When Shaun Simpson last hit the kill switch on a YZ450F he’d just won his first Grand Prix in the sand of Lierop for the final round of the 2013 FIM Motocross World Championship.
Riding a stock Yamaha for the small JK SKS-Gebben team, Simpson’s achievement at the Benelux round was notable for being the only time this decade that a privateer had won in MXGP. After three years, two more wins and two British championship titles with KTM the 28-year-old Scot now returns to the Japanese manufacturer with a fresh two-year deal with Louis Vosters’ Wilvo Yamaha and the official satellite team for Yamaha Motor Europe.
#24 finished fourth in the world in 2015 and had to endure a broken hand midway through the 2016 term that saw him eventually take 10th place in the MXGP World Championship standings.
Simpson transfers out of orange after the dissolution of Steve Turner’s Wilvo Virus Performance KTM squad and will join former team-mate Arnaud Tonus on the blue bikes that should feature factory KYB suspension and will undergo a separate tuning programme to the Michele Rinaldi run factory outfit with Romain Febvre and Jeremy Van Horebeek.
We caught up with the rider just before his recent wedding.
DBR: So is there a bit of regret at leaving ‘orange’ or big excitement to get back to ‘blue’?
Shaun Simpson: I think more excitement at going back to blue because I left Yamaha at such a good moment and we’d been able to do such good things with the bike and the JK SKS team. We had WP suspension and we were working on the engine ourselves and we honed that bike to an absolute tee – I think it was one of the best bikes I’d ever ridden in terms of feeling. So it was a bit of a wrench to leave the Yamaha but I had three good seasons with KTM and built myself up to fourth in the world championship. This year was a bit of a dampener for a few reasons with the injury and so and I possibly did not feel as comfortable as I should have been and that was part of the reason that I couldn’t also perform as I wanted at some stages. Going back to Yamaha with good suspension, a good engine and a good chassis – I think it has really proved itself over the last couple of years – means I’m excited. I’m looking forward to building up a relationship with the team and it helps that they are just up the road from me in Belgium – Steve [Turner] will tell you himself that it wasn’t always easy managing a team while he was based in the UK and he did a great job and I’ve thanked him for everything he did for me this year.
DBR: You are coming back to that Yamaha Europe structure that you had a taste of in 2012 with Steve Dixon’s team and when you sometimes filled in on the factory bike. How do you feel about that?
SS: You just have to cast an eye along the Yamaha ‘row’ [in the Grand Prix paddock] over the last few years to see that it has been getting bigger and increasing. They are definitely upping their game and no doubt last year’s world championship helped them to improve their structure and everything. I know they are looking to improve their market in the UK so I don’t know what that will mean for the British championship and whether it is something I can continue – which I’d like to do. Overall as a whole structure I think they have it dialled-in – Febvre and Van Horebeek ride those bikes well and their organisation with the GRYT kits means a good influence in wider racing circles. All the parts are in place and you just need to build your set-up within that and go racing.
DBR: Are you not concerned about a third different working environment in three years?
SS: Not really. This year was a good test for me and coming off two seasons where I had to do a lot of things myself and worked closely with my Dad – 2016 was really enjoyable on a different level and it is a good thing to freshen things up and work with a new crew. A few of the guys [at Wilvo Yamaha] I’ve already known for a long time. Louis has been involved with Steve for a couple of years and we’ve been working closely this season. We’ve been talking for a good few months and making plans and organising for the right direction. Louis really has his fingers on the pulse when it comes to the team, the set-up and the rider and their physical needs. It is easy to have everything prepped in terms of the team but you have to remember that the rider is ‘number one’ and it feels like many teams tend to forget that without the rider there is no show. Louis really understands this part. He will be learning-on-the-job [as Team Manager] but he is very motivated and keen to make it as good as it can be. I think you could see that the role was wearing on Steve this season and he was ready to jack it in. Overall we have a good package.
DBR: So there is a chance you might not be doing the British Championship. How does that feel after several years with a packed calendar?
SS: Looking back I had a couple of seasons not doing the British – ’09, ’10, ’11 and ’13 – and I don’t think I was less busy – there were always some races to do and I like keeping myself occupied and on the bike…getting a few starts. There is nothing better than winning a moto. You can come to a GP every week and get good results but if you are not on podiums or winning races then it can chew on the motivation to keep getting fifth, sixth, sevenths and so on. If I don’t end up doing the full British championship then I know I will be doing some races somewhere.
DBR: Arnaud Tonus will be your team-mate and the first time you’ll have one in the same class for four years. Thoughts?
SS: It is great to have someone I’ve worked with before coming into the team. I was actually looking forward to being with Aleksandr [Tonkov] because I think I would have had a lot to offer in terms of imparting experience. So it was a shame it did not work out for him but he might be back, we don’t know. I know Arnaud and he’s a great guy with a nice family behind him. He’s had a couple of tough years but the guy definitely has skills. It will be good to try and work together, especially in the off-season and winter time and do a bit of riding and testing – make a base to get ready for the racing and long season. I think the atmosphere will be good and that is something that every rider strives for. Louis has been working on that [ambience] and having people want to come into the tent and talk with the riders and having everything as a tight-knit unit. With Arnaud we will have that in place and he definitely has the potential to do well, which will be fuel for my fire. I hope we can both be up there.