Graeme Irwin interview – bringing the British MX1 red plate to Desertmartin!

It was the perfect weekend for the Irwin family. Glenn took the honours in a thrilling superbike race at the NW200 before younger brother Graeme subsequently dominated the British MX1 class at Hawkstone Park to win his first British championship overall and lead the series going into his home round at Desertmartin on June the 18th!

It has been ten years in the making for Graeme (known as the fastest Irwin!) to get to this point. Injuries have slowed his trajectory but never his desire to reach the top and now he has reaped the rewards of his efforts and had his best day in his professional racing career.

A dominating 1-1 at Hawkstone park established Irwin as the man to beat in the British championship and he gets to ride that wave of confidence to his home round at Desertmartin. But although satisfied with leading the championship, he isn’t content with his current status and feels the best is yet to come in his career!

We sat down with Graeme to discuss his win, moving back to Northern Ireland, watching Glenn win at the NW200 and his ultimate goal of racing in the toughest motorcycling series in the world, MXGP.

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You described Hawkstone as a “perfect day” in the press release, did your riding feel like it was coming easy to you?

It has been a long time coming. Everyone knows I had a rough off-season with having the shoulder surgery and just getting on the bike at the end of January. We started riding but we couldn’t even do two days in a row, it was more a build up. I wasn’t totally prepared for the first round, I was getting better for the second and every race we were doing we were getting better and better.

At the weekend everything was starting to come together, not that my shoulder wasn’t 100% but it’s just every week it feels stronger and with Honda having a new bike it was probably one of the worst times to go into an off-season with an injury, instead of finishing your season and being able to get on the new bike and get it how you want it.

I had to get my speed up, get my fitness and get my feel back with the bike and then get the bike how I want it. Every week we are building.

But the race was just perfect for me. I qualified pole by 1.2 seconds, in the first race I was about tenth and me and Stu (Edmonds) were battling and coming together all over the place. I was like, ‘come on, I want to win this.’

I got my head down from maybe even outside the top ten and came through. I think Lenoir or Banks-Browne holeshot and Krestinov was up there too. I knew I had good speed from qualifying and just put a charge on and came through, I could see Lenoir and that I was catching him and came through and won the race. So that was good to win it from the position I came from.

The second race I holeshot it and just put my head down for the first three laps and saw on the pit-board that I had quite a big gap so then I just managed the gap and it was probably the easiest race of the year so far! Just when everything clicks, it all went really good.

The first moto when Lenoir (he was the championship leader) was leading, did you think you were going to be able to run him down?

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I did, when I looked up the track I could barely see him! At one point I saw him coming the other way and I could see he was at the front. My goal for the weekend was to have the red plate for Desertmartin. Once I could see him and got by the guys in front of me, I thought if I had a clear track it wouldn’t be impossible for me to catch him. As soon as I could see I was catching him it brought me on, I started riding my own race and got into a flow. When you do have those perfect days it’s awesome.

With Glenn winning at the NW200, did that give you any more pressure or maybe motivation to win in Hawkstone and bring the red plate to Desertmartin?

To be honest, the weekend before the North West I made the decision to not come home. I decided to go to Belgium for the week just because with Glenn doing that race, it was a no brainer to go Belgium to get away. With the danger of it, it’s hard to focus on my race. So I took myself, my wife and my little girl to Belgium and I rode there.

Obviously I really wanted to be there and support Glenn, but I had to make the decision of what’s best for me and try and stay focused on what I’m doing as best I could. If you had seen me on Saturday I was a nervous wreck! I saw the weather conditions being tricky, it started raining before the superbike race and it’s delayed. I was at Hawkstone of all places where there is no signal. A guy at the track had good signal and I got to watch his full race and his interview before the signal started playing up again, which was perfect!

Once he crossed the line and he won the race I was just so, so happy for him. I wouldn’t say that changed anything for my results on the Sunday, I was just happy for him that he achieved something I totally believed he could. As I said to him, from a brother to a brother ride safe but from a racer to a racer go win the thing! The fact he went and won the big race but he is home safe – for me that’s the main thing. It was a perfect day. And for me to go the next day and win I think it was a good decision for me to go to Belgium. If I had went to Hawkstone and had a disastrous day I would have been thinking I may as well have been in Northern Ireland all week sunning it up!

