Interview with Simo Kirssi

It’s never easy to get an interview with Simo Kirssi. The softly-spoken 27-year-old from the southern Finnish town of Anjalankoski prefers to let his riding do the talking but with an ever increasing number of fans following his successful racing career with BMW Motorrad Motorsport – especially the excellent results achieved recently at Erzberg – the ‘flying Finn’ spoke about how he is enjoying life in the spotlight.
It was at this year’s BMW Motorrad Days festival where a new, more relaxed Simo Kirssi could be found, mixing it on the purpose-built X-track with co-stars Joel Smets, Sascha Eckert and Andi Lettenbichler, and mixing off-track with enduro fans, all of whom were keen to get that coveted Kirssi autograph. There is no one else around who can ride a BMW HP2 Enduro quite like Kirssi, and to see him literally flying through the air several meters above the tabletop jump at was a joy to behold.
Fresh from an unprecedented double victory at the world-famous Erzberg Rodeo, Simo proved beyond doubt that there is no one quicker or braver up the Iron Mountain. His fastest time of 8:44.03 seconds was astounding, even though Simo believes he could go even faster:
“The course had changed and was slower than last year, which made it better for smaller bikes. In the first run I had difficulty shifting gears – which really messed up my rhythm – and the problem with Erzberg is that you don’t get too many chances. However, on the second run I started early in the day to make the most of the conditions, which worked really well and I got to the summit without any mistakes. In some turns I could have braked a little bit later but I was happy with the way I rode and to have got the fastest time is great. I think if BMW build an even faster bike then I can improve my time even more!”
Much to the amusement of the race fans that made the journey to Erzberg, Simo also decided to have a go in the Red Bull Hare Scramble on the HP2 Enduro! The Hare Scramble at Erzberg is known as the world’s hardest and most technical one-day enduro event. The fastest 500 riders from the Iron Road Prologue qualify for this gruelling race that takes place on a separate 22 mile course on the ‘Iron Mountain’ and lasts for four hours. Out of 500 starters, only around 20 usually make it to the end and every year the course is changed to include new sections aimed at catching riders out, with high rocks, rivers and mud, not to mention all the dust!
There’s no chance of winning – or even finishing – the event on a big, powerful enduro, as you need a lightweight single-cylinder bike for any chance of success, but Simo decided to have a go anyway and actually made it all the way to checkpoint five!
“As for getting to checkpoint five, I don’t exactly remember what Giovanni Sala did in the Hare Scramble in 2006 on a KTM 950 but I wanted to have a go on the HP2 and see how far I could get. It’s getting harder on the big bikes but it’s only once a year, so why not?”
Although playing chess is one of his favourite pastimes, speed is very much in Kirssi’s blood. Many motorsport fans would therefore have expected to see him competing at Pikes Peak International Hill Climb this July, as he recorded the top speed in last year’s ‘Race to the Clouds’ on an HP2 Enduro. However, Kirssi believed that the American riders would have the talent and the machinery (with the new HP2 Megamoto) to do the business for BMW Motorrad Motorsport at the annual Colorado hill climb – and they didn’t prove him wrong.
“It would have been nice to go to Pikes Peak as it’s a good event, but there is more asphalt than dirt now and the American guys know what they are doing. I had no chance to train there so it makes no sense to race, as the American guys have been able to test several times.”
And as it turned out the American riders came good on the day, with Gary Trachy winning the 1200cc class in an amazing 11 minutes and 46 seconds, closely followed by Casey Yarrow, Micky Dymond and Gary’s brother, Greg Tracy. All four riders completed the famous hill climb in under 12 minutes (Simo’s time on his debut run at Pikes Peak was 12:27) but with Casey Yarrow improving his overall time this year by 30 seconds on the HP2 Megamoto, a similar improvement for Simo would have put him in the top four.
With the debut of the new 450cc sports enduro prototype, it’s a really good time for Simo to be involved with BMW Motorrad but had it not been for a lucky break in 2004, he could have never come to the attention of factory motorsport bosses and had such a meteoric rise to success.
