Simpson on Watson moving to MXGP

The 2021 MXGP world championship will count on the presence of just four British riders: Shaun Simpson, Adam Sterry, Ben Watson and his brother Nathan. Only Simpson, now 33 and into the second year of running his own world championship team, has experience of winning Grand Prix and standing on the podium in the premier class.

The Scot missed most of 2020 due to the lingering effects of a concussion and then fractured vertebrae but is set for his eleventh term in MXGP this year, by far the most seasoned of the Brits on the 450s. “I’m obviously the most experienced and that counts for a lot in this class,” he says. “If you don’t take advantage of opportunities and situations when they ariseon the track then you can easily find yourself battling far behind because it’s a stacked field.”

The former multi British Champion may have the better CV but many eyes will be on Ben Watson in 2021 as the sole factory rider among the quartet and hot from a successful MX2 campaign in 2020 where he was the most competitive racer at the end of the campaign. Simpson believes that the Monster Energy Yamaha rider’s form, physique and unknown potential will stand in his favour but doesn’t want to shield the 23-year old from the depth of the challenge ahead in MXGP.

“Ben is obviously fired-up from those good results in MX2 and that spunk counts for a lot but, on the other hand, it doesn’t take long to eat some serious stones from the back of those 450s to realise the job at hand,” he warned. “If he can get the bike out of the start then he’ll be onto a winner. The difference from MX2 to MXGP is the amount of riders that really, really fight. A rider like [Henry] Jacobi really struggled to make the top ten. Only guys like [Ken] Roczen, [Jeffrey]Herlings and a few others can come from MX2 and do some real damage straight way.”

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“It will be tough but as long as Ben understands and has the right mindset that then he should be OK. If he is thinking top fives and MX2 results then it can hurt bad when it doesn’t happen. Guys like Pauls Jonass were fighting for wins every week in MX2 and then had to really grind away at it to get anywhere near the same level in MXGP. Ben is probably a better big bike rider than in MX2. He has a lot of things running in his favour. I’m not the most talented guy but I worked hard and had a good career.”

Simpson himself is looking at 2021 as a year to re-build and to re-ignite interest in his SS24 KTM MXGP racing team.“Sponsorship has been really tough but I’m eager to get some races done and results on the table to get some people enthused,” he said. “At the moment I’m just keeping fit andeyes peeled for any changes in the GP calendar; it’s been difficult to plan things with training. We’ve been working one week hard and one week quite easy whereas we would normally be pounding the riding by now. It feels like we are in pre-season but the schedules are changing daily.”

During the UK lockdown in Scotland he has welcomed a second child into his family – a daughter, Orla – and has been setting up the 2021 KTM 450 SX-Fs with his mechanic, father and ex-racer Willie. “We’ve been working on the bike a bit and the rigidity of the frame and just suspension to find the magic setting but it’s hard with the limited tracks we have,” he says. #24 is also hoping to challenge for his third MX1 British Championship in 2021 and has the chance to log four of the eight rounds planned for the contest prior to the MXGP opener in Russia on June 13th. The races at Culham, Foxhill, Lyng and Canada Heights could also be a magnet for other Grand Prix riders, certainly Simpson’s countrymen aiming for world championship spoils.

Words: Adam Wheeler

Images: Yamaha