Irwin won both motos at Hawkstone. Pic: Honda

Just on going to Belgium, do you feel that is helping you practicing with the GP guys with Jake now hurt?

That’s something that disappoints me a bit (Jake getting injured). As I said I started the first round off from a bad off-season and wasn’t up to speed. The second round I was so close and beat Jake in the second race, so I felt our season was going to get better. I wanted him to stay (injury free) with him being in the championship it makes it (in the eyes of others) valuable because they look at who you beat. But there are still a lot of good riders, Lenoir is a former European champion, Krestinov has won a GP before so the championship still has a lot of weight.

I am living in Northern Ireland again and I keep the camper in Gatwick so anytime I want to go to Belgium I stay over there, load up the camper and go to Belgium and have a good week. I think if you want to do something unless you have your own private tracks to get rough it’s quite difficult. Don’t get me wrong I think we are really lucky to have our own tracks like Magilligan and we have plenty of practice tracks, but it’s difficult because it isn’t me or Martin paying their bills, they have to cater for everyone so maybe they are levelled a bit more than we would like.

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What was the reason to come back to Northern Ireland?

I have lived in England since I was 17, so for eight years England has been my main base and it has got to the point where there are no tracks there. Last year I was always going to Belgium and if I wasn’t going there I had nowhere to go, or I would be travelling four hours to go to Fatcats and four hours back.

I think the only British championship that is hard-pack is Foxhill so for me it was a no-brainer to come home. I’ve got family here, I’ve got all my friends, all the tracks are no more than an hour away. Instead of driving four hours to a track, then four hours again home, when you go to go training again the next day you are just wrecked. It wasn’t for me, I felt my body was getting drained from the amount of hours I was doing driving. So I asked myself the question what is the difference of living in England and Northern Ireland, and when you have better facilities in Northern Ireland for training it all started making sense to move back.

I think I first interviewed you ten years ago when you were just 15 in Grade B but running with Wayne Garrett in Grade A! Now ten years later you are leading the British MX1 championship coming to your home round at Desertmartin, it’s been ten years of hard work but you are kind of living the dream right now!

It’s been difficult. Whenever I look back at it, the work that has went in to the last ten years, I think I’ve been racing British championship for nine years, 2007 I was MXY2 champion, 16 was my first in MX2 with Philip McCullough on the Moto One Suzuki at Desertmartin in 2008. There have been a lot of ups and downs with injury and whatever but I don’t believe I’ve hit my peak, I really don’t. I feel every year I am getting stronger and my results show that. As this season goes on it is the plan to continue to improve.

I know you were hoping to do some GPs this year but will leading the British championship now affect that?

I would love to do GPs. It’s out of my control. Dave is very honest with it, because of my position winning the British championship at the minute, and Dave has invested a lot of money in doing that and if I went to a GP and something silly happens, it’s a lot of money to waste for no reward for him. But GP racing is still where my heart is, it’s where I want to be, there’s no doubt about that.

Irwin will have the red plate on his next ride at Desertmartin! Pic: Nigel McKinstry

Has Dave Thorpe helped with your riding over the last couple of years?

Dave doesn’t really do anything with us on the bike, he’s paying us to ride the bike so if he is having to tell us how to ride the bike I guess it’s a bad day and he’d be thinking, ‘what am I paying these guys for!?’

If we are doing something silly as in line-choice he would point it out or tell us where to watch. With his experience he would give us his advice but not really telling us how to ride.

Martin Barr and Gordon Crockard are the only other two local men to be leading going into their home round at Desertmartin, are you going lean on them for advice?

I am really excited to bring the red plate to Desertmartin, that is massive for me and I am really looking forward to that. But I’m just going to treat it like a normal race and put myself in the best position to win and prepare as if it’s any other race, because there is a red plate in front of your bike it doesn’t mean anything at this stage of the year. It’s not the last round, we are four rounds in, just halfway, but it’s a perfect time to take the lead I think!