KTM rider Shaun Simpson and Red Bull KTM’s Pauls Jonass stepped up to the mark in the deep sand of Lommel in Belgium this weekend to change KTM’s fortunes for the better in what has been a tough season for the Factory team because of injuries to its key riders.
With the absence from the track of the MXGP Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team, Shaun Simpson – who races for Hitachi Construction Machinery Revo KTM – delivered a career best performance in MXGP in the deep and treacherous soft sand circuit on what was a golden weekend for the Scottish rider.
Simmo went into Sunday’s races as the fastest qualifier and took two impressive race wins to secure the overall, despite constant and hard challenges by top racers like championship leader Roman Febvre and HRC pilot Gautier Paulin.
Red Bull KTM Factory’s MXGP riders Tony Cairoli and Ken de Dycker are both sidelined with injuries in a season that has been heavy on injuries right across the top teams. Tommy Searle, the third Red Bull KTM Factory rider also had to miss Sunday’s races after aggravating rib fractures sustained in the last round in a crash on Saturday.
Heading for the finish line in the closing stages of the race, Simpson had some heart-stopping moments when he took a tumble landing the quad but he scrambled back on the bike without losing a position and went on to wrap up his overall victory.
“It was a bit of a stupid one, really,” Simpson said. “I was still doing the quad quite easily but I changed my line and it took me into some soft sand. It pitched me one way then the other, and I went down. I don’t think I have ever got up as quickly. I was back on the bike in three or four seconds.”
In the absence of his team-mate Jeffrey Herlings, who suffered a season-ending dislocated hip in the last round in Loket (CZE), Jonass, in his rookie year, more than answered the challenge.
While the very experienced British rider Max Anstie was the overall winner, the young Latvian rode smart and consistent for his 2-2 result and left with the red plate as championship leader for the first time in his young career.
“It was a tough race, really tough, but I’m a quite good sand racer so the main thing was not to be over-confident, Pauls Jonass said. “I felt good all weekend and I was twice second behind Max and he was really fast this weekend. To have the red plate is something unbelievable. I didn’t expect this would happen for at least two years.”
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Team Manager Dirk Groebel also paid tribute to Jonass, saying: “None of us wanted to put any pressure on him. He should just put in solid races and he already did that over the last two weekends. This weekend it was just outstanding. He rode really smart and he made no mistakes. Our slogan for the rest of the season is “maximum points”. We are taking it race-by race.”
The Factory team also took time out to visit Herlings in nearby Netherlands this weekend and report that he in in good spirits. The double World Champion is mentally strong and now concentrating on his recovery process, team officials confirmed.
The MX2 factory lineup also had reason to be pleased with its youngest rider, Davy Pootjes (NLD), who started 2015 in the EMX250 class and is riding in the MX2 for the rest of the season.
Pootjes was unfortunate to have a small technical issue with his bike in the first MX2 moto but came back strong in the second to finish sixth for overall 11th place. “For sure I’m happy with my riding and I’m very satisfied with my weekend,” he said. Gruebel also praised his strong comeback in his second race, saying: “It was outstanding for the youngster.”
Lommel was also a very successful outing for the three KTM Factory Juniors – Jorge Prado (ESP), Josiah Natzke (NZL) and British rider Conrad Mewse.
Prado, the youngest of the trio, leaves Lommel with the red plate in the EXM125 class, and with a 1-6 result that gave him a podium third. He was a comfortable winner in his opening race on Saturday but crashed immediately after the start in his second moto on Sunday.
He then showed strength and determination to fight his way through the pack to be sixth at the finish. “I was happy with my win yesterday and I had a lot of confidence going into today’s race,” he commented. “I felt good in the warm-up but I crashed at the start of the second heat. I pushed very hard to come back from 39 to sixth place but I was very tired in the last laps.”
Natzke finished overall fourth with his 6-3 race result and also said he was happy with his riding in the difficult sand. The young New Zealander recalled that in a former sand race at Valkenswaard he had really struggled, and even got lapped. “I’m very happy about how I have improved this year. I’ve been training a lot on the sand with Stephan Everts and the team. My main goal has been to take it one race at a time.”
Team-mate Conrad Mewse finished a very solid overall sixth with a 5-4 result on a day when even the most hardened and experienced riders admitted it was tough going. Prado, Natzke and Mewse are now 1, 2 and 4 in the EMX125 championship points.
KTM Factory Juniors face their final round of EMX125 in Assen. The next round for MXGP and MX2 riders is at Mantova, Italy on August 23.