The last time Bradley Smith threw his leg over a MotoGP bike, he pulled off one of the shocks of 2013 by finishing second quickest in the post-season Valencia test.
Smith has more modest ambitions when he returns to action in Sepang tomorrow (Tuesday), but the British rider is still aiming high in the first big showdown of 2014.
MCN tracked the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider down before he flew to Kuala Lumpur for his thoughts on the year ahead.
How are you feeling about preparations for 2014 starting?
“I’m in a lot better situation than this time 12 months ago when I was really apprehensive, quite nervous and not sure what to expect. This year I am a lot more relaxed and know the score more.”
At the last test you were a revelation by getting second place, so what’s the goal for Sepang?
“I think second in the Valencia test was great for me but saying I am going to do that again is a bit of wishful thinking. But I have to go there and try and be the top satellite rider. The Yamaha works very well around Sepang and we know at the beginning of the year the product that Tech 3 has and what the factory team has is always a lot closer than at the end of the year, so that’s the best time to compare myself to those guys. Looking at Cal (Crutchlow) last season, he was able to be really close at the beginning of the year and then obviously as the development moved on the gap appeared. That’s what we have to be mindful of but it also means we have to start the season strong.”
Where do you feel you can make the biggest improvement in 2014?
“I need to improve my riding style more. I have always said that I am still riding a little bit aggressive, especially on a full tank in the first five laps and that’s the most critical because it seems that’s where the gap tends to appear. I’ve analysed a lot of races and I lost a lot more in the first part. In the last 10 laps it is not too bad but in the first laps I lose a massive chunk and I need to focus on that.”
With so many contracts up this year, how big is 2014 for you?
“Last year was a very big year for me but I do believe this year is make or break for me in terms of where my career is going to go and whether it is up on a massive path or fight, kick and scream on a little one.”
How important will the early part of the season be?
“The end of the year is really far away and my focus at the moment is on winter testing and the first five races. That’s where you have to set your stall out because already in the press there is talk of contracts for 2015 with (Jorge) Lorenzo. Those first five races will be where you have to put yourself in the shop window, so I need to come out all guns blazing.”
Many expect your inter-team rivalry with Pol Espargaro to be one of the most intense of the year, so how do you see it?
“I am really excited about that. We’ve been racing each other from 2005 when we were together in the Spanish championship. He is a very passionate and motivated rider and he shows that as well. There will be an interesting atmosphere at times in our garage but it will be kept professional and I think it will help push us forward and keep us ahead of the likes of (Alvaro) Bautista and (Stefan) Bradl. I hope we can push each other away from the other satellite riders but I have got the upper hand. I have a year of experience and I am expected to come out on top and I’ve got to make sure I can live up to that.”