Checkers: Ben Spies MotoGP Debut - Storm Warning

In his Yamaha Motogp debut, Ben Spies shows he's a force to be reckoned with

By Tim Carrithers, Photography by Gold & Goose

Ben Spies ended the 2009 MotoGP season in 20th place, right behind Sete Gibernau, which might be disappointing except for the fact that he earned those nine points by finishing seventh in the final round at Valencia, Spain. That was the 25-year-old Texan's first and only appearance of the year, two weeks after inking the 2009 World Superbike Championship in Portugal.

The three-time AMA champ had already re-signed with Yamaha to return to the SBK wars in 2010, before the decision was made to promote him to MotoGP-and demote James Toseland.

Spies was no MotoGP virgin. He'd finished 14th in the '08 British GP, filling in for an injured Loris Capirossi, then eighth at Laguna Seca and sixth at Indianapolis in wild-card rides on the Rizla Suzuki. Just five hours after clapping eyes on his 240-plus horsepower, 326-pound YZR-M1, Spies ended Saturday practice 5 seconds quicker than he started, just over a second behind the five fastest bikes. "It's the first time I've set foot on a Yamaha, so to be only a second off the mix is pretty good," Spies said. "For the first day, and only 20 laps on the bike, I'm happy." Spies' best 1:33.539-second qualifying lap made him ninth-quickest, ahead of Italian Andrea Dovizioso's Repsol Honda. Impressed yet?

Flying Sterilgarda Yamaha colors for one last time in front of 94,177 rabid Spanish spectators, Spies got a solid start, running ninth until Marco Melandri dropped him to 10th near the end of lap one. By lap 11, however, Spies got back around. After passing Mika Kallio to crack the top 10, he took ninth from Alex De Angelis one lap later. Running quick enough to match his 2010 Monster Yamaha Tech 3 teammate Colin Edwards' 1:34 pace up in fourth spot, Spies grabbed seventh from Dovizioso with five laps to go and held on to the finish.

It was a solid performance from the most promising American MotoGP rookie since a certain kid from Kentucky, with a twist. Bumping Dovizioso back to eighth gave Edwards fifth for the season. "I gave Ben a big hug after the race," Edwards said. "Anything he wants me to buy him, he can have it."

Next season won't be easy, but starting out with a guy like Edwards in your corner can't hurt.

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