Interview: Shaun Simpson – you just prepare yourself for battle!

Shaun Simpson has had a difficult last couple of years with the Wilvo Yamaha team with injuries ruining his momentum, but the tough Scot showed what he could do with some good results at the tail-end of the 2018 season.

Now, back on KTM, Simpson is bubbling with enthusiasm about the year ahead with the RFX powered by PAR homes squad and he is also excited to be back racing in the British championship and getting to race again at the Hawkstone International this coming weekend!

We spoke to Shaun about a range of topics, including the last two years on the Wilvo Yamaha, being back on a KTM, the level of MXGP, racing the British championship and getting to help young talented teammate Joel Rizzi find his way in the sport.

I guess we will start with the last two years at Yamaha, all looked great at the start but you never seemed to get a fair crack at it with injuries, food poisoning or whatever, it seemed to knock you back any time you go any momentum going. How hard was it to keep your confidence and drive going through those periods?

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It wasn’t easy and I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head there, the injuries ruined the whole spell really. It’s just one of those things that comes as part and parcel with the sport.

I look back at previous seasons where I felt a little bit more comfortable with my bike, these sort of injuries didn’t happen. So it’s not that I’m putting the blame directly against the way I felt on the bike, it’s just there seemed to be sometimes when I was out riding, everything seemed to be going great and then you would hit something and have a strange reaction from a bumpy or a rut or jump face and I wouldn’t be expecting it. So that was something strange and I can honestly say I never really completely gelled with the Yamaha. It was a fantastic set-up and a lot of special parts on the bike and the product and amount of support that we had was amazing but, the actual feeling that I had when I went out to race wasn’t always 100% happy with the way things were.

We started getting into situations where myself and the team were trying to move in slightly different directions, I had one idea and they had another and we couldn’t come to agreement on what was the best set-up for me.

That aside, the way I felt coming back from each individual injury, it was harder to do each time. It’s one thing getting injured once in a season and coming back from it and come back 100%. But twice in two years I pretty much got injured again straight away after coming back, it was a tough old grind.

As everyone knows if you start the season at 100% and get injured, everyone else stays at 100% and you’re at 60,70,80%. You are playing catch up for the rest of the year, so a key thing in GP is to avoid injury and that just didn’t happen for me. It was a shame for me, a shame for the team. It was a couple of years that could have been a lot, lot better in some many different ways.

You came on strong in the last few GPs of the, probably just missed getting on the Nations team when you hit form, I’m sure it was good confidence boost to see you still have the pace and were very competitive?

Yeah, I think it’s no surprise to myself that I still am fast enough, I still have the speed, the drive, the determination and all those factors. It’s just one of those things where each piece of my little jigsaw puzzle needs to be correct. And I must admit, the older I am getting the harder it is to piece those pieces together. When you are a young pup, you don’t care about the finer details, you just get on and ride your bike to it’s full limit. The older you get, you know how the set-up has to be and what suits you and things.

Simpson Pic: Elliot Spencer

It was just a case of the finer details in my opinion, we looked over them more and more towards the end of the season and I was just getting to grips with a few of the finer details of the bike and it’s easy to keep yaking on about the bike but at the end of the day it’s man and machine out there and if one or the other is not 100% you can’t go and do a job.

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That’s why Honda, KTM and even Kawasaki to a certain degree with Clement Desalle, they keep working and working, you cannot underestimate how important that is at this level.

That’s a positive thing I have got going forward this year, because the team is new and everything is sort of built around me, there is a certain amount of responsibility on my shoulders. I am telling the team what I want and they are listening to me and giving me what I need, if it doesn’t work out it all falls on my shoulders at the end of the day! So there is a certain pressure with that as well but I am ready to take that head-on.

Even looking at Cooper Webb he seems much more comfortable on the KTM, Justin Barcia didn’t like the previous Yamaha but likes the new one, it seems to be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde bike whereas I guess the KTM you have ridden for years and getting back onto that isn’t such a big difference and more comfortable for you?

Yeah, I honestly think the Yamaha was a great bike, they did a lot of hard development over the last two or three years and the general bike is a fantastic machine. I just didn’t feel we managed to get the most out of it myself.

