Tech 3 team manager Herve Poncharal has heaped praise on Bradley Smith after another impressive ride in today's Italian Grand Prix, believing he is among the top three riders in the class.

The Briton challenged Marc Marquez and Stefan Bradl all the way to the chequered flag before crossing the line less than half a second behind the two men who look set to contest the 2011 championship.

Poncharal was concerned that his rider may struggle to complete the distance after he complained of pain in his right arm during the warm-up, and was impressed to see the 20 year old continue to threaten the leaders.

“We had already had a really strong weekend with Bradley getting his first front row start since he joined Moto2. But after Warm-up we were very worried because Bradley was complaining a lot about a right arm problem. He had a lot of pain and no more power. When the race started and I saw him in the front group I was very happy, but I could not stop thinking, ‘is he going to last the distance?’ But lap after lap he was there and he was incredible.”

Poncharal added that Smith had proved a point today after showing that he had race-winning pace in dry conditions, a question mark that had still been hanging over him.

“This was an important race for him as before he did have two podiums, but they were in wet conditions, and I think still for him there was a question mark in the dry. He went through the pain with his right arm, but he finished third and was leading the race for a moment.”

Despite missing out on victory, Poncharal believes Smith has shown that he is going to be a major force in the intermediate class, and now rates the Oxford youngster alongside the two men who have dominated the season.

“To stay with Bradl and Marquez means a lot as they are both very strong . And Iannone and de Angelis are very fast here, but in the end they were not fast enough to stay with Bradley. I think these three guys are the best riders in the Moto2 Championship and we move up into third in the points. This is an incredible result for us and it shows how much Bradley is learning and his confidence will only grow.”

With today’s result, Smith has moved above Simone Corsi into third in the World Championship, 16 points behind Marquez and 78 behind the runaway leader Bradl.