Tauranga's Ben Townley kick-started his return to full-time professional motocross with a podium result at a season-opening international event in the UK on Sunday.

On his first ride for Team Suzuki ahead of a World Championship MXGP campaign, which begins later this month, Townley finished third in the MX1 class at the annual Hawkstone International Motocross aboard his Suzuki RM-Z450.

Heavy rain leading up to the event made the Shropshire venue extremely muddy and presented riders with some very demanding conditions.

"I was super excited to be behind the start gate again and race," said Townley, the 2004 MX2 world champion.

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"The track conditions, however, were hard and after the first race, I asked myself what I was doing in Europe again, coming away from the New Zealand summer.

"But then I got better. I had a good start in the second moto and could really feel why I had been working so hard over the winter and I was really happy passing Clement Desalle in the last lap.

"In the Superfinal, I had a bad start and I found it hard to pass the guys in front of me. Then Kevin [Stijbos] passed me and I started to follow the leaders. It was really nice to ride behind them for a couple of laps. I even had the fastest lap of the race."

With his sixth place finish in the first moto and second in the second moto, Townley finished in third place overall behind British rider Shaun Simpson (KTM) and Belgian Clement DeSalle (Kawasaki).

It was the first time the Suzuki team had raced under the leadership of new general manager Stefan Everts - the 10-time former world champion.

Everts was happy with Townley's performance.

"He had a solid first day back in racing. I'm happy with the results and looking forward to the next races," Everts said.

Townley's Belgian team-mate Kevin Strijbos was fifth overall in the MX1 class with a fifth and fourth place and raced to third in the Superfinal which featured a mix of the top MX1 and MX2 class riders.

The Hawkstone event was dominated by Dutch rider Jeffrey Herlings - the 2012 and 2013 MX2 world champ - who won both MX2 races and the Superfinal on his KTM.

Team Suzuki will continue its buildup to the MXGP season by contesting an international race this weekend at Valence, France.

The opening MXGP event in Qatar will be on February 27.