The following press release is from Team Suzuki:
Team Suzuki MX1 rider Joel Smets gained third position overall at the first pre-season international race of 2005 yesterday at Mantova in Italy.
The 35 year old qualified third fastest and scored results of 2-4-3 under bright conditions against a strong line-up of Grand Prix peers such as reigning World Champions Stefan Everts and Ben Townley, Mickael Pichon, Javier Garcia Vico and Steve Ramon.
It was an effective reintroduction to top-flight competition for the Belgian at the circuit where he broke the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee 12 months ago; an injury that led to an aborted attempt at the inaugural MX1 World Championship.
Mantova represented Smets' first competitive foray in eight months and opens a busy schedule of meetings for the former five times World Champ prior to the opening round of the 2005 GP campaign at Zolder on April 3rd. His next on-track appointment takes place this weekend at Valance in France.
Kevin Strijbos is still not able to race due to damaged ankle ligaments sustained in a practice crash two weeks ago.
"It was great to be racing again although physically I suffered with my condition," commented Smets this morning. "I have been riding since December but I have not been racing and there is a big difference. The rehab with my knee went very well and I had little pain for the first few months, but when I got back on the bike, it was difficult because I saw that I didn't have the speed. After a while, it also becomes hard to measure any progress when you are not racing.
"Mentally, Mantova was a relief. I could see that I could run with those guys again and there is always a little bit of doubt after a lay-off. It had been eight months since my last race and for a competition addict like me, that is a very long time! I was not worried about returning to Mantova and I did not think about 2004. I had been training in Italy a few weeks before the International so I had some time to feel my way around the circuit before jumping straight into a race. I like to think of myself as a rider who doesn't take risks; just because something happened once doesn't mean that it has to happen twice," he added.