The Racing Capital
of the World
August 10, 2013 | By Paul Kelly
After months in the shadows, the road to redemption starts in Indianapolis for American MotoGP star Ben Spies.
Spies will return to MotoGP competition Aug. 16-18 at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP after missing six of the last seven races this season due to an extended rehabilitation of a serious shoulder injury suffered at the end of last season.
“Everything is right on schedule,” Spies said last month. “So I look forward to coming back at Indy and being 100 percent. We’ve missed a lot of the season, but I’m looking forward to basically starting my season at Indy and getting back to where we need to be.”
Spies, from Longview, Texas, suffered torn ligaments in his right shoulder in a crash during the Malaysian Grand Prix last October in the final races of his two-year tenure with the elite Yamaha Factory Racing team. The procedure consisted of reconstructing the ligaments with ligaments taken from a cadaver.
Three-time AMA Superbike champion and 2009 World Superbike champion Spies missed the final two races of the 2012 season and the first test with his new team, Ignite Pramac Racing, right after the final race of 2012.
Spies pushed hard in his rehab to prepare for the first preseason tests of 2013 in February at Sepang, Malaysia, but he sat out the final day of that three-day test due to lingering pain and weakness in his rebuilt shoulder.
He was on the grid for the season debut at Qatar, finishing a promising 10th on his Ignite Pramac Ducati under the lights in the night race. But Spies struggled home to a 13th-place finish at the next race, the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas at Austin, suffering from stabbing pain in his chest. It was soon discovered that his chest muscles were injured while trying to overcompensate for the weakness in his healing shoulder, trying to hold up his body through the extreme G-forces of riding a Grand Prix motorcycle.
“At the beginning of the season, we came back too soon, and I had another injury at Austin because I wasn’t strong enough to ride,” Spies said. “Sometimes injuries make more injuries.”
Spies missed the next two races and tried to ride at the Grand Prix of Italy in late May but withdrew after the first day of practice due to persistent pain and weakness. Enough was enough.
“Ducati and I and the Italian doctor and my American doctor made the best decision to come back in the right way and not push things,” Spies said.
So Spies made the tough, but necessary, decision to step away from MotoGP for the last 10 weeks for more recovery and rehabilitation of his shoulder. Rumors swirled around the MotoGP paddock and Internet during that hiatus whether Spies’ injury was career-ending.
But Spies’ efforts to block that white noise in relative solitude have paid off.
“I know there have been a lot of rumors, but I know that this break that we took to get me back to 100 percent was the smartest thing to do,” Spies said. “Now I can go to Indy and know that I’m where I need to be with my health, and all I need to do is work on getting back up to speed. It’s the first time in eight months that I’ve had that feeling. Now is the first time in a long time that I’m really happy because my fitness is coming along well.”
While Spies is feeling healthy, he also knows it’s unrealistic to expect a return to the front of the grid.
First, his Ducati has not shown the same kind of competitive speed as the Yamaha machines that delivered him a pole position at Indianapolis in 2010 and podium finishes at this event in 2010 and 2011.
And most importantly, it’s been 10 weeks since Spies has put on his leathers, gloves, boots and helmet and rode one of the most sophisticated, high-performance road-racing motorcycles on Earth.
“Now, I have confidence in myself in terms of fitness, but of course I know I won’t be back up to speed in one session because I haven’t ridden the bike lately.
“I’ve been doing rehab three to four days a week at the best rehab place in Dallas and one of the best in the U.S. They look at me from day to day and see what I need to work on. When they see that something needs to be stronger, they change the program.
“People don’t see me at the races, but I’ve been working my butt off at home to get back to where I need to be. It’s taken a lot longer than I or anybody wanted it to, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Now all Spies can do is race a 1000cc Grand Prix motorcycle, something he can do among the very best in the world – especially at Indianapolis.