Ben Spies World Superbike Interview

July 6, 2009
Lance Holst
Contributing Editor | Articles | Articles RSS

Lance Holst has been successful in avoiding a regular job for 21 years and full-time employment for the past 14. Holst’s background includes: Road Test Editor - Motorcyclist magazine; Senior Editor – Sport Rider magazine (which he co-founded with Nick Ienatsch); Team Manager – HyperCycle Suzuki; Chief Instructor – Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School; freelance writer, photographer and international riding school coach. He manages to eke out enough of a living to enjoy the wilds of Montana between gigs.

America’s Ben Spies had little left to prove here in the United States after three consecutive AMA Superbike championships over Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Mat Mladin. Mladin’s run of six Superbike titles was broken only by a kid from Kentucky named Nicky Hayden in 2002; perhaps you’ve heard of him? Hayden earned the most sought after ride in racing the following year when was teamed with Valentino Rossi in the MotoGP World Championship on the then dominant Repsol Honda RC211V. In 2006 Hayden was crowned World Champion.

The Texas Terror headed into race day at Miller Motorsports having set a new record for most consecutive World Superbike poles  having taken pole in the first seven races of the series. Fellow Texan Doug Polen held the previous record over a decade ago.
Spies took his AMA Superbike fame on the road to become the star rider in the 2009 World Superbike Championship for Yamaha. 

So when Spies took the title from Mladin in 2006, it was big news. When he did it again and then again, the world took notice. After Spies’ season-ending test on the Rizla Suzuki MotoGP at the end of 2007, the team was interested enough to commit to a few Wildcard MotoGP rides for 2008 at Donnington, England and the pair of home GPs at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis. Due the unpredictable changing weather in England and personal health issues at Laguna Seca, Spies’ results at the first two MotoGPs were strong but not quite up to the high expectations many set for him. By the time Spies showed his brilliance by running down and battling with Stoner and Pedrosa through the darkest storm in MotoGP history at the weather-shortened Indy GP, both the Rizla Suzuki seats were filled and pitlane pundits had a field day. “He’d blown his chance,” they said, many speculated Spies future looked darker than the Hurricane Ike aftermath that blew through Indy.

It was assumed by many that Spies, a protégé of ’93 Grand Prix World Champion Kevin Schwantz, would follow in the fellow the footsteps of his fellow Texan and be the next Suzuki MotoGP title hopeful. If Spies was bothered by the storm of speculation surrounding him, he never showed it. Even with the controversial actions of the new AMA series owners (the Daytona Motorsports Group) disqualifying Mat Mladin in a highly suspect singled-out teardown, Ben held his tongue and kept his concentration on the job at hand; remarkable discipline for such a young talent with so much at stake. In the end, Spies achieved his three-peat of AMA Superbike titles and had a promising ride lined up for 2009 with the Yamaha Factory World Superbike team.

Ben Spies - World Superbike  Misano
Spies has made an immediate impact in the World Superbike championship, a strong contender as a rookie.

His first day on the bike was at the breathtaking new Portuguese circuit following the World Superbike season finale. Spies performance was nothing short of breathtaking itself. On a racebike, tire brand and circuit he’d never ridden before Spies was almost immediately on pace with perennial championship front runner Noriyuki Haga’s lap time from the previous day’s races. Spies was fast on Haga’s 2008 bike and almost equally so on the very immature Yamaha R1 with its radical new cross-plane crankshaft configuration and distinct firing order. While the world may have been taken by surprise, Spies’ long-time crew chief, Tom Houseworth (who, like the successful pairing of Jeremy Burgess and Valentino Rossi stuck together when the World Champ switched from Honda to Yamaha), was anything but. When asked by a journalist if he was surprised by Spies impressive first day performance House answered, “Nothing surprises me with Ben anymore, the kid is just that good.”

It still came as a surprise to most, if not House, when Spies won the new F1-style Superpole knockout qualifying at the World Superbike season opener in Phillip Island. Then, reminiscent of his Mladin conquest of old, he did it again and again and again all the way through the seventh round of the championship at Spies home round at Miller Motorsports Park outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, setting a new record for consecutive pole positions in the 22nd year of the World Superbike series.

It should come as no surprise then that Spies success is no accident. Houseworth credits the “kid’s” amazing natural ability but it’s clear that, while he won’t take any credit for it, House and Schwantz have no doubt had a beneficial effect on Spies’ remarkable mental discipline and focused approach to achieving success.

Ben Spies - Qatar Three laps from the end Fabrizio drafted Spies on the main straight to take the lead going into the first chicane  but the American took the lead back on the next lap. In Race 2  Spies used his pole position to grab the holeshot and open a gap on the other riders.
Spies riding to a sweep at Qatar (left), taking the Race 2 win at Assen (middle), and riding  a flawless double at Salt Lake City (right).

What follows is a quick Spies Q&A we obtained through the tireless help of Yamaha Racing Europe’s Gavin Matheson.

MCUSA: What’s your Superpole strategy secret?

SPIES: I Study the overall situation on several levels way in advance of the race, I make sure I do my homework so I know as much as I can about the track and how to ride it before I turn a wheel on the tarmac.

MCUSA: What are your strengths as a rider?

SPIES: I try to ride smart and use my brain and think through the race as much as possible and physical fitness is really key, I train a lot and I train hard, I love riding so spend a lot of time on the roads in Italy on my bicycle. Mental toughness is also one of my strengths; you need to be tough up there and focused to deal with the good and the bad weekends to keep giving 100% every time you get on the bike.

MCUSA: How are you so good on the brakes?

SPIES: It’s my strong point on the track and difficult to describe in words. I have a really good feel for the Yamaha, it’s such a well balanced bike I have total confidence in braking late and dropping it in.

MCUSA: What are the strengths of the R1 for you?

SPIES: The front end is awesome, as I said before, the feel is great and it’s very confidence inspiring, it’s a very well balanced bike. The feel of the power is also very different, it’s incredibly smooth, the way the crossplane crankshaft delivers the power means you can get on it earlier through the corner and power out without killing the tires.