MotoGP Austria: Smith ‘happy to be back but in need of track time’

| | MotoGP
Picture: WithU GRT RNF

Bradley Smith returns to MotoE racing at the Red Bull Ring this weekend after a further eight weeks to assist his rehabilitation.

Having endured a major incident on the start line of the Le Mans 24-Hours endurance race at the beginning of the 2022 season - leaving the 31-year-old with fractured vertebrae - Smith was forced to sit out of the first six races of the Electric cup, rejoining the grid at Assen ahead of the summer break.

While heavy rain disrupted much of the MotoE running across the Dutch TT, Smith qualified eighth and scored points in the opening race. As the paddock gears up for the penultimate round of the season at the Red Bull Ring, before the finale at September’s San Marino GP, Smith hopes to emulate his previous Austrian success as his newly-established WithU GRT RNF team continues to get to grips with the Energica machine.

“Obviously the season didn’t the kick-off to the best of starts, just one week before we were supposed to be at Jerez,” Smith acknowledged from the pre-event press conference in Spielberg. “An interesting experience and a bit of a long rehab process, but yeah, I’m definitely feeling better.

“Feeling even better than Assen so that’s the main thing,” he confirmed. “I think Assen was a tricky weekend to come back, with the weather the way that it was, cancelled practices and only a two-lap race! So I kind of walked away from that weekend scratching my head but I’m looking forward to this weekend. Last time that I was here I got on the podium, in 2019, had good pace in the dry and in the wet, so we’ll see what ends up panning out.

“Just need a bit more riding time I think, and a bit more experience back in a race situation,” he admitted after the challenging recovery. “Good to be back with the team again and we’ll try to make a bit of progress from Assen because we’re certainly lacking a little bit on settings and direction. The team’s relatively new this season, with new personnel inside, so still getting our heads around it but hopefully this weekend will be a more positive one and I can fight with these top guys.

“I certainly struggled a lot with the front end in Assen - it’s been a continuous thing that I’ve been basically crying about for all the year is overloading the front tyre,” he explained with a smile. “So just trying to get our head around what we need to do with the motorcycle and the new front forks - that are obviously different than when I last raced here - to give me the feeling that I need and to get the tyre pressure stable and in the right place. With this place being so front heavy, with the hard braking in [turn] one up until three, down the hill into four, it’s going to be something that we really need to get our head around.”

While the title-fighters are gearing up for the final two rounds, the Brit obviously has a different focus for his return and his potential for the future.

“I suppose my mentality is I’m here!” Smith joked. “I’m in the race rather than watching from home so I’m just happy to be here. Try and get back a little bit of the speed that I had in 2019 and hopefully be around then to have a job for 2023!”

Picture: WithU GRT RNF