Ben Spies figures to be a strong contender in the veteran-filled SBK ranks.
2009 Yamaha Motor Italia Superbike riders Ben Spies and Tom Sykes have endured some serious heat on their three day test in Kyalami. The young riders have endured track temperatures approaching 122 degrees as they put the all-new-for-2009 Yamaha YZF-R1 through its paces on only its second outing on track.
Spies was second quickest on day one with an impressive best lap time of 1'41"599(46 laps) in the African sunshine. Team mate Tom Sykes was struck down with a mysterious bug, and he only managed to put in some laps prior to returning to the hotel.
Day two saw Spies fall in testing, so missing the final time on track, he still managed to improve on his day one times, finishing the day with a best lap of 1’41”049 (38 laps). Sykes managed to improve dramatically on day two with a best time of 1’42”933 (18 laps).
The final day saw Spies pull in his fastest time of the test, taking second fastest honours overall and only a mere 0.2s behind Michele Fabrizio and beating Noriyuki Haga to the second spot,making him one of only three riders to break the 1.40 barrier with a time of 1.39”978. Tom Sykes was getting back on form until an unfortunate crash curtailed his testing for the day, he again improved on his times in the limited laps run with a 1.41”562. The re-entered Aprilia squad took 8th and 9th and the new for 2009 BMW factory team finished 11th and 13th.
The new 998cc bike, featuring a high tech powerplant closely linked to the M1 MOTOGP bike, is currently at the very beginning of its development for the 2009 WSB season and is still relatively close to production specifications. The M1-derived crossplane crankshaft design and uneven firing interval, give very good traction to the bike and improved tyre life. The new chassis gives an unparallel feedback to the riders, improving stability and feeling out of corners. The WSB spec engine is being developed step by step, improving power output at each stage in the run up to the first race in 2009.
So far the team’s minor modifications to the standard bike include a modified cam-shaft, an enlarged radiator for extra cooling and the addition of an oil cooler. The new bike has no rear sub-frame but incorporates a strengthened frame. The exhaust is unique, and was developed in partnership with Akrapovic. The standard fuel tank has also been replaced with an aluminium tank with increased capacity. The bike features the latest Magneti Marelli electronic systems. The new swing arm is also developed purely for the WSB race bike based on knowledge taken from the 2008 racing season.
Since Portimao the team have changed the seating position slightly for both riders and taken the engine one step further in tuning.
“I’m really happy with the bike, the team and the progress we’re making,” Spies continued. “This was the first time we had the opportunity to go out and size ourselves up against everyone in a major test. We’re ahead of where we thought we’d be at this point. There are two more test sessions this winter and I expect the bike will continue to improve as we move towards the season opener at Phillip Island in March. The fan support here is pretty amazing. It was a good week to get to know some of the other riders too. I had a lot of them come up and shake my hand and welcome me to the series. Max Biaggi came up and talked with me for awhile. That was pretty awesome for me. I’ve been a fan of Max since I was a kid. In AMA there might be two or three guys in testing who get down to business from start to finish,” Spies admitted. “There’s no lollygagging here. No one’s going around doing wheelies the length of the straightaway. Everyone pushes hard here all the time. The competition is going to be good for sure.”
“It’s been a tough test! I missed one and half days through this bug I’ve had so was a long way behind with laps. When I got out I still managed to get some good laps in and the team were brilliant, they improved the bike massively every time I came in. I’ve got a very sore shoulder from falling today but it’s nothing serious.”
Massimo Meregalli (Yamaha Motor Italia Team Manager):
“In the end we tested almost everything while we were out here, tires, different suspension set ups, different mappings and so on. We’ve found some good set ups to take forward to the next test. We’ve been waiting out for the evenings here for the temperature to drop so we could get back out on the track and try some new things. Both Tom and Ben have performed really well, it’s been really unfortunate that Tom has been held back by things out of his control. We’re still very much running in the new bike, this is only the second session since Portimao. All in all we are very satisfied, we know what our potential is and we are very happy.”
The Yamaha Motor Italia Team move on to their next test in Portimao on 23 to 25th January 2009.