All eyes were on number 24 at the start line for the MXGP this weekend. The famously passionate, motocross-mad crowd that flocks to the Grand Prix of Great Britain every year had all their hopes pinned on Shaun Simpson – the only Brit racing in 2015 after injuries ruled out Tommy Searle and Jake Nicholls.
He didn’t disappoint. Holding off competition from some of the world’s best riders the Scot impressed in both races, grabbing the Fox Holeshot and leading for much of Moto 2. He finished sixth overall, keeping him on course for his best World Championship finish ever.
But while the 35,000 fans may have left Matterley Basin satisfied to have seen a Brit prove his World Championship credentials on home soil, Simpson himself has his sights set firmly on the future, where he believes bigger and better results await.
I’ve been an underdog all my life. I thrive on that and I like proving people wrong
“The British GP last year was a turning point for my season,” said Simpson. “I feel like it spurred me on and from there I rode better and better over the year and got stronger.
“I’m hoping that’s the case again this year and we’ll carry some good momentum after Matterley. I’ve been getting better and better every year. The top five is where I see myself.”
Simpson’s rise has been a gradual one since he turned pro in 2005, characterized by grit and determination. The 27-year-old finished 15th in the 2011 World Championships, 11th in 2012 and ninth in 2013 – when he also claimed his first MX1 GP win at Lierop, Holland. Last year, without the support of a major factory team and a factory bike after he left TM Racing, he finished seventh overall. Even with the odds against him, Simpson has gotten faster and faster.
“I’m not in a factory team so we have to do everything ourselves,” he added. “We’re the number one privateer team in the MX GP and I’m the number one privateer rider. We have to try hard to keep up with the factory guys, which isn’t easy.
“I still feel like the top five is realistic. Then who knows, with a factory deal and factory bike, it might be top three, top two and maybe I can try and go for a championship before my career is out.
“I’ve been an underdog all my life. I thrive on that and I like proving people wrong. I’m definitely not the most naturally talented rider but it’s testament to my hard work off the track. It’s my life and I throw everything into it and I pride myself on that.”
If Simpson breaks into the top five nobody will be more proud than his father Willie – who raced motocross for over 30 years, including a decade on the World Championship circuit. Along with Shaun’s younger brother Stefan, Willie now helps his son plot world domination as his mechanic on the Hitachi REVO KTM UK team.
I can go for a championship before my career is out
“Family has been a big part of what I’m about,” added Simpson. “We’re a tight little unit and we work well together. It’s a small team and we get results. It’s nice to see what we’ve achieved especially having little resources.
“The end goal was to get me the results to earn me a factory ride again and at 27 I feel like I’ve still got a lot more to give.”
Simpson’s potential is obvious when you look at his season so far outside of the World Championship. The Fife-born rider, now based in Belgium, is currently defending his British National Championship title, which he also won back in 2008, in style and was unbeaten at British events before Matterley. He believes consistency at home is the first step on the road to international success.
“The British Championship is a massive thing for myself and the team. When I’m finished racing motorbikes at the end of my career I want to say I did as best as I could and part of that is being number one in Britain.
“The stage I’m at in my career now, it’s all about upping your profile and the results in the UK have really spurred that on. Hopefully we can have a great season this year and who knows what doors might open for the future."
Simpson is currently knocking on the door, hoping to break into the top five in the rankings - but he’s not the only one. The British Grand Prix was won by eight-time world champion Antonio Cairoli, but the Italian is only third after seven rounds and a few surprise names have been setting the early pace for the 18-stop season. It could be one of the most competitive campaigns in recent memory but Simpson is confident he will be among the elite when the dust settles.
“Quite often you see a group of five or six guys pull away at most of the races and I want to be one of that top five or six contenders. Not only for races but to keep myself consistent for a shot at the title one day. People are starting to believe that I’m one of those guys, and I have believed that for a while, but it’s about proving that on the world stage week in week out.
“It’s so well contested and so tough and everyone is riding the same sort of speed. One week you can be third or fourth and the next you can be battling for tenth. There’s guys at the top that maybe we didn’t anticipate being there. You just have to get in there and do your best and take any chances that you get.”
With form, family and fervor on his side, surely it won’t be long before crowds in Britain, and around the world, are watching Simpson climb MXGP podiums on a regular basis.