Organisation for the 2015 FIM Motocross World Championship is reaching its busiest stage in the paddock with almost all of the names inside the top 10 of both MXGP and MX2 either already confirmed with a contract or still chasing opportunities.
For Britain’s leading motocrosser, Shaun Simpson, the future is still a large white canvas and the Scot is hoping a team will soon start to add some colour.
It seems almost unbelievable that a rider with the consistency and reliability that has fought his way up to fifth place in the standings of the premier class as a privateer does not have an suitors banging on the camper door.
“Last year things moved quite quickly and this year being fifth in the world I would have thought more teams might have reached out,” he says.
“It could be that things are moving more slowly this year; it could be that there are more guys coming up from MX2 and more are moving around in MXGP. Nobody is really sure what is going on and you have talk of Villopoto coming over which is putting a spin in everyone’s ideas. I hope I still have a chance of one of the factory rides.”
Is Simpson over-performing? In one sense most definitely, considering that his racing effort in 2014 consists solely of the 26-year-old and his Dad, Willie, from inside the confines of the Hitachi Construction Machinery UK KTM set-up.
In another way Simpson has always been a slow developer. He needed three years of GP competition before he really hit the heights with podium results and started leading motos in 2008 against the likes of Searle, Rattray and Cairoli.
Again he has used his time in MXGP; it took 2011, 2012 and then 2013 before he graduated to the top level and won the last ever MX1 GP so memorably in Lierop last summer.
As yet he has not found the right environment to fully blossom and show his full potential. It has taken the backing of Roger Magee and his father to make headway happen this term.
“For a few years I’ve struggled and then I found my feet last season,” he offers. “I did want to continue with Yamaha but there was not a package available at that point. I’ve made a good privateer set-up with Roger this year and I have put everything into it that we can actually do with just me and my Dad, period. We have managed to get up to fifth in the world with some consistent results.”
“If you look ahead of me in the championship – or just behind – then they are all factory riders and factory teams,” he continues. “To get any further I do genuinely believe that I need a factory position.
“To get into the top five or top three then it means more resources, more technical advice and more people making things easier because there are times when I am driving through the night or working on the bike during the week. It’s like I am the second mechanic.”
Simpson stresses that he and his father are not an inseparable ‘double act’ and the solution for 2014 was purely the best for him and his career; it was a dynamic that worked in the second half of 2013 when he was racing from the JK SKS Yamaha team practically for free. A factory route (and it seems that Yamaha and Kawasaki are the only paths left) is now the goal. He helped his cause even further by taking a season-best third position in the second moto in Finland last weekend.
“It would be unreasonable to say that I am not proud of what we have done so far this year,” #24 opines. “We are reaping the rewards of all the work because we are leading the British Championship, got some good consistent GP results and been on TV a lot.
“I couldn’t have done more for the sponsors. I am not saying ‘I don’t want to do it this way again’ but given support from a factory team I could go a bit extra. Who is to say I could not go all the way and challenge for a title?
“It only needs a few things to click and you are up there. I can use Van Horebeek as an example. Last year he was good, this year he has been great. He has made that extra step and is half a step from going for the title. I feel like I am in the position that he was last year.”
Is the Simpson name not sexy enough for a factory saddle? While he is a solid top 10 rider and potential top five finisher (and as fast as anyone in the premier class in the sand) it is his regularity that is his main worth.
While others around him command huge salaries based on incomplete seasons and potential Simpson just gets the job done. He puts the sponsors in front of the cameras, is articulate and a rider press want to talk with, he gets the points that count in the championship over the long-term and hasn’t suffered a big injury since 2009 when his works KTM MX2 bike broke, threw him into the trees and he ended up with a broken leg.
“If I knew the answers then we would not be sitting here talking about it and I would have a two year deal already!” he says by way of an answer. “I have tried to be as polite as I can on and off the track, keep smiling and do a professional job. I’m not saying I am the fastest guy because it is quite clear that I am not. I am trying but you need people to believe in you and to support you 100% if you want to progress. If you don’t have that then there’s no point in going there.”
What about the privateer route in the USA? AMA competition could pay for itself and the appeal of a Briton mixing it through the toughest national series in the world would bring another level of profile and status.
“It is not the highest priority and I have not thought about it that much,” he says. “It is something I’d like to try because you always think ‘gee, how would I get on over there?’ I know Jeffrey [Herlings] is going in August and Clement [Desalle] and Kevin [Strijbos] have been before and seemed to enjoy it. You get prize money for god’s sake! It would be a totally different set-up but if a deal could be sorted then I would be keen.”
The next week will be crucial for Simpson and riders like Steven Frossard, who also put himself back on the list of riders concerned about their employment prospects after the Finland round of the FIM series last week.
By the time of the Grand Prix of Czech Republic next weekend then the official factory teams should be aligned. If the Scot ends up without a works place then he will have to consider shaking them all up again from the confines of what is largely his own operation.
“I think we have learned a lot this year and if we were to continue the package would need to be better,” he says, referring to the general vibe in the Hitachi crew that are poised for two more British Championship titles and maintaining their position as one of the most successful UK squads in the last five years.
“Things would have to be easier with more support in different areas and a bit more professional. There is not a lot of help coming our way at the moment and it is just the two of us. I find I cannot concentrate on myself and my job too much.”