Interview: Graeme Irwin
Graeme Irwin had a lot of changes in the off-season, he became a proud dad for the first time and also signed for Buildbase Honda to ride red for the first time in his professional career.
We caught up with Irwin, who had just finished a final practice session before the first round of the MX Nationals this weekend, to discover he is full of energy, desire and enthusiasm going into the 2016 season.
Irwin has benefitted from an impressive pre-season against GP level opposition in Italy and feels very comfortable on the 450 Buildbase Honda machine, so much so that even WSB champ Jonathan Rea has commented on his countryman’s impressive speed when they practiced in the Isle of Man.
Irwin has never been shy about his aspirations to be an MXGP rider but this season is focussing on putting everything into the British championship after getting the opportunity to ride for one of the best teams in the paddock.
Gatedrop: How have you adapted to the Honda?
Irwin: I really like the Honda, it is a really good bike all round. Ryan Thorpe has the engine working really well and the same for Mark Eastwood with the suspension, it is a really good package.
After the Des Nations last year when Townley rode one of their bikes, and the performance he had, it proved straight away along with what Kristian was doing on it last year, that it was a world championship level bike and it was very competitive.
I didn’t have to do much testing, it was just getting the bike set-up for me. We didn’t really make a lot of changes apart from suspension and that’s it.
Gatedrop: You were testing in Italy and did a couple of pre-season races against some GP riders, you had good starts and were competitive with them, how did you feel those races went for you?
Irwin: The first race to be honest wasn’t very good for me. It was my first race of the season and the first race with the team, you have three months off riding, and even when you are practicing it all changes when you race. The first moto for me I rode way too steady, I was just finding my feet a little bit. The second one was a lot better, I went down which was a bummer but I really feel I could have been top five, which would have been really good.]
We stayed out in Italy to test but didn’t do round two, then then we did round three and the track was really, really good. I had had a race under my belt and knew where I was. Qualifying was good, we were right in there with the GP riders and we weren’t far off whatsoever.
In the first race I had quite a good start but I rode a bit tight and basically rode a lonely race, me and Tanel battled it out for a while and I think I was seventh or eighth. I felt I could do better in the second race and I had a much better start, I was battling with Coldenhoff and Gajser was just in front of us, to be riding with them and to see the speed of them guys was really good. I got caught up in a couple of lappers and made a couple of mistakes trying to get by as I was trying to stay with the guys in front.
That let Leok and Guillod pass me in the last three laps but I went back at them and nearly got both of them at the end so the speed seems to be good. I think I have definitely stepped it up from last year.
Gatedrop: You have had a different preparation with going to Italy this season, do you think that will benefit you this season?
Irwin: Yeah, I have never had as strong an off-season as I have had this year. I have done a lot more riding and I have done stuff my way, how I want to do it. If I feel I want to ride and my body is healthy I ride, but I can adjust everything to how I feel while also still having the guidance of the team and I think it’s working well for me.
Gatedrop: Simpson and Searle were sixth and seventh overall in Qatar, they are probably going to be the guys to beat in the British championship, how confident are you of being able to run with them in Britain?
Irwin: That’s the plan. I really want to battle with them guys. Somebody said to me if they weren’t in, I could do it (win) but I want to race them guys, I don’t want to race a British championship with no GP guys in it. The harder it is the better it is, and if you do win it it is a better achievement.
Gatedrop: Do you think running with them will help your chances of doing GP races?
Irwin: I think so. Dave is very intelligent about how he looks after us. I think if what we do is working I’m not sure he will let us do GPs but if we are struggling he might let me do GPs to get my speed up. I would love to race GPs, I think it would be amazing but the team have to look after their best interests. Sometimes I sound a little bit selfish (wanting to race GPs) but this season it’s all about focusing on doing well for Buildbase Honda in the UK.
Gatedrop: The first round of the MX Nationals is at Preston Docks this weekend, how are you on that track and are you looking forward to getting the season started?
Irwin: Yeah I have done quite a lot of sand riding, it wasn’t that I struggled with sand but it would have been one of my weaker points. I have done so much sand riding this year I am sick of doing really! But no, it has been really, really, good even in Italy it was good. Kristian was hurt unfortunately but I was riding with Martin (Barr) Lewis (Trickett) and that was good to get training with them, it’s always nice when you have someone else on the track and they are fast.
That’s actually something I am looking forward to seeing this year, I think Martin Barr will be really strong in that MX2 championship.
Gatedrop: How do you find racing with both classes combined in the MX Nationals? Does it affect how you race?
Irwin: I just want to win the race, I am trying to really focus on the British championship this year but I am hoping if I focus on that then the other championships will come along with it. I want to win the race outright no matter if there is an MX2 guy in front me. Being on the MX1 bike I probably won’t be having a good race if there is an MX2 in front of me! I will just try my best every weekend and we will see.
Gatedrop: Just finally, Desertmartin is back on the British championship schedule, the last time it was there you won a race, are you looking forward to getting to ride in front of the home fans this year?
Irwin: Yes definitely – I cannot wait! When I saw that I thought it was awesome, Desertmartin is my favourite track and the atmosphere is awesome for all the home guys that are in it. The race I won a couple of years ago it was crazy, everyone was supporting us, it was just awesome. I’m looking forward to it, it is going to be my favourite race this year!