A tumultuous climate for the British Grand Prix and the first round of 2020 MXGP saw Shaun take an encouraging 11th position at Matterley Basin.
The Scot’s home round was a busy but fitting stage to launch SS24 KTM MXGP and the new awning and set-up saw the presence of many fans and well-wishers throughout the weekend. Strong winds were the only consistent factor through a period of three days that saw the circuit hit by relentless rainfall and cold conditions and then bright sunshine on Sunday.
Saturday’s practice and qualification schedule had been reduced to a single session due to the state of the track and the destructive effect of the gusts on elements of the circuit’s infrastructure.
On Sunday Shaun was busy and happy to receive a hefty autograph queue in the paddock as the public responded to the longed-for blue skies. On the track the first moto did not go to plan. Simpson made a good job out of the gate but then tagged Jeffrey Herlings and almost crashed. He veered off the track and re-joined in last place. A superb first lap saw him into the top fifteen but then he was hit by Brian Bogers and crashed. Far outside the top twenty, #24 worked through his urgency and some arm-pump to start regaining positions. He matched the pace of the top ten riders and made ground: reaching 18th by the chequered flag.
In the second moto a degree of normality was resumed. A top ten start turned into a close chase with Benoit Paturel for 12th place and he pushed hard with an effective rhythm to capture 11th; earning the same ranking in the overall classification.
“If you’d asked me coming into the weekend then I would have liked an overall top ten finish,” he said. “There were shenanigans on Saturday and the fuss over warm-up Sunday morning but the points make the prizes. I would have liked to have been in the top ten and with 18th and 11th I never thought I’d be close but we ended-up 11th: I’ll take that as a positive amongst the hundreds from the weekend like the help from sponsors, family, friends, the compliments on the set-up, reaction from the fans and working with the bike to find solutions in a competitive scenario. Honestly, I’m buzzing. I want to go home tonight and work even harder tomorrow.”
Matterley Basin was the first of twenty rounds and forty motos in seventeen countries until the end of September. A hectic schedule of almost three Grands Prix per month with SS24 KTM MXGP also wedging British Championship dates in between. “Let’s just keep this thing rolling,” Shaun commented. “There will be races where riders have one good moto and one bad and I just need to keep consistent. It would be nice to pressure the top five now-and-then but if I can keeping chapping-on inside the top group and keep making 20-odd points a weekend then that will bring me up. The more I do it, the stronger and fitter I am going to get with the front guys.”
The rutty and bumpy English mud may have opened Shaun’s fifteenth year of racing but it was the first for his personally-tuned KTM 450 SX-F. “I’m happy but we are still figuring a few things out with small details like tyre choice,” he assessed. “I was really happy with how I rode and how the bike felt in the second race and we will take that onto the next one. I felt comfortable out there and if you asked me to do another 30 minutes around that track then not a problem. That’s how I need to feel. If I am on edge and sketchy then I wont twist that throttle back but right now I am good.”
The extremities of the weather made for a testing weekend and despite a couple of brief showers and hail on Sunday the venue was largely sun-kissed with an official 34,500 attendance for the weekend. “I think they pulled it off,” Shaun said. “It didn’t run perfectly because the weather hit us hard. The [practice] sessions changed but the motos all ran and there was some good racing. It was a massive gamble but it was a positive thing to have a British GP on the calendar and nice to start the championship here, which hasn’t happened for an long time, not in my career anyway. On the whole a good weekend and nice to see a lot of people out for it.”
The Grand Prix of the Netherlands takes place next weekend at the Eurocircuit in Valkenswaard; scene of Shaun’s very first FIM world championship moto victory back in 2009.
Photo thanks to Ray Archer