American motorcycle racer Ben Spies has made a humongous splash on the international road racing scene. First he won the 2009 World Superbike Championship in his rookie season aboard Yamaha’s recently redesigned YZF-R1. Yamaha astutely recognized that MotoGP is where the 26-year-old needed to be and paired him up with fellow Texan Colin Edwards aboard the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team.
In his first full-season racing in the world’s most elite motorcycle racing series, Spies has impressed having finished no worse than eighth place in each race he’s completed. He’s also managed to stand on the podium twice and even led a few laps during his home GP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
With only two rounds remaining Spies currently sits sixth in the World Championship points and has already been deemed this year’s MotoGP Rookie of the Year. Next year he’ll be paired with 2010 MotoGP World Champion, Jorge Lorenzo on the factory Yamaha team. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Spies as he prepared for last weekend’s Australian GP at Phillip Island. Find out how he did in the 2010 MotoGP Phillip Island Results and 2010 MotoGP Phillip Island Insider.
HOW DOES A MOTOGP RACE WEEKEND TYPICALLY BEGIN FOR YOU:
I usually do a little bicycle ride; stretch the legs out and loosen up a bit and head to the track around lunch and do my media stuff I got to do for a couple hours. I have a couple of interviews I have to do… I might have to do a press conference. Then I sit around with the guys and look over the bike set-up and stuff like that. Then that’s pretty much it. Then take it easy then go to dinner and then work starts on Friday.
HIS ROOKIE SEASON IN MOTOGP:
This season has probably exceeded my expectations even more than last year. Where I’ve said I wanted to stay in the top-10, that’s really what I’ve wanted to do. And we’re fortunate because all the races I’ve finished I’ve been in the top-8 and been on the podium twice. We’ve led a race for almost 10 laps and being on a satellite bike in MotoGP—I think that’s fairly good. For the first season learning half the tracks was pretty hard. But yeah, it’s been definitely going better than I thought.
HOW HE LEARNS TRACKS SO QUICKLY:
Ben Spies proved just why he will be riding for the factory Yamaha team next year, taking his first career pole position in only his rookie season at his home race in Indianapolis.
I don’t really know [laughs]. Everybody always wants to know what I do differently. Obviously everybody does the same thing (play video games). Sometimes this year I went to tracks and I didn’t even play beforehand. Really it’s the first 10 or 15 minutes on track. I just concentrate on what I’m doing. I don’t come in and look at everyone’s times and get all freaked out because I’m five seconds off the pace and I don’t know where I’m going. I try and do my own thing and ride as hard as I can and just come in and see where it puts me. I just try and not worry too much for the first hour and just focus on my own program.
MOTOGP RACING CIRCUITS:
There are definitely some harder tracks to learn—Mugello and stuff like that. It seems like older tracks with a little more history are the harder ones to learn. And it’s because they have more blind corners and banked corners that have special bumps in between. After a couple of years going there you definitely know how to miss them. Those are the tricky parts of learning the track. When it comes to the full layout, that’s not so hard after four or five laps, it’s more or less finding the bumps and that’s what creates those tenths (of a second) a lap. A tenth or two a lap in MotoGP is huge.
ENTERING MOTOGP ON A SATELLITE TEAM:
The way the bikes work now– you know Ducati not so much because they don’t have the overall money to really make different spec engines and chassis so when they come out with something they usually come out with one thing and all the riders get it. Now with Yamaha they are always developing and coming up with new stuff and obviously the new stuff the factory guys are getting. So the bikes are, at the end of the day between the Tech 3 bike and the factory bike, they are quite a bit different. Maybe not a second a lap different but there are definitely a lot of differences.
WHY HE DIDN’T FILL-IN FOR VALENTINO ROSSI WHEN HE WAS INJURED:
Ben Spies has had a phenomenal year in MotoGP. Here he is at Catalunya enroute to a sixth place finish.
Jumping to the factory team wasn’t going to be more stress on me but it’s also kind of like ‘well, if you jump to the factory team for two races and you’re going to have to go to back to the satellite for the rest of the year you might not be super happy with it.’ I could kind of see their point of view on that so it’s a hard one. I’m glad I stayed where I was at and stayed on with my entire program. And again, with the rumors and news that Rossi might miss the last two races—which I believe he’s going to race the last couple races—even if he decided to have surgery and he misses one or two of the last races, we’ve already finalized that if that did happen I’m staying where I’m at even though I’m riding for the factory next year we’re going to finish out the year with the Tech 3 team.
