Although a rather unspectacular career in grand prix racing doesn’t make him an obvious candidate for success in the World Superbike Championship, Jakub Smrz has quickly forged himself a reputation as a popular ‘underdog’ addition to the grid.
Hailing from the Czech Republic, a nation that has embraced motorcycle racing more readily than many of its ex-Soviet counterparts, Smrz made the jump to Superbikes in 2006 and has established himself as a future prospect.
Smrz first hit the global stage in 2000 at the age of 17 when he signed for the Budweiser sponsored Budvar Elit Hanusch Honda team to compete in a handful of rounds of the 125cc World Championship. In a quality field of racers, Smrz made his impression on home ground at Brno, finishing 11th to end the year with five points.
Staying with the team for a full-time campaign in 2001, Smrz enjoyed a more prosperous year with a strong run mid-season that saw him score a best result of fifth place at Assen. Further top tens at the Sachsenring, Brno, Estoril and Rio helped his cause, although they were only good enough to classify him 17th in the overall standings.
A third season on 125s beckoned with Smrz beginning the season with Elit GP. However, with a best of just 13th position from the first seven races, he took the decision to accept an offer from DeGraaf Honda and graduate to the 250cc class.
The move was not met with success initially, Smrz scoring just a single point on his debut in Brazil to end the year a lowly 36th position in the standings.
Nonetheless, Smrz remained in the series for the next four years, three of them spent riding a Honda for Arie Molenaar. With the Honda not enjoying as much success at this level as its Aprilia rivals, Smrz struggled in his first full season, managing a best result of 12th at Assen on the way to 24th in the standings.
The 2004 season wasn’t much of an improvement, Smrz rising to 20th position with a best of 11th, a result he equalled in 2005 on the way to 21st overall.
Despite three barren seasons, Smrz still managed to find a berth at Cardion AB Aprilia for 2006, a move to competitive machinery that allowed him to make more of an impression on proceedings. Although he retired more often than not, when Smrz was finishing, he was regularly inside the top ten. His best result came with seventh in Turkey.
Just as he was getting into his stride though, Smrz made the decision to defect to Superbikes in 2007 after he was revealed as the surprise signing for the SC-Caracchi Ducati team. A former front running outfit, although the ageing bike meant Smrz wasn’t expected to revisit their glory days, he quickly showed he was more adept at riding production machinery than he was on prototypes.
Scoring consistently, Smrz was classified a fine 14th in the overall standings with a best result of eighth at Donington Park. More importantly, he finished as the third best privateer rider, behind the more experienced Max Neukirchner and Michel Fabrizio, both of whom were receiving greater factory help than he was.
With SC-Caracchi switching to Supersports for 2008, Smrz landed at another Ducati team in the shape of Guandalini Racing, which was graduating from the national series. With a distinctive 1098 RS at his disposal, Smrz proved more of a revelation than his eventual 13th in the standings suggests.
While his best race performances were restricted to sixth place finishes at Miller Motorsports Park, Assen and Donington Park, it was his performance over a single lap that really set Smrz apart from the bevy of independent competitors.
Scoring a provisional pole position at both Assen and his home round at Brno, Smrz even managed an overall front row grid slot at Brands Hatch. As it happens, a number of retirements prevented him from making an assault on the overall top ten, while Gregorio Lavilla pipped him to the role of leading privateer overall.
Nonetheless, Smrz’s performances guaranteed him a third season in Superbikes, once again with Guandalini. Riding one of two Ducatis entered by the expanding Italian team, while a greater factory presence in 2009 threatened undermine his progress, Smrz once again emerged as a star performer.
While the majority of his headline-grabbing success was centred around his qualifying performances – particularly a shock pole position at Misano -, Smrz supplemented it with some much improved race performances too.
Indeed, Smrz made a substantial step forward in this area this season, culminating in a first-ever podium at Assen, while his pole position helped him to two fourth place finishes at Misano too.
The occasional dip in form – he struggled at Kyalami and the Nurburgring – didn’t aid his cause, but Smrz was a regular top ten finisher and he was duly rewarded with tenth in the overall standings, classified as the third best privateer and ahead of seven factory rivals.
Signing for a third season with the Guandalini team, they in turn teamed up with BRC Racing – formerly Sterilgarda Ducati – for 2010 in what was intended to be a doubled effort. Although a switch to Aprilia machinery was mooted, B&G Racing, as it became known, would remain with Ducati for another year – initially at least…
Indeed, Smrz struggled to find a consistent pace on the normally reliable 1098RS, while the bike would suffer a fair share of mechanical issues. Seven retirements during the first 16 races would duly prompt the team to make the unprecedented decision to switch to Aprilia for the final five events.
A potentially difficult situation for Smrz – whose best finishes to that point were a pair of sevenths at Assen -, he nonetheless quickly gelled with the RSV-4 to score a front row grid slot at Silverstone and Imola, before claiming three top six finishes in the final four races.
Placing 13th overall in the standings – despite having the worst finishing record of any rider in 2010 -, Smrz nonetheless secured a return to the Ducati twin in 2011 after linking up with the newly-formed Effenbert-Liberty Racing outfit.
The first Czech-based WSBK entry, Smrz, together with team-mate Sylvain Guintoli, were certainly impressive during testing, and when Smrz came within two laps of his first WSBK victory at Donington Park having led for almost the entire race, it seemed he was set for a breakthrough year.
What followed was a season of highs and lows, Smrz scoring podiums at Donington, Miller and Nurburgring, but suffering poor fortune elsewhere. Indeed, during a mid-season spell of eight consecutive races, Smrz crashed out of six of them, contributing to a season total of 11 DNFs, substantially higher than any other rival.
Leaving him down in 14th overall, Smrz has an opportunity to make amends in 2012 by staying on board with Effenbert-Liberty Ducati, but with Guintoli – who finished sixth overall – remaining and Maxime Berger coming on board, Smrz must strive for greater consistency next season. Career Highlights:2012:
Extends his stay at Effenbert-Liberty Ducati 2011:
World Superbike Championship, Effenbert-Liberty Ducati, 14th 2010:
World Superbike Championship, B&G Ducati/Aprilia, 13th2009:
World Superbike Championship, Guandalini Ducati, 10th2008:
World Superbike Championship, Guandalini Ducati, 13th2007:
World Superbike Championship, SC Caracchi Ducati, 14th2006:
250cc World Championship, Cardion AB Aprilia, 12th2005:
250cc World Championship, Molenaar Honda, 21st2004:
250cc World Championship, Molenaar Honda, 20th2003:
250cc World Championship, Molenaar Honda, 24th2002:
250cc World Championship, DeGraaf Honda, 36th2001:
125cc World Championship, Budvar Hanusch Honda, 17th2000:
125cc World Championship, Budvar Elit Hanusch Honda, 28th