Moto2: Who is Kyle Smith?
22 February 2013
By Neil Morrison
Motorcycle grand prix will have a strong British flavour in 2013, with eight full time riders, including three in the intermediate Moto2 category.
Amongst them is a name that may be unfamiliar to some in the UK: Kyle Smith. The 21-year-old Yorkshire rider will contest the Moto2 class this year alongside 2010 Champion Toni Elias in the Blusens Avintia team.
Smith's road to the world stage has been slightly unconventional for a lad from Yorkshire.
His ride came after a highly competitive spell in the Spanish CEV stock extreme championship through 2010 to '12, with some eye-catching displays. He was ranked second overall last season after finishing inside the top six in every race with two podiums, including a precocious race win at a damp Jerez.
So was the ride in the Moto 2 class a natural progression after the CEV route?
“For me last year went really well. I had a lot more experience with setting the bike up and I had the same sponsor through all the year. The people around me have always been the same; I have my manager Juan Borja and mechanic Alfredo Morant. From the good results the Blusens team was looking for a rider for Moto 2, a new up and coming rider for the class so they turned to me. To ride in the world championship is just a dream come true.”
Although his two-wheel career started while competing in schoolboy motocross in England, his family moved to Spain when he was seven years old. He has followed a route becoming all the more common to young British talent since then, initially racing supermotos and motocross before turning his hand to the highly competitive Spanish short circuit scene.
“I raced nationals in motocross, but I seemed to do nothing but crash. My size has always hindered me, as I've always been small for my age. 85s were always too big for me. I needed to move up to 250 four-strokes but I was crashing a lot because of my size and strength. We figured we'd give road racing a shot.”
The benefits of coming through the ranks in Spain are well known where the world championship teams closely monitor regional and national races. Smith's early performances on asphalt merited the attention of Jorge 'Martinez' Aspar, one of the paddock's most influential figures.
After competing in the regional Valencia cup in his second year he was selected for a trial with Aspar's squad in 2008; and after impressing he was given a full time ride with the team in the national CEV 125 championship.
As a 16 year old, suddenly finding himself in a World Championship team wasn't easy and the results weren't ultimately successful.
“It's a real big, powerful team. I was only in my second year of road racing and I was in one of biggest teams of world with a possibility of racing World Championships if I had a couple of good seasons in the CEV. I was in the perfect situation but I had a bit of pressure and just kept crashing.”
Smith was thrown in at the deep end, riding against riders that have since become grand prix staples, like Luis Salom, Efren Vasquez, and fellow Brit Danny Kent to name but a few.
After only one point scoring ride and a fairly hefty hand injury at the end of the season, the team didn't further their advances. Looking back Smith now acknowledges the opportunity may have come too soon.
“The team treated me like a professional, like I knew how to set the bike up, and they were a good, really experienced team, but I had no clue how to set bikes up. I just came from motocross where we just bashed handlebars and got straight on the gas.
“I think another thing was when we looked on the telemetry they said 'Hector Faubel [Aspar's full time 125 rider in '07] can do this time with this set-up and then I'd go out and crash. You needed to do it step by step.”
It was a difficult moment and a new direction was required. But rather than lose faith in his ability Kyle saw the Spanish Kawasaki Cup as a chance to race competitively for a relatively low cost.
The prize for winning that was a ZX-10 and he then progressed into the Spanish Stock Extreme Championship. It was here that ex-GP rider and WSBK podium man Juan Borja put his full support behind Smith's talent.
“When I first moved to Spain I met my mechanic Alfredo Morant, who was good friends with Juan. Juan had a team in WSS at the time and he wanted me to have a go so Alfredo put me in contact.
“That year  I found my sponsor, Wild Wolff Energy Drink, and they helped out financially, along with Michelin. Every race got better and then the year after, I got a factory Kawasaki ride.”
Borja helped to establish a team set up around him and Smith began to thrive in a more familiar, comfortable setting. The stability allowed him to learn more about bike set up and quick, consistent performances followed.
