Interview: Shaun Simpson part 2 – his MXGP wins, racing an AMA National and his future

In part two with Shaun Simpson we discuss his epic MXGP overall wins in Lierop in 2013 and Lommel in 2015 – two fantastic days in his career. The week after Lommel, he travelled to America to race an AMA National and finished fourth overall against the best in America in their own back yard.

Simpson is coming to the end of his fantastic career so we also discuss what his future might look like once he hangs up the Motocross boots.

You can read part one of the interview here, as Simpson talks about the beginning of his career. 

GateDrop: You ended the 2013 season with the privateer JK Yamaha team, another team from Italy but you had probably the best GP of your career in Lierop that year… Did you really expect to win that GP battling Cairoli on a privateer bike!

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Simpson: After I parted company with TM, JK Yamaha basically give me a nearly new bike and a completely shagged out bike. They just said: ‘See what you can do with those’. They were more than happy to let us run at our own devices, get the suspension done wherever we wanted, get the engine down wherever we wanted. That’s what we did, we went and got the engine tuned by Vollenburg Motorsport in Holland who we knew well and worked with before. This was the key to our success in 2008 because he did all our engines then and we tried really hard with the standard Yamaha suspension but quickly couldn’t manage to get much of a setup there.

We were one of the first ever to put WP suspension on a Japanese bike at World Championship level but that just transformed it. When I had the engine and suspension working right, I went from sort of being 10-12 straight up into the top 5. I was battling with the factory guys and it felt so easy to do. I was back with my 2008 feeling again, it was that easy I was thinking, ‘how can it be this easy again?’.

You speak to anyone that wins races at any level, most of your race wins are some of the easiest races in your life. Some of them aren’t but quite often you really feel like it’s easy and it’s like ‘why or how?’. Trying to replicate it is one of the most frustrating things in a career you can go through.

You do the same thing for breakfast, have the same routine and all the rest of it and it doesn’t work out then other days it just clicks. In Lierop I knew that I was riding well and had been doing lots of sand practice as I was living in Belgium. I just felt something that I’d never felt before in my entire life, I then did feel it again a couple of times in my career,  that Saturday I was interviewed, it was wet and sandy. That was how I was brought up in Scotland and I said in the interview that something really special could happen that weekend and it did.

There was something inside of me, I just knew I was going to have a really good weekend, I didn’t know I was going to win but I knew I was going to be there or there abouts.

GateDrop: You probably had the best times of your career with Roger Magee and a few years later you are back racing for him. You won Lommel GP which was amazing but then you raced an AMA National the weekend – can you talk me through that week having to deal with the emotion of winning a GP and quickly on a flight to America to race a National…

Simpson: It was a weird one. Getting back with Roger in 2014 was such a good building season. We finished seventh in the world championship and had a couple of podiums that year and one being in Lommel. We just figured the bike out, we used 2014 as a let’s get back on the map year. We did that and were very solid.

2015 went amazing, I was up front all the time and leading laps. I was getting good starts again and feeling comfortable with the bike and then Lommel came around. It was similar to Lierop that this was the second time in my career, I woke up on Sunday morning with my wife and as we left that morning we took a selfie. I often look at that selfie because at that exact time at 8am, I knew I was going to win the GP that day. I can’t you why I knew that but I just felt so good about everything – my bike, my fitness, my programme and just everything was on point.

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It give my goose bumps leaving the house because I just thought this is going to be it, I am going to win another one today. It’s so insane to say it like that but I just knew it was going to happen.

Image: JP Acevedo

We did that and it was always the plan to go to Unadilla the week after Lommel, that was in the schedule. I knew we had a free weekend so whether I’d won Lommel or not, I was going. But what a crazy week it was, we had to leave on the Tuesday after Lommel and so much hype over the win. There was actually so much hype in America too after I won Lommel. We rode in Unadilla which is nothing like Lommel, I turned up there off the back of the GP win and Factory KTM in America offered me the chance to race one of their bikes. They prepped me Ryan Dungey’s practice bike which in my opinion looked brand new. I turned up there, put my stickers, handlebars and a seat on and we were ready to go.

