New boy: Shaun Simpson on getting to grips with life as a factory Yamaha rider
Among the six rider entry of the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team in the FIM Motocross World Championship is twenty-four year old Scot Shaun Simpson. The former British (MX2) and Belgian (MX1) Champion has begun his second season in the premier class of the FIM series and his first with Yamaha in an eight year career on the Grand Prix stage. Simpson is one of the UK’s most charismatic and articulate off-road racers. He is also the sole British representative on a works machine in the immensely competitive top flight where a total of seventeen different riders have walked the podium in the past two years. Simpson is expected to supply solid support alongside Steven Frossard and David Philippaerts on the YZ450FM through the sixteen rounds of the 2012 campaign. Here he talks about his integration into the Steve Dixon-led splinter of the works crew and the year ahead…
Shaun, how was it coming into the team and then going through that first hectic Grand Prix of the year in Holland on Easter weekend?
Being part of this team brought me back to that factory rider environment which I had in 2009 and 2010. The treatment, set-up, support and infrastructure is first class and being at Valkenswaard for that first grand prix and having to be in certain places at certain times and doing the team launch were a really nice reminder. The interest from the press was really cool and the questions were more about ‘how do you think you’ll get on?’ rather than ‘when are you going to win?’ which I had in MX2. Overall there was less pressure. It was a relaxed atmosphere around what is normally a stressful first event. Valkenswaard was also the first time that we really got to hang out around with the other [Rinaldi] Yamaha boys and we were all kinda thrown together at the first race. It might have been nice to have a day or something together beforehand but it was no big deal. I was reasonably happy with my debut. I said all along that I wanted to finish in the top ten and I took eighth, so from that side of things it was OK. I think if the middle sections of my heats had been better then I could have come away with something higher. In the second moto I could have reached the top five or six.
Is this season going to be about ‘survival’ and getting through all 32 moto races in the 16 GPs to ensure a good championship position?
Pretty much. When I was in MX2 I was looking to score around 30 points every weekend and I knew if I could make that happen then I’d be there or thereabouts in the top three comes the end of the season. On some weekends I was coming short of that quite a bit. An average of around 20 points per GP would have put me around sixth or seventh last year in MX1. This is something I feel I can achieve and is not too ‘out there’ as a goal. It is a base reference from which to work from. I feel safe and strong on the bike and some guys are making mistakes already. It only takes a few riders to drop out and you can start looking at the top five. Not that I’d want people not to miss races but it’s just part of the sport and you have to survive and be in it for the long run…be consistent. As it is I believe I should be challenging the top six by the midpoint of the season.
There was a good vibe between you and your Monster Energy Yamaha [Dixon] team-mates Zach Osborne and Arnaud Tonus at the official photoshoot and during pre-season. Was it a blow when they both picked up injuries and could not make the start of the championship?
Yeah it was two or three days with two guys that are really quite nice to hang out with. I really gelled with Arnaud during the off-season and we did a lot of training and riding together. It was good to learn from him and see how he approaches things. Then Zach came over and his whole mental attitude was different from everyone else’s. He was buzzing off some good results in the U.S. Unfortunately they both got injured and it was a shock to go from this nice, neat team that a lot of people expected big things of for MX2 and for me to do my best in MX1 to suddenly become the main rider with Mel [Pocock] thrown in at the last minute after some good results in the British Championship. With Christophe Charlier getting injured as well it was a big blow for Yamaha right before the first race. At the end of the day those guys cannot help me when I’m out on the track but I can’t wait for them to come back. I have to say that the atmosphere with Mel and Michael [Leib] has been great for the last couple of GPs. The main thing for me is that I enjoy going into the awning and I enjoy being with the team. It is friendly and there is no tension. It’s great.
Considering your steady form and speed so far [7th, 9th and 8th+DNF from the first three GPs] and the work you have done with the YZ450FM to-date is there more to come from ‘24’?
Yeah, definitely. For me the flyaways to Mexico and Brazil will be the start of my championship. Everyone will be on a level playing field because nobody will have ridden the tracks and I like that because I feel that I can adapt to some conditions better than other people and just ‘get on with it’. I know other riders like a familiarity with a track and to remember previous results or speed to get this whole mental ‘thing’ going on. There are other circuits coming up, like France and Portugal, that I like and then Sweden and Latvia where I can really get the ball rolling by the time the season hits the midpoint. I always knew Valkenswaard would be OK but then Sevlievo and Fermo would be a case of getting through those tricky tracks with the best results possible. At least they were out of the way early on!
How does it feel to be part of that large and powerful Monster Energy image?
It feels good, it feels different. It was a big change for me but I enjoy wearing the stuff and being part of the scene. I hope it something I can carry on with them for a few years because Monster Energy is professional drink brand that has such a presence. We’ve seen a few companies come-and-go, which is not so good, but it seems these guys are really here to stay.
What about the YZ450FM?
The bike has been great so far. From the point of view of practice, continual riding and getting mileage on the tracks the durability is amazing. If I was ‘Joe 90’ out on the street then I would definitely buy one because the amount of hours I’ve put into my practicing without a problem is phenomenal. On my race bike we’ve worked with the suspension and I’m happy but there are still one or two areas we can continue to develop. The power of the bike is great. I’m very happy although I’m struggling a little with my starts. With the bike I had last year I didn’t have enough power but with the Yamaha I have all I need in my hands but we just need to focus on getting it to the floor. I’ve had some wheelspin in the sand and then just too much traction on the hardpack and I’m struggling to keep the bike down and straight! I have to clutch it while everyone else is driving forward. We’re trying little things all the time. It seems like anything I want to change is possible and as a rider this is nice to know and that if you want to go in a direction the team is behind you and trying, rather than just saying ‘here’s the bike, ride it’ or ‘this is all we have to offer’. Everyone knows a rider gets faster or more aggressive as the year goes and that the bike has to change slightly.
The Michelin tyres have been good and although there is no service at the races and it is difficult for the mechanics I’ve been pleased with the base set-up we have.
You’ve been a British and Belgian Champion. With sixteen Grands Prix now is it difficult and risky to keep competing in national series away from the FIM World Championship?
I understand both viewpoints. I can understand that racing away from GPs carries a risk that can affect the meetings that really matter but from a personal point of view I know that when I focussed solely on the GPs in 2010 I didn’t really enjoy it. The free weekends were a bit disorientating. I wasn’t racing and just grinding out motos instead and I came away thinking ‘what have I achieved this weekend?’ and perhaps wasn’t so happy with my pace. At least for a race you keep busy, you make some starts and you come home with a good feeling if you’ve got some results at a British, French or Belgian meeting. At those domestic events you can run closer to the front and if you see that chequered flag first – even though you are beating guys you know you should be anyway – just puts that extra little spring in your step. My calendar is pretty packed again this year and this is just the way I have chosen to do it. There are hardly any free weekends until the end of the summer but that’s a schedule I’m happy with.