factory teams can just about afford but it costs a lot of money, but I really feel for the privateer teams they are struggling to do the GPs as it is never mind the three or four overseas races – it really rips a lot of their budget out.
It’s tough but it is a proper World Championship and it is exciting to do but a lot of the teams have it so the riders have to pay their own costs to get to the event, so that much more stress on us organising our own flights and hotels.
I don’t know how this combined MX1/MX2 races are going to be. As a 450 rider it shouldn’t affect us too much, I think maybe in the top fifteen you will get maybe two or three of the top mx2 riders. After that the MX2 riders are going to be eating a lot of stones and be running anywhere from fifteenth to twenty fifth. If you are used to running top five in MX2 but are running around in twenty fifth it will create a lot of extra stress.
I think it could create for some good racing with the top MX2 riders. It is something they are going to try, so let’s see how it goes.
Just looking at MX1, the last two or three years the class is really, really stacked, there are twenty guys who should be top ten every week. You have been there two years now, can you describe to people just how tough it is? Just to be in the top ten is a big achievement!
Yea it is hard to put it across. People will look at results and see you got maybe sixth in race one then a fourteenth in race two and they can’t understand. With there being 20 top class riders it makes the start important and if you make a mistake or get a bad start, to then come through those riders and get into the top ten is so hard.
If you start eighteenth you can be battling with Strijbos, Guaneri or Bobreyshev for positions outside the top ten, and they are guys that have won motos or been on the podium and you are battling for fourteenth! The start is so important and being consistent the whole race. You have to be aggressive and strong towards the end of the moto, because if you aren’t you will get passed because quite often from sixth to fifteenth can just be a freight train of guys one after the other.
An example is I was running fourth in the Brazil Qualifying race, I made a small slip off, literally lost just ten seconds and I went from fourth to sixteenth and that just shows how important it is to get good starts and how evenly matched everyone is.
In MX2 it seems the top 3 guys in MX2 were really on it, the top six was reasonable and after that it seems quite easy. A prime example of that was when Tommy and Herlings came back from crashing in Italy at the start and came back to first and second – that wouldn’t happen in MX1.
What about last season, you had some good rides but it seems “almost” would sum it up?
The only race where I felt I performed like I should have done was Sweden where I had a fourth and fifth and I just missed out on the podium in the second race when I was running third and made a small mistake.
There was probably 50% of the time were I was running well then the other 50% where it just didn’t go the way it might have done. It is just difficult to explain just how hard it is to ride in MX1 at the minute, but I wouldn’t change it. I want to ride in a class where you are racing the best guys in the World and if it was easy everyone would try it. Being in a class this stacked is great but to find that consistency to even get sixth to tenth is difficult. Not every week are you going to make the perfect start or make no mistakes.
For some reason this year I felt like I had no pressure at the Grand Prix on a Saturday. I got good starts rode well and had good results. Then, come the Sunday, I think, ‘yea this is going to be my day’ then I maybe thought about it too much and I would get a bad start and be battling from outside the top ten again and I would make things hard work for myself. In the middle of the season I hit bad patch before finishing off the season reasonably strong.
Another thing to mention this year was changing teams (to RinaldI) then not have Rinaldi support at the British then not having a Rinaldi bike to practice one, that was tough. Like I said before it is not just race day that counts.
At times this year I felt I was unprepared or knowing what was happening, I would be on ride the Rinaldi bike on GP weekends, then my practice bike wasn’ t the same, the suspension was different, the tyres were different, handlebar were different. It was a great bike to ride when I could get on it but it was just the change every week to the weekend.
You have been changing bike one season with Honda, then one season with Yamaha so by the end of the season when you are comfortable you are changing again.
Yea exactly it is just one of those things a lot of riders have to adjust too, but at the age I am now I am getting to the stage where I know what is right and I am being slightly more fussy which, I think is a good thing, as you get older it is hard to not think about it when you know what it has been like before.
Being on the Rinaldi team was that an adjustment from Steve’s set up?
The year started off great, we had a really good set up with Steve. My mechanic maybe wasn’t as experienced as I needed as I said, I may be getting more fussy as I get older, so it made it a bit tough in the first few races. The bike wasn’t really performing how I wanted it too, it wasn’t really getting out of the starts, that was holding me back and I wa getting frustrated.
Then I had the chance to move on to Rinaldi, and that was great. I really felt like the bike suited my style a lot better, there were a few aspects that I found improved my riding and made me relax a bit more, but then changing back to Steve’s bike for the British Championship then going back to the Rinaldi bike was a lot of change.
With Steve it was left more to me and my mechanic to sort something out, It would have been nice to have the Rinaldi bike for the British Championship and practicing but that didn’t happen so it made it tough.
You got left out of the MXDN again and, at the press conference, Neil Prince didn’t really give a deep explanation as to why, was it hard to watch the race in Lommel?
It is a tough situation to be in for any team manager, Mark Eastwood got slated when he done it, Steve got slated and now Princey is getting slated. It is a tough job and taking the job on you have to be strict in your decision, and if you think that’s the way to go, then that’s the way to go and I respect him for the decision.
I just felt that with it being at Lommel and it being a different race, the fact that the British aren’t really the best sand riders at the best of times, he should have based his decision more on who he though could get the best results at a sand track and not what people had done all year.
I know he questioned me on my results not being as good on the Sunday but, you could run top four or five in MX2 and have the same pace, or less pace than the guys running top ten or fifteen in MX1. So, to look at results is not always the way to look at it.
To be honest I think everyone was disappointed in the Team Great Britain performance. I wasn’t overly impressed with Tommy, I wasn’t overly impressed with Jake and I wasn’t overly impressed with Max. I think I probably could have done a better job.
I’m sure they all would have said they didn’t ride that great. Tommy looked a bit off, he doesn’t really enjoy the sand, Jake had a mechanical and he wasn’t feeling it all weekend either, and I know because I spoke to him and Max made a couple of mistakes and just looked like he was maybe struggling with the 450.
It was tough to watch but at the end of the day I enjoyed it anyway, seeing the Americans getting beat for the first time in while. They came and give it a good shot but it is nice for them to go home and have a bit more respect for Europeans, to know we are still here and can give them a good race.
You can learn things from Cairoli or Herlings or even the way the American team approach things.
There is always next year and I just have to show them I am worthy of a spot on the team. It will be hard packed next year so let’s hope the manager of the team makes a good decision and picks those on form, and if I am on form maybe I will be selected.
You just missed the top ten of the World Championship this year after being in it for most of the season, will that be your goal for next season?
It has been my goal the last few seasons to be in the top ten, it hasn’t happened, this year I maybe should have been in the top ten or even finished ninth. It was a shame, I think next year I can do it, it will be a bit harder with a few extra guys coming and the class being stacked, but I feel I have the talent and the strength to do it. I have the team behind me and if we take some good starts I’m sure we will be close and I can do it.
I want to thank everyone who has helped me this year, the sponsors I have had have been great and if I can continue with them next year that’s great, if not, maybe sometime in the future.
I am looking forward to getting out there in new colours next season and show that Shaun Simpson is still a force to be reckoned with.
Interview by Jonathan McCready