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Old dogs, new tricks? Simpson and Strijbos make their presence felt

Old dogs, new tricks? Simpson and Strijbos make their presence felt
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For the third time in his career, former world championship runner-up Kevin Strijbos has defaulted to Suzuki RM-Z450 technology to find a new gear. At last summer’s Motocross of Nations, the 35 year old Belgian heavily hinted that his time in Grand Prix was ending, and furrowed his brow at the suggestions running his own operation. Then, a chance and support from an old ally arose. “Going by myself wasn’t an option,” he smiles now at the memory. “I was trying to find a team and had an opportunity with Johannes Bikes for the ADAC [German Championship] but I also wanted the GPs. It wasn’t possible with them but the privateer route remained open so I spoke with Hens [his principal sponsors] and he was good about it and wanted to try.” 

Keen to ride Suzukis once more – the brand with which it all started as a sixteen year old in 2001 and with whom he claimed his three vice-championships as well as an MXoN race win in 2014 – Strijbos contacted his old team manager and the previous guardian of the Suzuki factory team, Sylvain Geboers. “I spoke with Sylvain and 2020 was still a year where we couldn’t have no factory support so we went private and I bought bikes through a German dealer,” Strijbos said. “Sylvain was a big help with sponsors like Akrapovic and it came together. I have a bit of a name but, with Sylvain, it was an even bigger help. We even rented a small space in the old workshop in Lommel and when we could rent the bus from Paul Sannen it came as a good option and was better than our idea of going with a Sprinter van.”

Although Strijbos struggled with a physical problem and could not make the points at Matterley his team took a bold stride towards potential a second career in the sport for the Belgian…when he finally does decide to retire. “I hope it is going to workout. I know I won’t be world champion anymore but I still do all of my work at that level,” he said. “Maybe it is a step towards the future. This will probably be my last year – again! – so I was thinking it would be nice to finish where I started all those years ago.”

The old Suzuki bus – home to Mickael Pichon’s double title-winning RM-250s back in 2001-2002 – was a pleasant and sad reminder of the disappearance of the famous Japanese brand. With Strijbos and Geboers back in yellow however there is a small crack of light in the door that the company could return to MXGP. “Who knows? That’s my idea,” #22 admitted. “It would be nice to do something with them if they decide to come back, and also be involved with a role like a test rider. But there is nothing on the table, and I think many other teams would be willing to ‘go factory’ with them when they come back. We’re private for now and the only thing we can do is dream about it.”

For now Strijbos is balancing riding, racing and managing. “I had a lot of sleepless nights and I think Shaun will say the same. For sure you don’t need a lot of money to really go racing but, while I knew it was going to be a lot of work, I think I underestimated it. There was a lot of organisation, back-and-forth, emails: a lot of time. I’m really happy that Hens stepped in as the main sponsor for the whole set-up. It has been good so far. The results are not there yet but we’ll see.’

In the adjacent row at Matterley SS24 KTM MXGP had a smaller, more modest set-up but the grey awnings were permanently full of Shaun Simpson’s helpers, friends and well-wishers. For one of the most grounded motocross families in the sport the whole operation carried a throwback vibe. Simpson has reunited with father Willie for preparation of the KTM 450 SX-F and the humility of the package hid the competitiveness that the 31 year old Scot still has. Two incidents in the first moto meant he had to work from last to 18th but he tussled for 11th place in the second race. “I’ll take that as a positive from the hundreds from the weekend like the help from sponsors, family, friends, the compliments on the set-up, reaction from the fans and working with the bike to find solutions in a competitive scenario,” he said. “Honestly, I’m buzzing. I want to go home tonight and work even harder tomorrow.” 

“I might be a bit behind the other guys at the moment but I’ve been making sacrifices as we’ve built this team. Even today I couldn’t watch the MX2 race because I was fitting a few tyres with my Dad! Those things will calm down but it is all so worth it for me at the moment.”

“There will be races where riders have one good moto and one bad and I just need to keep consistent,” he added. “It would be nice to pressure the top five now-and-then but if I can keeping chapping-on inside the top group and keep making 20-odd points a weekend then that will bring me up. The more I do it, the stronger and fitter I am going to get with the front guys.” 

Simpson popularity was evident from a length autograph queue on Sunday and from where the multiple British Champion did not move for almost an hour. The Scot still holds the distinction of being the last privateer to win a premier class grand prix, back in Holland in 2013, and the familiar role of the underdog means he could be a regular roost sprayer amongst the factory guys throughout 2020. 

Words: Adam Wheeler
Images: MXGP/Nigel McKinstry

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