Grand Prix thirst!
MXGP has an OAT list and has done for several years now. A roster of Official Approved Teams essentially limits the MX2 and MXGP classes to a gaggle of squads and a line of athletes and names that permanently fill the gate each week. It is perhaps the biggest culture shift in a sport that once used to allow the factory worker to fight a factory rider on any given weekend. The trimming of the elite and the investment needed to contest a series that traverses the globe to nineteen rounds means it is a tough fraternity to penetrate. As with any sport there are faces that fit, sponsors that pay and more attractive passports that mean entry for athletes to the top is not always based on being ‘the best of the best’.
Graeme Irwin is leading the British Championship with three rounds to go and has the kind of ability and character that should make any transition to a higher level a no-brainer. Graeme could be fronting the Dutch, Belgian, Spanish or any other series and his quest to break back into Grand Prix (two aborted attempts as a world championship rider earlier in the decade were thwarted by injury) is somewhat indicative of the void that many professionals face if they have been victims of operations, inexperience, poor (or no) guidance and sometimes age. #5 has found an effective home under the watch of British racing icon Dave Thorpe as the Honda team thrive within the UK and after some wretchedly inconsistent years Irwin is finally generating the buzz that many of his supporters knew would eventually arrive.
True to cliché Graeme’s leap to the FIM stage as a wide-eyed teenager was too swift and he has gone back to national competition, spluttered for a while and is now pushing forward with typically boundless energy (Wilvo Yamaha’s Shaun Simpson: ‘Graeme would give MXGP a good go…there is plenty of fight in that guy’). He stands on the threshold once more and has to opt for domestic comfort and acclaim for the coming seasons or strive to test himself on the international stage.
When we sit down to talk at the Grand Prix of Germany it is starkly obvious where Irwin wants to take his career. As he admits, the trucks and awning splendour and organisation of Grand Prix now carries a different kind of awe for the recently married father of one. Irwin’s family status and residence in Northern Ireland (he moved back from England this year for the first time since 2009) is another part of the employment/risk equation that means any decisions for the future cannot be taken lightly.
‘There are people that seem to think when you have a family then that’s you finished, you won’t be able to do GPs or this or that,’ he says. ‘It is not the case at all. And I wouldn’t change my situation for the world. I’m glad my little girl is going to grow up with me racing…but she’s twenty months old now and oh my god! She’s definitely the boss!’
Family might not be an issue that troubles the thoughts of many MXGP team managers (there are at least five other fathers in MXGP) but the standard questions of a rider’s capability and consistency are valid in order to combat a field that contains 19 former Grand Prix winners in the top 23 of the current standings.
‘Graeme he really needs to try and make it in MXGP from next year,’ says Magee, now running his KTM effort in Grand Prix for more than thirteen years. ‘If he doesn’t find a place in a team that competes both in the British and the Worlds, he is going to find himself ‘too old’ at the ripe old age of 25. He definitely has really good speed and, without doubt, he is one of the most ‘ballsy’ riders on any circuit – I haven’t seen a jump yet that he wouldn’t attempt.’
‘That said, he may need to work on his concentration levels to be competitive in MXGP as the pace is really now so intense for the full duration of each race. It is a completely different level from racing solely in the UK with the additional travelling and so on, but I know that Graeme seems to have the determination and commitment to take it to the next level. He needs to make good decisions over the coming months if he wants to fulfill his dreams.’
Importantly for Irwin those dreams are still causing restlessness, and to his credit the desire to compete in MXGP is tangible. His presence in Germany is more than a curious look. It is part sizing-up, part recruitment drive and this is where an athlete of his ilk draws admiration: it would be easy to take a familiar route and remain one of the best on British soil…but Irwin wants more.
First question I have is from Johnny Rea-
He said ‘ask Graeme why he didn’t switch to road racing and put another three zeroes in his bank account!’
Hahaha! Very true!
Seriously though: was it ever an option?
There was never a time when I thought ‘I cannot do that…’ and the option to go that way is always there [pauses] but when you work so hard for something and you aren’t happy with what you achieved then there is no point in making a switch.
Would it be like ‘settling’ for something else?
Yeah, it would be like saying ‘I’m happy with what I have done in motocross…let’s go to the road’ and that is not the case. I’m still 24. I get paid to do what I am doing and to do road racing I‘d have to find 60-70,000 and for a start where would that come from? What is Graeme Irwin and his family going to live off?!
Have you tried it much?
I did one race and finished seventh, beating some guys who do British Superbike. I hadn’t done any testing, just three track days and went to a race. You have Grade A and Grade B and A has BSB racers. It was the Sunflower Trophy, so quite a big one and perhaps among the most popular in Northern Ireland. I’m sure I had a seventh, or maybe a sixth. I don’t know of anybody else who has done that after a couple of track days and I was only two seconds away from my brother who is winning road races. He was on Superbike and I was on a stock Honda…[thinks] I don’t know; it is something that is always on the burner. We could make a full interview on this subject because I tend to get asked about it a lot.
One question you cannot have faced much concerns the feeling of leading the British Championship: it must be something you visualised at some point…?
It is nice…but probably something I thought I’d be even happier with. There is no great pressure with the red plate or anything, and I’ve found that it has just makes me want to race in the world championship even more and that’s why I have come here this weekend, so see what’s going on.
To read the rest of the interview click HERE
Photos by Ray Archer