This season has been far from predictable for the Master and Apprentice Project. With chosen apprentice, Jack Hanckel, sidelined pre-season due to a knee injury, PSC Husqvarna Off-Road's Damian Smith is still running solo.
Hanckel is still in the recovery phase, with his first surgery scheduled this week - the first five months following his injury has been spent patiently waiting for his Medial Cruciate Ligament to heal. It was imperative that the MCL healed prior to his Anterior Cruciate Ligament surgery.
"I know how frustrating this has been for me so I can only imagine how Jack feels," said Damian Smith. "He is a great kid, though. Really level headed. His patience is a credit to him and he hasn't been tempted to rush the healing process and push his recovery. As much as I want to see him back on the bike, I'm more concerned about him making a full recovery."
During Hanckel's absence Smith chose to run a "casual" apprentice, using the services of Callan Hayes to fill the gap. Hayes showed a lot of potential with his MX background but had a steep learning curve to adjust to the off-road scene. Hayes had mixed results, with moments of greatness marred by his extreme dislike of racing in the trees. Hayes struggled to maintain speed but managed some decent top ten results in the Pro E1 class.
Smith has been undefeated in the Veterans class this season.
Smith himself has been unbeatable in the Veterans class and currently has a 53-point lead over his closest rival going into the last half of the season.
"I've copped a bit of flak for competing in the Veterans class," said Smith. "A lot of riders think I should still be in the Pro ranks but I needed to step back a bit. I've had a lot of injuries over the years that have taken their toll. Having said that, I still push myself when I can to compare myself to the Pro classes. Old habits die hard after 20 years of competing at that level!"
Smith will continue to ride solo until the injured Hanckel is back on deck.
"It is unlikely that we will use a replacement rider again," continued Smith. "Callan did a great job for us filling in but I think we will preserve our resources and wait until Jack is ready to go again. The factory Husqvarna team have been awesome in their support of the Master and Apprentice Project team as have all of our associated sponsors."