Simpson ends MXGP career after almost two decades of Grand Prix racing
Tony Cairoli is not the only MXGP rider to unbuckle his Grand Prix boots at the Citta di Mantova round in Italy for the eighteenth and final fixture of the 2021 series. Shaun Simpson, the most successful premier class racer from the UK in the four-stroke era, also decided to close a career that began with several wild-card appearances in 2004 and lasted eighteen full terms at the highest level.
The 33-year-old Scot announced his decision in a small event attended by media, friends, family, sponsors and management from promoters Infront Motor Racing at Mantova and on the eve of the 2021 season finale. The three-times British Champion had won four MXGP Grands Prix with both Yamaha and KTM and finished 4th in the world in 2015 while operating from a privateer team set-up. In the last two seasons Simpson had been competing from the confines of his own SS24 KTM MXGP squad but missed most of 2020 due to a concussion and fractured vertebrae; sustained in a practice crash at Lommel in Belgium.
In 2021 he has struggled for top ten speed but still showed his experience and technique with 7th place finish at the Grand Prix of Czech Republic. Like several other older athletes in MXGP Simpson has found the rapid one-lap demands of Timed Practice hard to conquer and this handicap has affected his gate positions and start potential. His best qualification with the KTM 450 SX-F this season has been a 6th in Sardinia.
Although he will step away from the international stage Simpson plans to keep racing in the UK in 2022. “What can I say? It’s time,” he commented. “2020 was a disaster with the pandemic and also my concussion and back injury so it was important to come back from that and prove that I can still compete at the highest level. I wanted to close the story in the right way and when we’ve made starts then we’ve run top ten pace in MXGP this year, especially when 2021 is maybe the hardest and toughest season I’ve ever seen or experienced for speed. It’s crazy-fast and competitive.”
“It almost goes without saying that I owe so many thanks to many people, everyone who believed in me or backed me or took a chance on a Scottish kid who just wanted to fulfil his dream of riding at the top,” he added. The journey has been brilliant: at times hard and painful and at times everything that you’d expect from a career in this sport. We’ve travelled the world, met a lot of very cool fans, beaten some of the best riders and had an amazing time.”
The full-time retirements of Cairoli, Simpson and potentially Kevin Strijbos – currently the oldest active racer in MXGP – will bring the average age of the class down. Only Romain Febvre, Alessandro Lupino, Jose Butron, Glenn Coldenhoff, Arnaud Tonus and Jeremy Van Horebeek will be 30 or over come the start of the 2022 series.
Words: Adam Wheeler
Image: Ross Bell