Simpson and Watson talk Mantova
Three weeks had passed since arguably the biggest milestone in the story of the Hitachi Construction Machinery Revo KTM team and their first 1-1 triumph in the premier class of the FIM Motocross World Championship. Shaun Simpson and Ben Watson travelled south and to Italy for the third time in 2015 for the Grand Prix of Lombardia where the sand of the Mantova circuit saw the Scot and GP of Belgium victor post a decent fourth position overall and in using a factory 450SX-F KTM for the first time in MXGP.
The weekend was hot and sunny on Saturday and slightly overcast on Sunday as 18,000 spectators filled the facility northwest of Bologna and in a park setting close to the centre of the town. The flat course featured many jumps and a shallow terrain that was still rough and rutty. Simpson was forced to circulate to a lowly sixteenth position in the Qualification Heat on Saturday as an incident while chasing the top five led to a bent shifter and the British Champion could not move up through the gears.
The 27 year old was struggling slightly through the Grand Prix. Illness during the week meant that he was not 100% sharp for what was the fifteenth round of eighteen and he felt the effects of his malaise in the first moto. Pushing up to third place Shaun took profit of the lighter and more nimble 2016 spec 450SX-F to hold third position for most of the race distance. Only in the last two laps did he lose the stamina to fend off Jeremy Van Horebeek and Gautier Paulin and came across the finish line in fifth place.
A great start in the second moto saw Shaun grab the lead and set the pace ahead of world championship leader Romain Febvre. The Frenchman – who would go on to win with a 1-1 scorecard – moved through, as did Van Horebeek, but Simpson did superbly to control a close fight between five riders for third spot and jump past the chequered flag to go 5-3 and fourth overall on the day. Finishing ahead of Max Nagl meant that ’24’ is now up to fifth in the MXGP standings and with 25 points from the next Grand Prix can overtake the absent Tony Cairoli and push into a career-best fourth place in the premier class.
Ben Watson went 14-18 on the day for eighteenth overall. The teenager had to return from a first corner crash in the opening moto and then experienced a technical problem in the second that meant a tricky trip through the classification. The rookie is now twentieth in the MX2 championship standings and has only missed the points once from the last fourteen motos.
Hitachi Construction Machinery Revo KTM remain on the continent this week with the Grand Prix of the Netherlands taking MXGP into the famed Assen circuit for round sixteen on August 29-30.
“There has been a lot going on and I’ve had a busy three weeks. In some ways you could say “he’s done too much” but I don’t regret it. I had the experience of Unadilla and then had the opportunity of the factory bike and we didn’t want to just turn up and ride it. The factory has given me everything possible to come here and do a good job and I totally respect them for that and it’s why they are one of the best teams in the paddock because they really do support their riders.
“Maybe the schedule has all taken its toll a little bit because I tested, then switched back to the ’15 bike for a race in Belgium then rode again this week. I did one day and wanted to do two but I felt rough. Coming into this week the track looked nice and quite technical. There was a lot of hype going on and a lot of pictures being taken and I could sense the pressure. If I hadn’t have stalled the bike on Saturday then it would have been an easy fifth, instead I got flustered and started riding crap. It hit me a bit Saturday night. I had to take a step back, get fully into my routine and make a fresh start on Sunday. I was quite happy with fifth in the first race, considering the way I was feeling at the end of the moto…but looking back: two laps! Arghh! It was painful. That moto was tough and I knew I would have to ground out another one.
“Everyone has been so supportive this weekend and my brother was here and talking about having a ‘box of matches’ and making sure you had enough to strike another one at the end – some sort of cycling story he’d read – and I think I just about got away with it today. I just managed to hold on in that second moto for third; I just had enough matches to burn and I’m really pumped with third. Fourth overall, fifth in the championship and manufacturer’s points for KTM: I’m delighted. There is already talk of what we can do to improve this week and everyone’s motivated. We are already planning until the end of the year and that gives me the confidence for the next six weeks knowing I have this entourage of people around me working in the best possible way forwards.”
“In the morning we made a few changes to the bike and I felt better on it but when someone crashed in front of me at the start of the first moto I went straight into the pile up and it changed the race. I was basically last and had to work my way through. I thought I rode quite well to reach fourteenth. In the second race I could feel the bike vibrating and not running cleanly when the five second board went up. Unfortunately it was another problem but it was out of my hands and I just have to keep on getting my head down and see what I can do.”
Roger Magee, Team Principal:
“A good performance today from Shaun after a busy period in the last few weeks and it was disappointing for Ben to run into some more trouble. I would like to thank the sponsors and especially KTM for giving us their support with the factory material and helping Shaun get to the level where he can consistently push for top three results and podium finishes. At the moment the season is heading for a strong end and fingers crossed we can make it happen.”