Ben Spies literally shocked the world in 2009 when he came over from the United States to race in the World Superbike Championship, winning it without ever having ridden the tracks, and being totally unfamiliar with the culture … on an all new machine. He immediately moved to MotoGP and took Rookie of the Year honors in 2010.
Yamaha promoted Spies to the factory MotoGP team in 2011, following the departure of Valentino Rossi to Ducati. Spies proceeded to take 4 podium finishes that year, including his first MotoGP win at Assen. He fished in 5th place in the Championship.
2012 looked like the year Spies might move up to challenge the top riders, including Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa on a regular basis. Why? The new 1,000cc bike seemed to be the perfect compliment to him. It largely erased the disadvantage he had as a result of his physically large size and weight, and seemed to favor a riding style he had used to great success in winning the WSB title, as well as several US Superbike crowns. It nevertheless all went wrong.
No wins, and no podiums. 2012 was filled with horrendously bad luck with his equipment, as well as health issues and crashes. Some of the problems were within Spies control, but most of them were not.
Taking 2012 out of the equation, Spies career has formed an upward arc that should eventually lead to a MotoGP championship. Should we now assume that will never happen? Will a year on a Ducati further damage his self confidence?
Ducati now has the financial backing of parent Audi, and the Volkswagen Group, but Valentino Rossi’s best efforts over the course of two years didn’t result in a race winning machine, and there are no guaranties Ducati will close in on its moving targets, Honda and Yamaha.
Spies will have a full factory Ducati, at least. The same bike that Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso will pilot. With four factory bikes on the grid, there should be plenty of feedback for the engineers to improve things. When you listen to my recent interview of Nicky Hayden, you might detect a bit of concern on his part when the subject of Ben Spies comes up. Make no mistake, his fellow riders still know Spies is fast.
Ben Spies has unfinished business in MotoGP, obviously. 2012 was definitely a year to forget, but we won’t be surprised if Ben Spies picks up where he left off in 2011. His new Ducati may be the biggest question, but we think Spies talent and heart are without question.