RELATIONSHIP WITH JORGE LORENZO:
He and I get along great…right now. You don’t’ know how it’s going to be in six months or a year. But as of right now… he’s a great guy he’s super fast—I hope to learn something from him. A couple people try to make a big deal about the last race [Sepang] on the cool down lap when I went to congratulate him. He didn’t congratulate me. But he was so caught up in the moment with the championship he never even knew I was beside him. I got two text messages from him that night after he watched the race saying ‘hey Ben, it’s Jorge Lorenzo, I apologize. I just watched the race and I never saw you come up to congratulate me’. He personally invited me up to his dinner party with his team. Things aren’t always what they seem. I’ll be sitting down at dinner minding my own business and he’ll come over and kind of sit down for a second and talk about the track or the day or whatever. He’s actually a good guy and I do like him a lot. Like I said, we get along fine right now… you never what’s going to happen. I’m the type of guy I can get along with you and race you the same as if I didn’t get along with you. It doesn’t make a difference for me. But at the end of the day it makes it a lot easier to get along with your teammate, but I think we’ll get along just fine.
MOTOGP 800s VERSUS SUPERBIKES:
(Above) In 2009, Ben Spies takes the World Superbike championship title aboard the Sterilgarda Yamaha. (Below)Crew chief Tom Houseworth has been teamed with Ben Spies since 2002. Over the last eight years the duo has recorded multiple championships across the globe.
From a riding perspective it’s definitely the latest and greatest and they’re definitely very trick. Sometimes they aren’t as fun to ride as a Superbike just because a Superbike is sliding more; they’re bucking around and moving. They’re a little bit looser feel. A GP bike is more… when the bike is set-up it’s a lot easier to go fast. When it’s not it’s a lot harder. There’s not a lot of things as a rider you can do to change the way that they work. When it comes to the technology part of them and what they can do on the track is pretty mind boggling. They’re a different type of motorcycle to ride and nothing even compares to them. When you ride a street bike and you ride a superstock bike that’s prepped for the track. That’s a completely different feel. A Superbike is times two from what that feel is. And a MotoGP bike doesn’t even compare to what a Superbike feels. It’s probably like driving a Formula 1 car.
HOW INTEGRAL IS TOM HOUSEWORTH (LONG-TIME CREW CHIEF) TO YOUR PROGRAM:
A lot. We’ve been working for a long-time together. We know when to push each other for more and we know when to step back. We can kind of read each other’s mind on what’s going on. We’ve been working together since the end of 2002 so it’s a good relationship. And it’s been good for both of us. We’ve won a lot of stuff and been real successful and hopefully things can keep going the way they’re going right now.
TRAVELING THE GLOBE TO RACE GP BIKES:
It’s not my preferred method of traveling [flying]. I still don’t really care for it a whole lot. I don’t think anybody who flies 300 hours a year really thinks it’s their favorite thing to do. But I will say travelling and seeing all the countries and then re-visiting them and knowing what I’m doing, knowing where I’m at—that’s pretty cool. Then looking at your passport sometimes when you’re on a plane in a year-and-a-half and seeing that you’ve already got an extension and the thing is pretty much full and you can’t even think of where you haven’t been. It’s pretty cool. Right now I’m sitting in a pretty cool house in Australia looking out the window at the beach. Next weekend we’ll be in Italy, then the weekend after that Portugal, then Spain and then back home and the season is over.
WHERE HE WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE MOTOGP SERIES GO IN A FEW YEARS:
1000cc bikes are the way to go for sure. That’s better racing. I would like to see less electronics personally—just the way I ride. How I like to ride when the bike is sliding around and moving around on old tires. It’s technology so you can’t stop it. But it’s kind of hard to know to where to make the limits when it comes to the ECUs and traction, wheelie and launch control. They start retarding the timing to make the bike have better traction—that’s one way to do it. They’re so many ways to play with the bike—it’s endless. Like I said, it’s hard for me to say how to do it, but less electronics would make the racing a lot more fun to watch.
END OF SEASON PLANS:
I’ll be coming back to Texas right after Spain and be home until basically February 1 when we start testing again in Malaysia. I’m actually starting an amateur/pro bicycle team for this next season. I’m working closely with some of my personal sponsors. We’re going to have 10 riders and a van, trailer, and all the stuff. They’re going to be racing the entire U.S. national series. It’s going to be a good group—the top Texas pros. Actually, I’m going to have something to go out to the motorcycle websites in a couple weeks. It’s something I’ve been working on for the last four or five months and it’s actually all come together now. That’s what I’ll be kind of working on during the off-season.
GP SCENE VERSUS WORLD SUPERBIKE:
Ben Spies will be joining 2010 MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo on the factory Yamaha team next season.
The MotoGP paddock has grown on me and I’ve gotten more use to it. But I will say the World Superbike paddock is awesome. It’s a lot more laid back. I wouldn’t say it’s more partying… but the riders hang out a bit more. Sunday night you can go have a drink with one of the hospitalities with a bunch of the riders and talk about the races. With GP the riders kind of walk past each other without saying much and it’s a little more cut throat. I think the European media they kind of start a little bit of it. They like to make quarrels between riders—which does make it interesting at the end of the day for the fans—but I’d have to say now that I’d met a lot of people. I like the GP bikes. It’s more professional and it’s more money. On a fun level the World Superbike paddock is better but the MotoGP paddock is serious—it’s game time. That’s what they’re there to do.