April 3, 2005.
Team Suzuki rider Joel Smets recorded his first World Championship race victory in two seasons today at the opening round of the FIM MX1 Motocross World Championship at the GP of Flanders in Zolder.
The RM-Z450-mounted former five-time World Champion - who celebrates his 36th birthday on Wednesday - gave himself, his fans and the factory Suzuki team the perfect present as he swept to victory in the second moto. His last win was at the Grand Prix of the Czech Republic in 2003.
The haul of 25 points was enough to ensure an emotional podium appearance with third place overall at his first World Championship outing since the British Grand Prix in May last year, and following his recovery from a bacterial blood infection and surgery to the broken ligament in his right knee last August.
Sunshine and summer temperatures bathed the 20-plus thousand fans at the circuit and once again, the RM-Z450s proved to be capable weapons from the start gate as Kevin Strijbos holeshotted both motos and Smets was also within the top five.
Smets' quest for a top-three spot in the first race was wrecked by a small crash after colliding with Josh Coppins on the second turn, but he recovered from ninth to take fifth place.
The second moto was vintage Smets as he seized the lead from team-mate Strijbos and defied the growing shadow of Mickael Pichon to give the team their third moto success with the four stroke; the last was at the GP of Sweden last year.
After pain-killing injections into his right ankle, Strijbos was able to run within top-10 positions, even though he was struggling immensely towards the end of the final race. A seventh and sixth was excellent work considering the amount of pre-season race-time he has missed.
Motovision Racing Suzuki rider Yoshitaka Atsuta contributed to an 'all yellow' assault on the first corner of Moto 2 as Strijbos and Smets held the top spots and the Japanese ace flew around the turn in fourth place. 'Yoshi' lost a few positions in the first lap melee but was inside the top 10 until a crash on lap seven left the machine with badly bent handlebars and he had to retire. A tense first moto and a few mistakes saw the ex-250cc All-Japan Champion cross the line in 13th.
"This is unbelievable. I cannot explain my feelings. After spending days in intensive care and with all the pain in my knee, leading this race for 40 minutes on a very physical track reminds me of all the work I have put in and why I get up every day to do some more. I can usually talk from morning to night but right now I can't think of anything to say. This is one of the happiest days of my life. After all that has happened in the last year, this is like winning my first GP."
"I'm happy with today. I started well in the first race with the holeshot, but after about 10 minutes, my arms were pumping up and I lost some places. I rode my own race and finished seventh, which was good for me and I didn't feel that tired. At the end of the second race my light was almost out! In the last two or three laps I did not know what I was doing or where I was. I feel virtually dead now but I am happy with my riding and that I could push for 40 minutes in both races. I didn't expect this result and that makes it better."
"My start was very good in the second moto and I almost crashed into Kevin. I wasn't so fast on the first lap and everybody came past! I was feeling confident and strong and the riding was ok but the track was hard and I made one or two mistakes. I crashed and the bars were too damaged; it was dangerous to continue. The first race, I had a bad start and I was riding very tense. The second moto was better for me. I crashed but it was still good!"
The second round of the series takes place in two weeks time for the Grand Prix of Spain at Bellpuig.
MX1 Moto1: 1 Stefan Everts, BEL (Yamaha), 2 Mickael Pichon, FRA (Honda), 3 Ben Townley, NZL (KTM), 4 Ken de Dijcker, BEL (Honda), 5 Joel Smets (Suzuki), 6 Joshua Coppins, NZL (Honda), 7 Kevin Strijbos, BEL (Suzuki), 8 Paul Cooper, GBR (Honda), 9 Tanel Leok, EST (Kawasaki), 10 Kornel Nemeth, HUN (Suzuki). 18 Yoshitaka Atsuta, JPN (Suzuki).
MX1 Moto2: 1 Smets, 2 Pichon, 3 Everts, 4 Jonathan Barragan, SPA (KTM), 5 Townley, 6 Strijbos, 7 James Noble, GBR (Honda), 8 Brian Jorgensen, DEN (Yamaha), 9 de Dikcker, 10 Cooper.
World Championship points (after 1 round): 1 Everts 45, 2 Pichon 44, 3 Smets 41, 4 Townley 36, 5 de Dijcker 30, 6 Strijbos 29, 7 Coppins 25, 8 Cooper 24, 9 Noble 21, 10 Barragan 20.
Next round: April 17, Bellpuig, Spain.
Source: Team Suzuki Press Office