For the second year in a row the Neuquen circuit will host the Grand Prix of Argentina and the opening fixture of the FIM MXGP World Championship. Shaun tackles subjects such as his RFX KTM debut, his goals, the Argentina layout and the ‘KTM Battle’ this season.
Shaun Simpson starts his fifteenth Grand Prix term with a busy calendar of international (sixteen different countries to be visited in nineteen MXGP round) and domestic (eight British Championship meets. For the first time since 2016 the soon-to-be 31 year old is back on KTM 450 SX-F machinery and as the figurehead of the brand new RFX KTM team as one of just three British riders in the premier class.
“Its good to be competing again at this high level in the sport and I would say I’m motivated as ever and still worthy of a spot in MXGP,” said the sole rider from the UK to have won in the MXGP division. “I feel that the team we’ve got together and the group of guys around me means we can come in strong as underdogs, as I’ve proved on a KTM before. I think we can get good results out of a small group, budget and team. I’m excited for this year; there is a lot less pressure. There has been a lot happening in my personal life so I’m looking forward to getting out on track on with racing: when that’s happened in the past I’ve also gotten the results I wanted to.”
Simpson, who along with his wife Rachel, recently became a father to baby Angus will look to immediately construct the roots of his trademark consistency to last the seventh month campaign ahead.
“Steady at the start and build-it-up to make the whole season,” he stated. “I’m enjoying the fact that I’m back on a KTM and one of our goals has to be making it from the first race all the way until the last as unscathed as possible. I want to rack-up points every weekend. Combine what we’re aiming for at Grands Prix with the British Championship and we’ll have a busy year but something that will be very rewarding and fun at the same time.”
MXGP begins at the scenic Neuquen facility in the heart of Patagonia and a short distance from the border with Chile. The track itself is formed from a loose sandy terrain and is both fast, flowing and inviting. “I feel that it has been getting harder and harder over the years with regards to how the soil has been packing-in,” Shaun says. “Everyone started off using scoop tyres and then I remember in 2018 it wasn’t even 50-50 in the gate, most were on the standard tyre. It’s a very fun track and located in a very cool part of the world. I don’t think anyone complains about going that far because when you arrive it’s very organised, beautiful and the track is well laid out. Nice atmosphere, nice people, nice places to eat and hotels. The track is perhaps not that technical, although it does roughen by the second moto but the battles on the track are really fast. I watched the 2018 race back last night and there was a lot of riders hoping for a mistake from the guys in front or having to take a major risk to make a pass. The track does not develop as well as you’d like and starts will be crucial.”
A briefly and partially dislocated shoulder at the Hawkstone Park International two weeks ago was an unexpected hiccup for his preparation for Neuquen, even if Shaun did race successfully at the LaCapelle Marival International the following weekend. Simpson is keeping modest and calm about his ambitions for the nervy round one.
“It would be nice to come away with two solid top tens,” he says. “I think that would be realistic because of how my shoulder is. The last two weeks haven’t been ideal but I think we recovered from that the best we could. We don’t want to ‘blow the doors off’ the season right away because we need to be in it for the long haul. It would be nice to have a solid start. I’ve ridden well at Argentina for a few years and I don’t think I’ve been out of the top ten. I’ll be happy with some good points.”
Being back in ‘orange’ means that Simpson is part of one of the more curious subplots of 2019 MXGP. Outside of the Red Bull KTM factory team, represented by Tony Cairoli, there are nine other Austrian motorcycles in the gate. Simpson is one of five of those athletes to have tasted Grand Prix success. Another is friend and fellow Brit Max Anstie. There will almost be an ‘unspoken’ tussle to be the first 450 SX-F in that pecking order and perhaps attract more support and profile from the manufacturer that stands as the defending champion in both classes.
“There are a lot of KTMs on the line this year but I feel that we have done our homework and we really want to be out there not to just to be the second best KTM but to be battling with whoever is around us,” SS24 offers. “Racing is still my passion and I still feel as excited about it as I did fifteen years ago. I know what to expect and where to go and what to do at the first Grand Prix and experience helps but the nitty-gritty is those two motos on a Sunday and that never wavers in terms of excitement. There will definitely be butterflies when we roll into the track. Hopefully there will be smiles on Sunday afternoon and then we can think about the home GP next.”
Photo thanks to Ray Archer