Ben Spies between past, present and future. All seasoned with important revelations …
interview on 12 June 2019. for the interview in Italian click here.
Following our article on his career, we were able to reach Ben Spies for a long exclusive interview, who impressed us for his honesty and his absolutely cordial manners. The meeting appeared immediately as a chat between motorcycling enthusiast rather than a confrontation with a World Champion; contacted just a few days before, he seemed enthusiastic to share some anecdotes with us, leaving us surprised by his bluntness.
Ben, let’s start by asking you the best memory of your career …
“Maybe people will find it strange, but even more than the title in the WorldSBK, the most exciting memory goes back to when Matt Mladin and I fought for the title in the AMA SBK 2007.
In the last race, we found ourselves in the general classification and the race winner would then win the title. I took the pole position, I lead in the ahead and triumphed. It was certainly one of the most amazing races of my career.
For the entire championship it was a fight at the same level of Matt: if I won the race, he would come second and vice versa, keeping the rankings tight until the end. That certainly was the strongest emotion. The rivalry between me and Matt was historic, friends out and rivals on the track, always with the utmost mutual respect. I think that Matt is one of the top 5 drivers I has ever raced against; he was fast in every circuit, and he improved every weekend. He could have done very well in other scenarios as well. Surely one of the strongest competitor encountered on my path.”
By the way, who is the strongest rider you have ever raced against ?
“I have a lot of respect for Marc Marquez but I think Casey Stoner is the most brightest talent in history. Marquez is a “bulldog”, really spectacular, he attacks at every corner and always pushes to the limit, but Casey is the best at the level of innate talent. He gets on a motorcycle and in two laps he is already aware of how strong he can turn, if he hasn’t already done the best lap. It’s something I’ve never seen in anyone. I’m not talking about titles: for example, I think that if Casey and Marc had faced each other in five championships, the Spanish one would have won 3 or maybe 4, because more “suited” to that world. But if we talk about pure talent, Casey is unsurpassed.”
Explain it better …
“Casey and Lorenzo are now “labelled” by media as unpleasant people, perhaps because like me they are not inclined to that circus … Lorenzo is so blunt and impetuous and more than once I told him: “Jorge, shut your fuckin’ month during the conference!”.
However, I can guarantee you that they are two amazing people, but simply with a reserved character and more similar to mine, which hardly fits that environment. Inevitably, this affects the performance.”
What can you tell us about the difficulties faced by Lorenzo in Honda?
“Jorge is a phenomenal rider, a champion. Without doubt. He needs time to get his motorcycle ready, he is not a racer who drives “over the problems”, we can say. But once he has everything in place, he will surprise us, as happened in Ducati by the way.”
Among the new recruits, who do you find interesting?
“I have to be honest, I don’t see anyone in Moto2 to keep the eyes on. Among the rookies, I really like Pecco Bagnaia. He has a huge potential. He hasn’t come out completely yet, but I am sure that the work that is doing will repay him. I appreciate his method. I was also amazed by Fabio Quartararo, but I wait to judge him…”
What do you mean?
“Now he has a Yamaha at the top, but it is the same that he will found for the entire season. Instead, the others will move forward with the development …”
Do you have regrets or remorse in your career? What would you change?
“Nothing, really. In 2012 I experienced the worst year, as you know. I don’t want to say anything bad about Yamaha, but the real problem of that year was not just the huge amount of technical problems. I tell you something I have never revealed to anyone: already at the second race of the season, they told me that Valentino Rossi would return to my place, and from that day the team did not behave in the same way with me. They didn’t do what I asked for, as instead happened in the previous two years. That happened because they knew that the following year they would have a different driver. In 2013, it was another terrible year with Ducati: the shoulder injury did not allow me to drive as I wanted. Thinking about it, I would perhaps change my approach to that situation: before the tests in Malesia, I was aware that I could not face the season that I wanted, in those conditions. I would have had to pull me out from the season and take 6 months or a year to best recover my injury, situation that I did not face going towards a disastrous year. In the mid-season I did, I also get worse the damages to my shoulder.”