“People that I've known for a long time have been helping me out which has been good. Juan and the sponsor have put a lot of effort in and this last year has gone really good.”
In the past six years it helped start the careers of world champions such as Bradl, Terol and Marquez and it has proven to be a truly competitive arena to hone your racing skills. Smith feels his few years racing in Spain have shaped his style.
“You can see it's a good breeding ground. You've got world-class tracks, the weather is perfect, and there are world-class riders in the CEV. The only fault is there are only seven races so you lack track time. Apart from that the competition is really good.”
Last year his main competition came from ex-World Championship riders Carmelo Morales and Xavi Forres, and regularly going up against the more experienced Spaniards has brought Kyle's race craft on significantly.
“Morales is not only fast, but he's super smart and never makes mistakes. He's really smooth and on the 1000 he knows how to conserve tyres. He is a step above everyone else.”
All in all, good preparation for what he will be up against this year.
His 2013 package is a mouth-watering one. Smith finds himself in a team that has previously run grand prix winners like Julian Simon and Scott Redding aboard the Kalex chassis that has won eight races in the past two seasons.
In Valencia last November he tested the 2012 Suter machine to get accustomed to the new class but has since found the Kalex more accommodating.
“It [the Suter] felt similar to a 125 GP bike, with a super chassis and the brakes were really good. You have to carry more corner speed, and not stop the bike as much in the corner. The Suter was stiffer, so the Kalex is easier to ride, and more comfortable, almost more like a road bike.”
Add to that he has an ex world champion sitting across from him in the garage. Surely a new team, bike and established teammate in your debut season must be somewhat daunting. Smith doesn't look at it that way.
“For me it's perfect. Toni is somebody who has massive experience [who can] help me out. In the contract it states that all the data is shared, which might not be that much help as his style is so different to mine.
“It's still good for track experience though. He's someone I can talk to after races and who better to have than an ex Moto 2 World Champion as your team-mate? He's a super nice guy and we get on really well. It should be good fun.”
A lot of his 2012 campaign was hindered somewhat by injury. In June a crash while racing Supermoto fractured a bone in his left shoulder and damaged a tendon. Since then there has been a calcium build-up on the bone, something that is mildly troublesome when attempting to muscle the bike around and change direction.
“The tendon had a bit of damage and there was calcium build up. It's been painful. I had an injection in Barcelona, which was supposed to disintegrate the calcium, and in 4 or 5 days it was good. It felt near to 100%. But just now as I've started training hard it's started coming painful again. I'll have a word with the doctor and see if I need to have surgery.”
It hasn't seemed to hinder him in pre-season testing so far.
Smith ended the opening Valencia test in 25th place, ahead of former world champion Mike di Meglio and grand prix winner Louis Rossi. He felt that he eventually made some progress after two crashes on the opening two days.
“We learnt a lot with the electronics and bike set-up and the times then dropped on the third day. There's still a lot of work to be done but the third day went pretty good.”
And in Jerez this week his wet weather riding was highly impressive, ending one of the damp sessions in 11th. He finished up in 26th, overall one place back of countryman Danny Kent.
A look back to last year's Stock Extreme race in Jerez demonstrates his ability on the damp track as he slid and jostled to a memorable win. Riding in the rain this year is a prospect that excites him.
“I really enjoy it. I always like to ride in the wet, it's always a bit more fun and rider talent comes in a little bit more.”
After the first spate of testing Smith remains pragmatic. Rather than setting unrealistic goals in an unfamiliar environment he plans to see where he is after the dust settles at Qatar, perhaps using his time with Aspar as a reminder to not expect too much too soon.
“I just need to finish races and progress. It's so easy to push and crash, do a few fast laps and crash again. I don't know any tracks outside Spain, even in England. Moto2 is a super tough category so [my aim is] to finish and get experience and hopefully during the few races in Spain I might push a little bit and get some good results.
“I just have to have as much fun as I can, finish races and get experience.”
Look out for Kyle Smith in 2013.