I rode something I hadn’t even set up suspension wise, they just put something in that they thought would be good for me, my weight and speed. I think I really impressed a lot of people over there, it would have been amazing to go over and win but I’m not your Jeffrey Herlings or a Romain Febvre who put in top results all the time. I was the kind of guy that peaked at the ones I could do well at and then I’d be a top five or top ten guy depending on the day so going over there and finishing fourth overall, it just blew me away. What I did, it really impressed those guys and even now I seen them when I went over to Anaheim. I met Ian Harrison and Roger de Coster, they just have that level of respect for you that had I gone over and did rubbish, they’d have probably thought he’s just another guy coming over to waste our time.

I went over there with the game face on and managed to harness all of this energy and apart from my wife not being there which she still gives me sh*t about, it was probably the best two weeks of my entire life other than getting married and having a family and stuff, from my racing career, it was surreal. Social media was blowing up every single day, I was getting hundreds of likes, heaps of messages, someone like Jeffrey Herlings probably gets that all the time but for me that was just something I’d never experienced.

Image: GuyB -VitalMX

GateDrop: The respect thing between you and the American guys I find interesting, I think back then in America it was all about America and they didn’t care about GP riders… but things have changed and probably the recent MXoN results have helped but do you think there’s more respect now than there used to be?

Simpson: I think so, definitely. You know it’s not easy to hide from. Americans are very outspoken and for a long time they just got their butts whipped and to be honest, good enough for them. But after being over to Anaheim and stuff, I really really respect how impressive those guys are indoors. I mean when it comes to Supercross tracks, we think the Arenacross track here in Belfast is quite technical, tight and all the rest of it but some of the stuff they ride is very impressive. You have got to take your hat off to them for that as well. They do 50-50 so in my opinion they’re at a slight disadvantage because they come out of Supercross straight into Motocross and away they go. There’s no doubt about it, America is a big place and they have heaps of really good riders.

I do agree with you that the perception has changed now, they’ve got much more of an understanding of how hard we work in Europe and especially through bad conditions and rough tracks, the gnarlier the better for the Europeans. The Americans definitely take their hats of to us for that.

GateDrop: The Motocross Des Nations is an event I know very special for you. Team GB couldn’t seem to buy a podium but then Mark Chamberlain came in as team manager and they all came together at once – can you tell me some of your memories from that event?

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Simpson: I feel coming from Scotland throughout my whole career I was at a slight disadvantage. I feel the times I have been on the team I have easily warranted my spot and feel really proud. The times it has been touch and go and it’s been myself in a hat with a few other guys, when you do get selected you feel that you have to step up.

You know, 2019 was a bit of a funny year because we had a couple of good guys that weren’t available for the team and we ended up taking myself, Nathan Watson and Adam Sterry. Probably before the weekend started, everyone thought this maybe isn’t even a B team and more of a C team. Everyone was quite vocal about that but I had a chat with the boys and myself being the oldest age and experienced wise, I just said, let’s knuckle down and you never know what could happen at these events.

It was such a lottery with the weather we got as well. Nathan had just came out from contesting World Enduro events but everyone knew he was doing the beach races and was right into getting stuck in. Adam Sterry, he was in a good team (F&H Kawasaki) and grafts away – he isn’t one of the most natural talented guys out there but he just gives it everything he has.

Image: Ray Archer

We knuckled down and I had no idea where we were until I came over the finish line and Mark is giving me the fist pumps saying we made it. What an amazing feeling, it’s different emotions to winning a GP because it’s a team race and winning a GP is something you’ve done on your own, so probably slightly less in that respect but especially because it took me so many attempts to get there. So many guys I’d been with on the team before had never made it on the podium. Of course it would have been lovely to win one of these things but going up against the yanks, French and Italians every single year we are going to be at a disadvantage having such a small country that we live in. What an achievement, it was one of those things in my career that I hadn’t checked off and that was it then done because we got on the podium.

GateDrop: Shaun Simpson these days doesn’t race MXGP anymore and are focusing on the British Championship and this year will be a team manager as well as a team rider… What’s it like for you being away from MXGP and focusing on racing in England because you’ve raced GP’s since such a young age…

Simpson: Last year was my first full year just racing the British Championship, Scottish Championship, selected MX Nationals and a couple of races in France. I genuinely didn’t miss MXGP at all. You know, there was some years like 2014 and 2015 when I was with Roger, we had really good results don’t get me wrong and it really paid off. But those years felt like three years, it was so much hard work and people will never understand how much work me and my Dad put in. Just the two of us and no one else to help us, the GP’s really started to take a toll on me.

