Ben Spies – A Rookie In Name Only
He is known as the Texas Terror and if you look at the stats from his Superbike riding career you will see that it is a very apt nickname. Spies terrorised his opposition into a state of submission as he amassed three back to back AMA superbike titles, before moving across the pond to take on the Worlds best Superbike riders on a machine that was new and completely alien to anything he had ridden before. He did this on unknown tracks and despite all of these obstacles he managed to amass a record number of pole positions within one calendar season and 14 race victories leading inevitably to the World Championship.
Despite having these four impressive strings to his bow, there were still a number of individuals who doubted his ability to perform on the main stage in MotoGP. However, it does seem like some of the critics do change their opinions and minds more frequently than the weather in a typical English summer.
People were heaping praise at Spies door after his initial pace in the pre-season testing saw him sit just half a second off the pace of nine time world champion Valentino Rossi on the factory Yamaha M1. However, after a disappointing qualifying session at the opening round at Qatar, the vultures re-emerged to claim that the American was out of his depth. It still amazes me how fickle the viewing public can be on occasions. One race or one session does not show the true form of a rider’s potential and Spies disproved his critics with a sterling performance in the race by finishing fifth.
Move forward to Jerez after the second round of the championship was postponed due to the volcanic ash cloud and Spies found himself at a track where he had spent very little time. However, he quickly managed to adapt to the conditions and found himself on the pace and running competitively during the race when a yet undisclosed issue force him to retire.
A few weeks later it was off to Le Mans where Spies suffered a nasty fall entering the first chicane in Friday's practise session injuring his ankle and ultimately hampering his performance throughout the weekend.
Round four at Mugello saw an impressive start from the American, but a few issues with the Tech 3 M1’s forced both he and Colin Edwards to slip through the order as the race progressed.
That brings us up to date with Silverstone, where finally for the first time in his MotoGP career, Spies found himself on a level playing field with the rest of the GP paddock as no rider had ridden a MotoGP bike around the circuit before arrival.
After impressing in qualifying to obtain 7th place on the grid, Spies battled through off the start to remain in contention with the gaggle of riders competing over the remaining podium positions, which included factory riders such as Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden.
Spies managed to remain in contact with the battling group of riders over the course of the twenty laps, despite the clear lack of horsepower that the M1 had every time he got onto the long Hanger Straight, and when the opportunity presented itself on the penultimate lap he took it with both hands and snatch his first MotoGP podium from the hands of compatriot Nicky Hayden on the Ducati.
The fact that Spies has managed to climb on to the podium in just five races on a satellite bike speaks volumes, yes Valentino Rossi wasn’t there, but at the same time this podium was not handed to Spies on a plate. It seems that certain areas of the media are too quick to judge and critique riders these days, we all just assume that the riders in MotoGP should be able to jump on the bikes and deliver, when in effect they are riding the most advanced pieces of technology on two wheels today.
Ben Spies has a wealth of talent, anyone who has been following his career from the AMA series will be able to tell you that. He has a work ethic second to none and I have no doubt that he will be a success within the MotoGP paddock. Look how long it took Nicky Hayden to establish himself as a contender, almost three full seasons.
Ben Spies has a bright future within the premier bike paddock, I’m sure there will be several more ups and downs over the season, but there is every chance that Ben could be sitting on a factory bike in 2011 either within Tech 3 or the Factory team and I wouldn’t bet against further podiums in the remainder of the season.