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Interview: Shaun Simpson on becoming Gabriel SS24 KTM team manager, Josh Gilbert & Cas Valk

Interview: Shaun Simpson on becoming Gabriel SS24 KTM team manager, Josh Gilbert & Cas Valk

Things have changed for Shaun Simpson in the last year. This time last year he was still a racer but then after an injury he took on the team manager role at the Gabriel SS24 KTM team. The Scot has now kept the role for the 2024 season and the team have signed up Josh Gilbert and Cas Valk for the upcoming season.

We caught up with Simpson to discuss his new challenge as a team manager and more.

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GateDrop: Shaun, this time last year you were the other side of the fence so to speak as a rider but this weekend, a very different role. Team manager as a good British team, how does it compare, you must be delighted to land this role as well. After the injury last year you got a bit of a taster as well which probably helped you coming into this year…

Simpson: Yeah, busy! That is one way to describe my weekend but it has been good. I’ve really enjoyed the build up and the organisation but in the past we’ve been getting ready to race. You know it is nice to come and get the results on the board seeing where we are at in race conditions. We had a good run out at Talvera for the opening Spanish championship but it is nice to be back in British soil at such a great event at Hawkstone Park.

It is definitely different not racing, I think I did 19 (!) straight years of Hawkstone International. This is the first time since I was 15 that I haven’t raced it. It was definitely different and hectic as I said but still rewarding seeing the guys riding as well as they did. Cas had a podium and Josh was the best British rider so on the whole it was a successful day.

I am really happy with the crew and how everyone has pulled together and putting on a nice show for everyone in the paddock for all the fans. It was just nice to be back at the races.

GateDrop: You have now obviously decided to completely step away from racing. A few years ago you did step away from MXGP but now you’ve stepped away from British championship racing as well to take this team management role. Was it a tough decision to make?

Simpson: You know, I never really knew when I was going to retire or finish racing but Simon (Gabriel) offered me this role middle of last year and then just around that time, I had quite a big crash at Blaxhall. I was in hospital for a week thinking about my kids and my wife. You know, everything sort of just fell into place to take on this role.

The last couple of years have been tricky, I definitely didn’t get the results I was after in the British championship and nobody is getting any younger so it was starting to take a bit of toll on the body. I decided to take this role as a new challenge and try to give back some of my experience over 20 years to the team, riders and go to the races looking for good results – not for myself – but for the two boys.

GateDrop: Do you still ride a bit at the practice tracks to give some pointers when you can or are the riding days well and truly behind you?

Simpson: I really don’t have time. I have been so busy I think I have rode twice in the last six months.

GateDrop: Do you miss it?

Simpson: Of course, yeah. You know, I would really like to get out once a week just to enjoy myself and still enjoy riding. I just bought my little lad who is five now, a PW Yamaha. There will be time for me because I still want to ride still but I am pretty happy with the decision to step away from racing. It is a lot less stress and the toll on the body is a lot less easier this side of the fence.

GateDrop: Just to focus on the team, it is a big decision to step up from the British Championship to race the full MXGP World Championship – big on the budget too – you must be looking forward to the challenge of helping these guys. Having Josh Gilbert, was it important for the team to have a British rider under the awning?

Simpson: Absolutely. British team, having a British rider was the number one goal and we managed to get that with Josh. He is brilliant to work with and we are working really closely with KTM. They sort of give us a tip on Cas with some support for him putting a really good package together. Cas is great to work with as well so we couldn’t be happier with the two guys we ended up with. We definitely have some real potential to win a British title between them or maybe even two, who knows? We’ll have a real good chance in the EMX250 class to be running near the front and potentially being right at the front of that. With Josh and the GP’s we would just like to see him being as close or in and around that top ten with the factory guys.

Like you said, the budget has went up this year but you’ll never compete with those factory guys budget so to be mixing it with them will be our number one goal.

GateDrop: Just on Josh, he has rode a handful of MXGP rounds in the past and a handful of AMA Nationals but has never done a full MXGP World Championship season so it must be very exciting for him and motivated to see what he can do against the best riders in the world…

Simpson: Well, I think that was Josh’s main goal to really have a proper crack at the MXGP World Championship and it has been something he has always wanted to do. So, when we did offer him the chance to do it he kind of jumped at the opportunity to do that. For us as well with my experience and with the flyaway races, you know it is a lot to take on but at the same time we are really excited about it.

GateDrop: Cas Valk, I remember him and been watching him closely since his 85cc days. What is it like working with him? I believe he is also been working with Joel Smets so that must also help as he’s helped develop many young talents. Even though Cas was EMX250 last year it was on the two stroke so he’s a four stroke rookie this year… but he should be an EMX250 title contender…

Simpson: Without a doubt. Cas is only 18 but it’s great to see that he’s got such a strong head on the shoulders. He is very dedicated and does all his training and everything that is asked of him. Working with Joel, he is loving that because he has been out riding with Andrea Adamo most of the days. Riding together with him has brought him on as well. He is a good kid, has a nice style and doesn’t hang off it too much. He is very smooth and you don’t sort of have to close your eyes when watching him. Very smooth and calculated which is great.

GateDrop: Last question, this is the first full year for the team doing MXGP, long term is the goal to stay in the GP paddock and maybe even have more than the one GP rider in the future?

Simpson: Yeah, it’s all stepping stones. We are trying to step it up, I think we have quite a good balance this year with having Josh doing a full championship and then a little less with Cas just doing EMX250 rounds. You know, we will see where it takes us but we definitely want to go and get those results and step it up. It is our goal to be around for another few years at least, we have a two year deal with KTM as it is with an option anyway so we aren’t going anywhere in a hurry.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Image: Ray Archer