Like a lot of privateers, Simo ploughed all his spare funds into racing, even to the point where he no longer had enough money to get back home to Finland after participating in a German Cross Country race in April 2004. However, he won this race against very strong competitors such as motocross world championship runner-up Fred Vialle. Despite the win, Simo would still have been forced to stop racing due to lack of money and would have probably given up but Ulrich Hanus, Executive Director of off-road racing organisation ‘Baboons’ took a big risk and offered him a management contract there and then. Simo soon paid back Ulrich’s faith in him by winning the German and European Cross Country Series that year.
Simo first came to the attention of BMW fans internationally when he won the Erzberg Prologue in May 2005. Up against more than 1000 riders, Simo went faster than anyone else had ever gone before – even beating his nearest challenger by a massive six-second margin. He then went on to achieve a runner-up spot in the Italian and European Cross Country Championships.
2006 started off with success in the inaugural Snow Speedhill event at the Götschen Ski Centre in Bischofswiesen: “I’m not sure whose idea it was to race motorbikes on snow, but it was great fun because the HP2 Enduro has a lot of power and you can use all of it in the snow. I had been riding motocross bikes for most of my life and thought that it would be difficult to switch over to the HP2 Enduro but I was surprised at how easy it was.”
This was followed by another victory in Erzberg’s Iron Road prologue and the rest, as they say, is history. After year’s of riding lightweight dirt bikes, Simo has had no problem adapting to the strong power delivery of BMW’s HP2 Enduro and his success on the 105 hp boxer twin has inspired many other riders to race this bike. The HP2 has been seen in action at many events over the past 12 months, including the 24-hour European Endurance Day races; Baja 500 and 1000 races; the European Hill climbing Championship; the UK Big Trail Bike Challenge; the Tuareg Rallye; the Dolomite Rally; Le Touquet beach race; the Sandblast Rally in South Carolina; and even the Heroes Legend classic ride from Paris to Dakar.
But of course, what’s getting Simo really excited now is the new 450cc sports enduro prototype and the Finn – who cites Finnish motocross stars Heikki Mikkola and Pekka Vehkonen as his heroes – is really pleased to be involved with the development of this special machine.
“I’m really happy to be riding this bike. In reality, we’ve been working for such a short time on the 450 and have had a few problems, but this is normal when developing a new bike. We’re learning day-by-day and are constantly developing new parts, which is really interesting. We’re also doing a lot of testing – as much as possible – and Sascha [Eckert] is working a lot to develop the bike. He’s doing Cross Country and World Enduro Championship races this year and even more testing than I am.”
Things are looking good so far too, as the 450cc sports enduro has already achieved its first podium with Kirssi at the controls at a recent Austrian Cross Country Championship race in Reisersberg. It was Simo’s job to just go full race distance on the sports enduro but Simo had actually taken the lead as he neared the finishing line. Unfortunately he got caught in traffic when he came up against a group of lapped riders and another rider slipped through a gap to take the victory, so at the end of it all, Simo ‘only’ managed second place.
“As I was approaching the finish I thought the win was a done deal, but that’s racing for you – there’s always a bit of luck involved. I’m happy at the team’s progress though and we’ve certainly proved that the bike has the potential to win.”
Interestingly, after such a short period of development for the sports enduro, Kirssi was by far the fastest rider in the field and the 450 was also the fastest machine out there, according to the lap times.
So what’s new for the ‘flying Finn’, who once served as a motorbike scout in a fighter battalion during his military service? More of the same, according to Kirssi, who is enjoying life on two wheels and has no plans to follow compatriots Marcus Gronholm and Mikko Hirvonen into the World Rally Championship.
“I never did any rally driving, as I don’t like the navigation! The Finnish rally drivers are the best in the world and I try to get home every year to watch the round there but up until now I have never been tempted to have a go competitively. There are so many fast Finnish riders in enduro though because we have lots of areas to practice on, which isn’t always the case in other countries.”
One thing is for sure; we’ll be seeing a lot more of the softly spoken Kirssi in the future, doing what he does best on the HP2 and 450 sports enduro for BMW Motorrad Motorsport.