Another Texas Tornado

Ben Spies Kickstarts His World Superbike Career With A Stunning Debut Down Under

A cloud of speculation surrounded Ben Spies in the days preceding his World Superbike debut in Australia. Pressroom pundits and pit wags alike wondered openly if the three-time AMA Superbike Champion had the mettle to compete against the world's best riders. There were many variables to consider: a new team (the Italian-based Yamaha World Superbike squad), an all-new bike (the Crossplane-crank YZF-R1), new and unfamiliar tracks, and none of the friends and family that served as his support system in the States. As the only American in the international series, Spies admitted just before the event that he was feeling "a little bit disconnected." I have a feeling we're not in Texas anymore...

Any doubts about Spies' ability or attitude dissolved during practice, as his name was a constant at the top of the timing tables. Once show time arrived, he secured the Superpole on his very first attempt, lapping a devastating .333 seconds ahead of second-place Max Biaggi on the all-new Aprilia RSV4. You'd never know it was Spies' first time at the famously fast and unforgiving Phillip Island circuit-all those hours he spent playing MotoGP on Xbox obviously paid off.

Spies' fairytale nearly came to an unhappy ending during Race 1, when drama between Biaggi and Leon Haslam forced him into the gravel outside Turn 2 on the very first lap. Adding insult to injury, he was shoved off the track a second time a few laps later while avoiding Ruben Xaus. Reentering in 26th place, Spies-often lapping faster than the race leaders-made it back up to 16th position-one spot out of the points-by the checkered flag. Noriyuki Haga, making his race debut on the Xerox Ducati 1198, won Race 1 by .32 seconds over Alstare Suzuki's Max Neukirchner. It was Haga's 34th career win, just one day before his 34th birthday.

Spies took revenge during Race 2, riding a near-flawless 22 laps while battling fiercely with Haga and Biaggi. With four laps to go, Spies pushed the already blistering pace to open a slight gap on Haga, which he held to the finish. This win-coming in front of a record 69,300 spectators-made Spies the first American to top an SBK podium since Colin Edwards did so at Imola, Italy, in 2002. Then, proving this wasn't rookie's luck, Spies did the double in the desert two weeks later, winning both races at the Losail Circuit in Doha, Qatar-another fiercely fast racetrack that Spies had only seen on Xbox. Second in the series (just 10 points behind Haga) after two events, with two Superpoles and three race wins distinguishing his short SBK resume, it's looking like Spies will follow in Edwards' footsteps and become the next World Superbike Champion from the Lone Star State.

Rookie Ben Spies (19) showed veteran Noriyuki Haga (41) how it's done in Australia. Afterward, Haga joked he was feeling the 10-year difference in their ages.