Bradley Smith has revealed the desire to end his six-year relationship with the Tech 3 team on a positive note coupled with the pain of not competing was the driving force behind his rapid return from a serious knee injury.
The Englishman made an impressive return to competitive action in Motegi, scoring a 13th place finish at the close of a weekend of consistent improvements. Dealing with pain and restricted movement, Smith was able to get more comfortable on the M1 after a three-race absence.
“I wanted to get back for me,” said Smith on Thursday of his reasons for pushing to come back so soon from the knee ligament damage he sustained at the final round of the World Endurance Championship.
“It was hard watching someone [else on my bike] but it was harder watching MotoGP. Rather than someone on your bike it was harder watching the sport that you love going on with you on the sofa. The first two or three weeks I felt really badly injured. I thought I can't come back.
“After a while I thought about Japan. I spoke to the surgeons. No one thought it was a great idea. My gut instinct was that I needed to come back. I knew I wasn't going to be at 100 percent but if I want to end this relationship [with Tech 3] on a high in Valencia, the only way to do that is to turn up at these flyaways and get a bit of riding under my belt.
“There is no way I could turn up at Valencia and have had eleven weeks off and try and come back in. Also, for the rehab for the knee, a bit of adrenaline and motorsports… the ligaments were stable and then it's just a case of bending it. What better way to do that than on a motorcycle. It beats being on the physio table, getting similar results. I prefer to be here.
On the condition of the injured knee, Smith continued, “It's far from perfect at the moment as you can easily see from the results in Japan. It was nice to turn up, get three days of riding under my belt when I was a bit rusty with no pressure at a difficult track, because there was a lot of turns.
“It was probably better to get the initiation there rather than turning up here which is one of the fastest tracks in the world with your eyes wide open going, 'Holy crap!' This place is going to be a tough one and one that I need to be a little bit cautious of.”
Smith's desire to get back on track at Motegi drew praise from team boss Hervé Poncharal. From a tentative performance in FP1, Smith qualified 15th before a heartening display in Sunday's race.
“The biggest thing for me was Q1. I got behind Nakasuga and just drilled the leg for a lap. It was nice because it showed to me that I do still have the pace still. The leg – flexibility and energy - is the limiting factor.
“It was nice to do a 1m 46.5s there and go, 'Well, I can do it if I need to.' I haven't forgotten how to ride. I couldn't keep that up for the race. I was happy. I found a pace that I was able to be consistent with, behind Yonny there. I didn't expect to be able to follow Nakasuga but in the race I finished closer than anyone thought I would.
“Considering my opening laps were 59s and 57s in FP1, so to be able to run 58s was a nice feeling because we started the weekend a little worried. Nevertheless it was good to get those three days. I don't believe the knee has got worse in these days since so that's nice.
“Until I get out on the bike tomorrow I don't know where I'm at. But I've been able to get out on the bicycle, feel a little bit stronger and I've been in the gym, doing a little more. I'm in a better place than I was seven days ago.
“We have three right corners here which I believe will be easier from that aspect but the speed is higher, so the demand is higher. That centrifugal force is harder. Changing direction from left to right and right to left will be tough.
“You have less time to go into the corner. Although there are not as many corners here it's still going to be a struggle. I'll know by the end of tomorrow a little more but I'm not expecting this weekend to be a walk in the park.”