Have you ever had the chance to return to SBK or MotoGP after your withdrawal?
“Yes, I had so many offers to return. I tell you another secret anecdote: the most concrete request to return to the environment I received was from KTM for a role of test driver. But it was too early and I still had too much pain at my shoulder to be able to make such a commitment. I would like that role so much, because KTM is really a big company with a great possibility of technical and economic investment in racing, I respect the Austrian house and its drivers a lot, but I have to be honest: I have a lot of respect for Dani Pedrosa as a driver but I think that neither him nor Mika Kallio are really effective as test drivers. Dani has a great limit in his small stature, Kallio has a too particular driving style. I don’t know which advantages the company can enjoy with this test-team. This is why I think KTM has lost 4 years of development, and is still throwing money in. In a second moment, I also spoke with Suzuki and Yamaha before it contacted Folger, but there were not the real conditions to be recruited. What people do not know is that in 2013 in Motogp, I raced with Ducati but the project was to compete in the SBK championship with Ducati alongside Chaz Davies.“
What do you mean?
“Our contract included a year in MotoGP with Ducati Pramac, while from 2014 I would have had to return to WorldSBK, with the Aruba’s Panigale 1199r. Everything was already signed, and then the injury …”
Do you have any plans for the future in the world of motorcycles? Team Manager or something else?
“No, I don’t, also because in America the championship is no longer at the same level as when I was racing, both from a technical and an economic point of view. The racers and the teams have a really reduced budget to face the championship, and I don’t see it as a valid situation to come back to racing. I was offered to be a coach for some drivers, I also spoke to Yamaha and Van Der Mark two years ago, but as you know I live in America and for me it would be a big problem to travel all the year for circuits. Considering also my great fear of flying and without forgetting that I now have a family. I would really like to go back to work for the racing world, because I believe I could carry a great contribution given my experience. It fascinates me also the idea of a commentator role.”
What do you think about the modern SBK? It has changed a lot since you raced …
“It could be a long answer but in a few words I ask you, do they still make the reversed grid in Race 2 based on the result of Race 1? Because this is really stupid and unacceptable! When I was racing in America, if they had proposed me the SBK with the grid inverted, I would never have agreed to race! I don’t understand, why would a driver have to work hard on Saturday to start in the third row on Sunday?
In any case, I think it has lost a bit of charm compared to my times. The organizer made several mistakes over the years from a regulatory point of view, first of all the one of divide the races on two different days. Moreover, too many changes in a few years. To be honest, I’ve never watched a race this year, just a couple of MotoGPs. I like watching free practice and understanding the drivers’ behaviors in order to make a prediction. I can understand who’s okay and who’s not.
Unfortunately, the SBK like Motogp is focusing too much on the media and in everything that revolves around the show … I’m a fan of what was the Superbike since I competed. However, Alvaro Bautista is certainly doing a great job, he’s really incredible.
Few weeks ago, some of the mechanics I had and who are now working with Alvaro, sent me a message telling me: “Hey Ben, come to Laguna Seca and come back to drive Ducati with the number 19!” … I would do that if only I had a couple of days to test the motorcycle and take back speed and confidence at the wheel. I think that nowadays I would be slower than the current drivers of at least a second and a half, but if I had 3 or 4 testing days, I think I could get very close to them. Unfortunately, when you stop you lose the speed and all the necessary automatisms.
By the way, do you know why I choose number 19? When I was 14, my teammate was also my best friend, he was like an older brother for me. He had the number 19, but a weekend, during a race, he fell from the motorbike and he broke his neck and died; from that day I began to use his number. I always had the number 11 but in SBK it was already occupied by Troy Corser, so when I arrived I had no hesitation in choosing the 19. I dedicated the world championship to my friend, and I also tattooed it in my arm.”
On behalf of all the SBK Italia staff, we would like to thank Ben Spies and his family for the great kindness shown to us.
interview on 12 June 2019. for the interview in Italian click here.