Image: Nigel McKinstry

I got married and have a young family now so being away from home during Covid-19 running my own team, struggling to get sponsors… A: it wasn’t paying anymore, B: I was spending so much time away from my family and C: I wasn’t getting the results I felt I warranted, deserved or could get.

It just wasn’t feasible anymore, it is so expensive to do MXGP travelling all over the world. I just wanted to stay at home and be with my kids, my wife and base myself back in Scotland where I haven’t based myself properly since I was 16 years old. Most years since 16 until I was 33, I’d have been in Scotland for 2 or maybe 3 months a year while the other 9 months of the year, we’d be in Belgium.

I never got to see some of the trees in my garden growing and I cut my grass at home, stuff like that in my mid 30’s now I am really enjoying being at home.

My kids are nearly starting school or well my little boy is but just being there and for the school run in the morning, I don’t want to miss those things. I still do feel competitive in the UK, I genuinely do feel that I can get another title under my belt but it will be tough. I am not getting any younger, I am definitely thinking more when I am riding these days – I’ve had my fair share of injuries along the way and I don’t really want to be getting injured anymore. That is just how it is so a lot more methodical and more thought goes into things. If this new bike, the way I am feeling on it right now, I think if we can get everything dialled on it that we can have a good chance of trying to shoot for the title.

Tommy and Harri have been the two main guys the past couple of years so I need to put it up there and mix it with them. We’ve obviously got Josh Gilbert and Conrad Mewse as well as a few other guys in the mix so it will make for good racing. Hopefully we can have a lot of fun doing it.

I don’t know how many more years I will race – I am just taking it year by year.

GateDrop: When you do decide to hang up the boots do you have any idea what you will do? Perhaps stay in the sport as a team manager or I think you’ve be a good coach!

Simpson: I genuinely think I could turn my hand to a lot of things. I am quite technical on the bike and do a lot of work on the bikes myself. I’ve really learned a lot of things over the years. I also think I’d be good at coaching, I think I’d be a good team manager… but I need to decide what it is I want to do. I don’t see myself being a team manager for the next ten years of my life after I do hang up my boots but it could work for 2-3 or maybe 5 years. But this is a stepping stone for me to figure out if that is something I want to do.

Image: Nigel McKinstry

I am still riding and racing at a very high level in the UK. If I can manage and do everything that I need to do for our team and I can enjoy it while Tristan Purdon and Taylor Hammal do some GP’s because that is what Simon from Gabriel wants to do, he’d like to have a GP team within the next couple of years. There would be a spot open there for me to continue on if everything goes well but it’s whether or not I can sacrifice that time away from home, my wife and my kids doing something I used to do but not actually doing it myself.  Will I get the same enjoyment from managing a team than racing? I could warrant the time away because I was a racer but if you are getting paid to be a racer or team manager, it’s a lot safer to be a team manager. At least I could fly out on a Friday and come home on the Monday or whatever.

I would still make money, essentially I certainly haven’t made enough money in my career to just sit down and chill out for a few years so I will need to get a job. But I don’t see myself going to get a 9-5 somewhere so I’ll stick within the sport for another few years yet after hanging up my boots.

GateDrop: Tristan and Taylor are going to do a few GP’s this year – could you be tempted into doing one like the British GP?

Simpson: It has crossed my mind and I’ve been asked the few questions by a few friends and my wife in particular (laughs). I would only go if I felt like I could go and do myself justice. I wouldn’t go just to make up the numbers, I don’t want to go around and end up finishing 20th because everyone at the GP’s is going to think, ‘why would he come back and do that?’.

I want to go and have a real good shot at it and if I feel comfortable, riding good and feel safe and fit then I’d give one ago. It would be a sandy one, Lommel or Arnhem but until that point comes in the season then I won’t know. It would be a last minute thing if it does happen.

Interview: Andy McKinstry

Main image: MXGP/Infront Moto Racing