The Interview - Ben Spies

World Superbike newcomer Spies on why the 2009 R1’s a winner, how he raced MotoGP with an exploding appendix and why he has Mat Mladin to thank for his speed

WE CAN’T STAND STILL
“Everything’s going really good right now. We had a pretty rough first race at Phillip Island but we managed to bounce back to win the next three. We’ve just got to keep plugging away now because everyone else is going to catch up. I’m happy but we’ve got to keep improving. We’re still lacking a little bit of power compared to the Ducati but the motor’s getting stronger.”

THE ENGINE’S GOOD BUT IT’S THE CHASSIS THAT ROCKS
“The power is very smooth but I don’t think there’s any real secret to it – it’s just got smooth power. The thing I really like about the bike is the chassis. I wouldn’t say the engine is why we’re winning. It’s a combination of everything, the whole package, but the chassis is the bike’s single biggest strength.”

I’M JUST DOING WHAT I’VE ALWAYS DONE
“I’ve just kept it natural in the way I work with the bike and the way we make changes. I brought my crew chief with me from AMA, the same guy I’ve working with since 2003. That’s really important, to have the same people around me. With the Italians there was a bit of a language barrier early on but that’s getting better all the time. The team’s finding out how I work and what I want out of the bike. I can ride around problems but there are certain things the bike has to do, and they’re beginning to understand that.”

THE WORLD SUPERBIKE YAMAHA R1’S NOTHING LIKE THE SUZUKI GSX-R1000 I RODE IN AMA LAST YEAR
“The rules are different; more power here, different suspension, different tyres. You can’t really compare them.”

HOW DO I LEARN TRACKS? GO AS FAST AS I CAN
“I wouldn’t say I’m super-fast at learning new tracks but I do it slightly differently to most people. With me I just go straight into it from the off – I go as hard as I can even when I don’t know where I’m going. Then, when it comes to race day, I’m comfortable.”

MOTOGP WAS FUN

“I thought I had a chance to be in MotoGP this year. I could have been if I’d wanted to. At the end of the day I didn’t think I had the greatest of opportunities and I’m happy here. The MotoGP races I did last year were good, I had a fun time. The team was great but I was working with the test team and nobody really spoke English. For how I felt on the bike I was extremely happy with the result. The bike definitely had the potential to be up front but I couldn’t get it to work for me. I didn’t feel comfortable pushing hard on it – I couldn’t ride it to the level I know I could. Indianapolis was better for me because it was wet and that took away a lot of the limitations. The Laguna Seca races were tough. I raced AMA the same weekend and the difference between the bikes was big. I also had a crash earlier in the weekend and messed my appendix up. By the race on Sunday I was feeling pretty sick and needed emergency surgery on the Monday. I was in hospital for a month. That was a hard weekend for me and one I’d rather forget.”

I STARTED RACING WHEN I WAS EIGHT YEARS OLD

“My mum’s ex-boyfriend got into racing when I was about six or seven. I could ride mini streetbikes a lot better than he could. I first raced when I was eight and that was it. When I was about 12 I knew I was going to be able to race for a living but obviously you don’t know how good you’re going to be. I really hit my stride and took a big step in 2006 – everything’s just kind of flowed from there. I won a title back in 2003 but in ‘06 I learned how to ride a superbike to its limits.”

BEATING MAT MLADIN WAS SO SATISFYING
“Mat (Mladin, stalwart of the AMA superbike scene) has always taken a dislike to whoever he’s raced. Somehow he’ll always find a way to start stuff, so every time I got on the bike I just wanted to beat him. I got that much satisfaction out of it. For me there was never anything he did to make me mad at him, but he didn’t like me. I’ve always got along with everyone I’ve ever raced with apart from him, but that’s the same with everyone else who’s ever raced him. Him giving me a hard time and not liking me was good motivation. He is a good rider and I had to ride at a certain speed to beat him. I’ve taken the steps I’ve taken because I wanted to beat Mat so badly.”

AMA SUPERBIKES DOESN’T HAVE MUCH DEPTH TO THE FIELD
“There are a couple of people who can run up front on their day but last year it was pretty much me and Mat. If Mat came to World Superbikes he’d be in the top ten in every session and pushing for wins, everyone knows that. And Jamie Hacking would be up there if he could get a competitive bike. He was the third fastest guy all last year and he was on a Kawasaki – nobody else in the world on a Kawasaki was touching the podium. In World Superbike he’d be top ten and maybe winning races. There isn’t much depth to the AMA field but there are a couple of guys who could do well at world level. I know what it takes to win a race here and I know what it took back home so I know it could be done.”

NICKY HAYDEN WON A MOTOGP WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – YOU CAN’T TAKE THAT AWAY FROM HIM
“Even if you argue Valentino Rossi had bad luck that year, Nicky still beat a lot of other people. He’s had some very good rides but he won a world title. Is he the best American racer right now? I’ve got a lot of respect for Nick and when I raced him I never beat him, but I was a lot younger than him and I didn’t race him too many times.”

I’LL NEVER FORGET LAGUNA IN 2007
“In 2007 it boiled down to me and Mat and whoever won, won the AMA title. That was good. We won it. Laguna’s always been good for me – I’ve had some good results there and won a lot of races.”

BEST BIKE I’VE EVER RIDDEN? THE R1’S NOT BAD…

“Out of six races we’ve won three of ‘em – it’s been good so far. The worst was probably the Suzuki GSX-R600 I raced in 2004 and 2005 – it was good, just down on power.”

I ONCE HIGHSIDED AT 190MPH
“I was flat-out on the banking at Daytona when the rear tyre blew. I was in hospital a month after that.”

I’D HATE TO SEE WORLD SUPERBIKES AND MOTOGP MERGE
“The more bike racing there is, the better.”

Join the conversation!

Let us know what you think, just sign up for a free account, leave a comment and get involved!
Register Now

Latest Reviews

Review
Review

Latest Videos

Feature
Article
Article