Five-time world champion Joel Smets will make an emotional return to KTM at the end of this month where he will assume the role of MX Factory Racing Sport Director.
The 46-year-old will leave his current position as Sport Manager at Rockstar Suzuki and ‘turn orange’ from October 1 and the Belgian has talked for the first time about the parameters of his new job.
“To put it simply. I like to smell and live the sport and stay involved in the physical training side and feel the heartbeat of the riders,” says Smets. “I want to know how they work. I think if you want to help them when the gate drops then you need to know how they live and how they spend the week. I think that is also the type of person KTM are looking for.”
Smets will also co-ordinate the new workshop facility that KTM are preparing in Belgium and from where the likes of Tony Cairoli, Glenn Coldenhoff, Jeffrey Herlings, Pauls Jonass, Shaun Simpson and the dominant EMX125 team will be based for part of the racing year.
“We need to find out how it will work between us and the workshop in Belgium will be my responsibility but it is not something totally new for KTM so I think I just need to oversee it and make a stronger link with Austria and their programme,” he reveals.
“KTM have very competent technical people on their side with Dirk [Gruebel, MX2 Team Manager] and Claudio [De Carli] and it is all under control. My plan is not to interfere with that and we have to see how it will run and my focus will be on the riders and the sport side.
“Things like the planning of the year, when we will build-up, when do we start riding, frequency, what other training and stay in touch with their physical trainers and find out how they have been preparing in previous years. To analyse and see if and how we can change something and where I can bring in my experience. We will need to make quite a bit of research from the first of October that will be my plan. I don’t want to come in and say “right guys, this is how we will do it” otherwise we will be lost from the first day. Eventually I hope I can analyse and add or modify something somewhere and bring my experience in.”
Smets’ return to KTM where he rode until 2003 before joining Suzuki for the final two years of his career means the end of his coaching position with the same Japanese set-up that had reaped some decent results. “I didn’t feel that I had to leave and we have a good group. I believe it has been a good year aside from the injuries to Kevin [Strijbos]. Glenn took that unexpected win, Jeremy [Seewer] has done well, Brian[Hus] has stepped it up. I think we did a pretty good job altogether and it is a bit sad to leave it all behind but at the same time I’m glad the KTM opportunity came up and I do feel like I am coming home.”
He also sheds some light on the motivation to re-join KTM and the strange position swap with former rival Stefan Everts, who is leaving the Austrians to allegedly take ownership of the Suzuki operation with Sylvain Geboers selling control of parent organisation GRP.
“I left KTM in 2003 and I was actually thinking about the period after my career at that time,” he explains. “I knew I had two more years of riding and KTM was developing and I believed there would be a position for myself afterwards. You could see it coming. [Upon leaving] I had the feeling that I wasn’t just giving up a bike but also a role afterwards and then when Stefan hopped in in 2007 I was sure that would have been my spot. I was still too much sports-orientated when I made the swap and was too focussed on results and ambition. It was a short-term decision, which I never regretted because it was the first time in my life I went with Japanese manufacturer. I f*cked it up myself by being too enthusiastic and motivated but I still don’t regret it. I am glad and thankful to Sylvain for being able to race and work for Suzuki.”