That aside, getting back on the KTM, for one reason or another it just feels like going home for me, it really does. I just sit on that bike, handlebar to seat position, I just throw my handlebars on it and go out and ride it, and already the shape, the feel, it turns, it must be the steel frame. It just gives me a feeling that I am comfortable with, every little bit that we have worked on from throwing my leg over it, we seemed to have improved it more every time. I really feel I am on a package that I feel like if you put your own suspension on it and tune the engine to your needs, I could win British championships and challenge for GP podiums, I genuinely believe that’s what we are going to do and to be in that position is fantastic.

I have to praise KTM so much for giving me another opportunity along with the RFX crew. When we first came together with this whole thing we weren’t really certain about which brand we were going to use, the RFX team rode Yamaha last year as well, so we were thinking of going with that but there was something in my gut that was telling me that I needed to get back on KTM, it’s no surprise to anyone when they look at my results over the last 10 years my best seasons have been with KTM. So there was a general feeling of not just riding the bike and feeling at home, but just being back in the KTM family with the contacts I’ve had in the past, WP suspension and all these things really resonate some really good feelings for me. I think we are onto a winner straight away from that.

Are you getting any help direct from Austria or is it KTM UK? Do you have any links back to the official KTM set-up?

To be honest, it’s a bit of a joint effort from Austria and KTM UK, there has been budget coming from both sides, as far factory support we have access to some of the factory parts on the factory parts list but other than that we will just be doing our own thing. As I said the standard bike is already a great package, a lot of people say that but I can honestly say hand on heart that straight out of the crate, the KTM is a fantastic bike.

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I genuinely believe that even completely standard I could challenge for a British title on that bike, but there are so many things you can do with it with the suspension, the chassis, the ecu, you can tailor the bike so easily to how I like it and it just fits my style great. It’s been a really good feather in my cap that KTM has wanted to come back and support me in this journey and to be totally honest getting back and doing the British championship is something that a think will really help me.

I like keeping myself busy and it doesn’t matter what level we race at, there is nothing like getting race wins, podiums, some prize money, it’s a feel good factor. You could go to every world championship round of the season and finish 6th, 7th, 8th, 10th and finish 7th in the championship and it doesn’t give you the same buzz as winning in your home British championship or winning the British title and having the home fans cheer for you.

A certain amount of the me feels like the British crowd, they do forget about you slighty, myself and Max Anstie included, Ben Watson, Adam Sterry, they dot see us in the British championship anymore and they forget about you ever so slightly so it’s such a good thing to be back doing the British. The public see you and it gets a bit of hype going, there’s nothing like crossing that finish line first and seeing that chequered flag. It’s boosts you up and then you go to the Grand Prix the next weekend having had a good weekend, positive things at this level are a dream to have.

Tommy Searle, Jake Nicholls when he is back, possibly Bobryshev, plus all the UK guys who are quick at home, it’s going to be a very competitive championship this year!

There is always a surprise in the British championship, you can be running top five in the world, come home and your local guys will give you a run for your money every weekend! It must be confidence thing, if they ride good in the UK they can bring it and really ride well, we have a lot of top class riders but not everyone of those guys can bring it to world championship level and that’s a shame for them.

I really look forward to the British championship, it’s not a boring exercise where I can come and relax and think I can win anyway. You really have to knuckle down and put the work in during the week and have your race face on and if you do get a podium, race win or the overall you have definitely bloody earned it! I think that is something that has went back generations, I remember my dad saying that when he used to do world and British championships he would come home to a Scottish championship he would have locals on his heels for the whole 30 minute race, it’s just how it happens. The British is well contested and it will be some great racing and I look forward to getting it started.

Simpson putting in the laps on his RFX KTM Pic: Elliot Spencer

Hawkstone Park is this weekend, great for the teams and rider to show their new colours and for the fans to see all the riders in their new teams and gear, you love the event and the track, I’m sure you are pretty excited to get the season underway there!

Yeah, it’s been a shame as missed it last year, in 2017 I didn’t have a great weekend, I had a problem with the bike and hurt myself in one of the motos. It’s nice to get back to Hawkstone, I have always ridden well there, anytime I’ve been on a KTM I’ve had a podium or winning. I’m going into this weekend open-minded. It’s going to be our only race before the world championship starts in Argentina.

I’m really, really happy to be back at Hawkstone, the weather forecast is looking great, the fans will be out, I’ll be back racing in Britain on a KTM with my new team and eager to get starts and show everyone our new team and new colours, we have got a lot of good sponsors on board this year; Fly racing, Bell, Leatt is continuing to support, Gaerne boots, Scott goggles, all these brands, I just can’t wait to show them off to everyone.

