A Conversation With ... Ben Spies
Note: American MotoGP star Ben Spies participated in a Red Bull Indianapolis GP teleconference Thursday, June 30 after earning his first career MotoGP victory June 25 at TT Assen at Assen, Netherlands. It was the first MotoGP victory for an American rider since 2006. Spies, 26, from Longview, Texas, led every lap on a Yamaha Factory Racing machine.
Spies will join fellow American MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards in the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 26-28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
MODERATOR: It’s been kind of rush going from Assen to Mugello. Has it sunk in yet, the victory, or has it just been so busy that you’re in the race routine?
BEN SPIES: It’s definitely starting to sink in, for sure, when something that big happens. It takes a couple of days to start sinking in, but it has. And we’re still enjoying it. The team has got really good confidence and morale, and I guess we’ve got one more day to enjoy it. Work starts again tomorrow. We’ve got to take the positives from Assen, and like I said, the confidence. But also we have to start a new weekend here, and we’d love to do the same thing. But we can’t get in over our heads and think we can do that all the time. We’ve got to know and understand that it is possible; we can do it. But we’ve got to work with a good work ethic during the weekend and give 100 percent and do what we can do this Sunday. But like I said, today we’re still enjoying it, and it’s still sinking in. It definitely takes a little bit to realize what happened.
MODERATOR: You lead from entering the second turn of the first lap all the way to the finish. Was it a situation because you were so far in front that, you hear sometimes guy say they hear every squeak, they hear every rattle, any sort of change in the engine. Were thoughts like that going through your head at all?
SPIES: It was quite a strange race but also a very fun race. We got out to the lead, and once I got to a three-and-a-half, four-second lead, I wanted to see what the pace was that Casey was. When he started taking a tenth and two-tenths out of me, we could put it back and go faster. Once I realized we had the pace to win, I just rode as hard as I could without making any mistakes to keep the gap. Toward the end of the race, we got more comfortable and went faster and pulled the gap out. With about eight laps to go, I realized what was going to happen. We definitely could win the race. Then I thought: “I can’t make mistakes. I can’t slow down and think too much. I’ve just got to stay in the same rhythm I’ve been in the whole race and continue to churn out the laps, and that’s what we did. And actually the gap went up to six-plus seconds. It was a great situation the middle of the race, having the gap the way it was, because it kept me riding hard until the end. We had to stay concentrated and basically race myself for the last six laps and do that. It was a great race. I think a lot of the stories when you hear about people hearing noises in the bike and things like that are when it’s the first win. It’s the first MotoGP win for me, but we’ve led races before. So it’s more of a comfortable feeling. But the bike was great. Didn’t have any worries at all. Just needed to keep it clean and not make mistakes and bring it home.
Q: You had a memorable moment here last year at Indianapolis, getting on the pole and kind of announcing yourself to everybody. I’m wondering how much this win means in terms of growing motorcycle racing as a sport, or you don’t think of yourself as an ambassador, you don’t think of yourself as someone trying to maybe help other Americans get turned on to this.
SPIES: It’s difficult because in Europe, obviously, motorcycle racing is like NASCAR in the States. So it’s hard. But if I can help that and be of any assistance basically to build the MotoGP reputation in the U.S., that’s the goal. That’s what we want. So, yeah, if that helps in any way, that’s the goal and that’s what we do. I race for Yamaha to help them sell motorcycles, and they give me motorcycles that we can win. That’s always the goal, not just what we do on the racetrack but what happens afterward. That’s definitely the goal, to help MotoGP become bigger in the U.S.
Q: You were supposed to test next year’s 1000 at Mugello, and now that test has been pushed back to Brno. Have you had any involvement with the development of that bike so far?
SPIES: Yes and no. We obviously haven’t ridden the 1000 yet, and we’re going to be riding it later. But we haven’t been doing a lot of work, even with the 800, just with different chassis setups and trying different things that will move over to the 1000. Yes and no. We have been starting the development of that, but I’ve not rode the 1000 yet. But I think it’s actually a blessing in disguise that we’re going to ride it a little bit later because when we ride it, we won’t just have the bike to ride. We’ll have the bike to ride plus parts to test to give the engineers a better direction to go for the second test.
Q: You said something at Assen about the Yamaha being fast enough at the top end but not really as fast out of corners or under acceleration. Is this due to electronics that are preventing you from getting all the power that you need? I’ve noticed that the Yamaha never seems to drift? Is this something you guys are going to try to work on in the future?
SPIES: It’s always a combination. It’s not always what even the rider feels and what is seen on TV. When we want acceleration, that’s what we want right now with the bike. There’s many things. There’s traction that starts the acceleration. There is electronics. There is the engine power. There’s the bike is always basically harnessed by how much power you can put down with traction and wheelies, and maybe the bike will wheelie more if you put more power to it. There’s such a fine line in so many departments that add up to what the bike does coming off the corner. So we do need to work on it. It’s not just one thing. It’s not like we’ve got to throw in an engine that’s got 20 more horsepower. We’ve got to figure out how to get it to the ground, and we’ve got to figure out the electronics to go with it. It’s a complete package that we are working on, and we’ve made it better. But it’s still, definitely that’s where we need to work on the bike, to get it to accelerate out of the corner.
MODERATOR: I just wanted to ask you your reaction to the news that, in fact, the project is almost finished; it will be finished this week, the repaving of the infield portion of the road course for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. As a guy who rode there the very first year as a wild card in ’08 and last year in ’10, you’ve kind of seen the surface evolve. What’s your reaction to the news that the whole course now is pretty much going to have the same asphalt?
It’s always great when the track is investing and making the surface better for the riders. But also, there’s also some things with bumps and things like that you can figure out as a rider, it’