If it’s not a mud fest like it’s been in the past we could be in for a seriously good weekends racing with a lot of top names there and it the sun was to make an appearance and show itself it would make everyone’s weekend, if we can get a results it would be a great boost before the season kicks off in Argentina.

The world championship, the level was shown at Red Bud and with Herlings last year, but not just him, it seems like if you are fifteenth the guys are fighting tooth and nail and going the same speed as the guy in fifth! How is it mentally to prepare yourself for a battle for every lap of every race for 20 rounds?!

I think that’s it you just prepare yourself for battle! No one is going to go to Grand Prix level and have an easy time of it, Herlings included. Everyone thinks he turns up, twists the throttle and could win with his eyes closed, that guy puts in some serious work as does Carioli, Gajser and all the other guys. They work during the week and in the winter time so they can make it as easy as possible for themselves during the weekend and that goes for whether you are trying to win the race, get top ten or just get points.

It shows who has been doing the most work, for a couple of years there we are scratching our heads thinking how can we close down this gap to the front. It’s a shame Jeffrey has got injured this year, it just shows you that he is human and these things can happen and you are riding on the limit no matter what place you are fighting for. At the end of the day you have to put in the work and try to make man and machine as one and if you do all of those things then you willing get the best results out for the work you have put in.

Everyone can’t win the race but it’s everyone’s goal to do so. It’s quite simply I’m just going to go and give it my best shot. That’s the best mentality I have had in previous seasons and it’s turned out well. If you crack on, give it everything you have in the tank, come out the other side and see what happens, it will be what it will be.

There is not one part of me that is going into this year and thinking, ‘ I will just see what happens.’ I will be giving it 110% every single race – but you can’t do any more, there is a bit of luck and you just have to see how it comes out and if you have a bit of fun with it that’s when the results will probably come and before long you start riding the wave and you are really making progress.

Simpson’s new look for 2019 Pic: Elliot Spencer

It’s far away now I know but the Nations at Assen in the sand, I’m sure that’s big goal of yours as well to get on that team?

Absolutely, it’s no shock to anyone to say that I would like a crack at the Nations in Assen, it’s a track I have rode well at, deep sand, so that checks another box for me, but at the end of the day, if you are worthy of a spot on the team you pick yourself with the results in the Grand Prix should be good enough whereby it’s a given you should be picked for the team. It’s my goal that I ride well enough in the GPs that I pick myself for the team. It’s been a real tricky decision the last couple of years picking the third person and I don’t envy anyone’s job to make that decision, whether I agree with it or not is another thing but at the end of the day it’s quite far off and we will have to see how things are progressing at that point and see if we will be having a crack at the Motocross of Nations.

With the young riders coming through it shows the strength of the British riders and you have a young kid on you team Joel Rizzi showing a lot of promise, what are your thoughts on him and his talent, are you able to guide him?

It’s always nice to see the young British talent coming through and to get to work closely with Joel is a fantastic thing. If you ride GP and you are at the top level, you can sometimes forget about the young guys coming through because you are really focusing on your own work, so you don’t always know who is coming through.

That is one thing the British championship does help you with, I can see the who the local guys are coming through and in the European championship and Joel seems to be one of the guys that seems to be on course for a positive future in the sport.

Rizzi Pic: Elliot Spencer

He is a great young guy, he wants nothing more than to ride his bike, go out training and ride with myself. He would happily ride six days a week if he had the chance and people could throw enough parts at his bike to keep it going! He is quite a cool young kid, he acts a bit older than he probably is, he is a strong young kid but at the same time although I have a good laugh and a joke with a lot of the guys, when I get serious you can see him really honing in on the stuff I am telling him, you can see it sinking in and that’s a nice thing. It’s nice to work with him, he is great company, I like going out riding at training with him, I hope everything goes well for him there are a lot of big decisions to make off the track as well as on it at that age.

I know as well as anyone your career, when you are 15 you think you have loads of time but I’m 30 and I felt I was 15 just yesterday! 15 years in the sport and just gone like you wouldn’t believe, a lot of good times and a lot of bad times with injuries but there has been a lot of decisions made and you have to try and steer those young kids in the right direction. I remember getting advice off the likes of Josh Coppins and Joel Smets and that means a lot when you are a younger guy. You try to do your best with that information and try and steer yourself in the right direction and hopefully come out on top of it all.