To say that Ben Spies has caused a few surprises in 2012 is one of the larger understatements of the year. Sadly for the Texan, though, those surprises have not come in the form of podiums and race wins, as he himself may have hoped. Rather the opposite, and often through no fault of his own, Spies’ 2012 season has been dogged by bad luck, unusual mechanical failures, and mistakes.

The surprises reached their apogee the week before the Red Bull US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, when Spies announced he would be leaving Yamaha at the end of the 2012 season. That he should be leaving Yamaha was unusual enough – the factory Yamaha ride is probably the most desirable seat in the MotoGP paddock, as the M1 has proven to be the most competitive bike this season – but his choice of media was extraordinary: a post on his Twitter feed, followed by a more conventional (if unusually timed) phone call to Superbikeplanet to explain his decision in a little more detail.

Since that stunning revelation, Spies has stayed almost silent. He has continually played down rumors about where he could be headed for next season, leaving much room for speculation, conjecture and rumor, some reliable, others much less so. So where will Ben Spies be racing in 2013? MotoGP, World Superbikes, or will he even be racing at all?

To answer the last question first, the Texan is almost certain to be racing somewhere – with one small caveat. Early reports suggested Spies was thinking of retiring, but the American was quick to quash such thoughts. The first reports to emerge from outside the Spies camp linked him to a ride in World Superbikes with the BMW Italia team, who will be running BMW’s factory effort for 2013. Initially, BMW Italia’s team manager Serafino Foti rated the chances of Spies riding for the team at 99%, but by the time the World Superbike paddock alighted in Silverstone, those odds had dropped to “70 to 80%”, Foti told

At Indianapolis, Spies had left American reporters with the impression that he had had enough of the MotoGP paddock, and wanted out. At Brno, he was much less resolute in his rejection of MotoGP. “There is a possibility [of staying in MotoGP] but it is slim,” Spies said. “For me, World Superbikes is something I am looking at very strongly and now I am looking as some GP offers but I can assure you nothing is done yet.” The key factor would come down to having the right offer: the right support in the right team is what Spies was after. “I don’t want to look back in ten years and say maybe I left too soon but to stay is has to be the right scenario, the right package and that’s what I am working on right now.”

Spies’ change of heart seems to have been brought about by talks with Fausto Gresini, owner of the San Carlo Gresini Honda team. Gresini was rumored to have offered Spies a Honda RC213V with factory support, an offer which Spies acknowledged existed. Then on Monday, rumors started emerging of an offer to Spies from Ducati, of a factory Desmosedici inside the Pramac team alongside Andrea Iannone. Ducati are looking at creating a satellite team with factory support, something similar to the situation that existed at Gresini Honda with Marco Simoncelli and Marco Melandri in the past. The “Ducati Junior Team”, as the project has been dubbed, would see a team – probably Pramac – run two bikes with factory support and very close to the spec of the bikes used by Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso in the factory team.

But Spies has another option as well, one that would put him in a more difficult situation for 2013, with the promise of a full-factory ride and almost certainly #1 rider status in 2014. Spies has been in talks with Suzuki since Indianapolis over a return to the factory, to help develop the brand new inline four that Suzuki is working on for their return to MotoGP in 2014. Several sources have reported that Suzuki is looking for “a top level rider” to help develop the bike, the problem being that the factory has little to offer for next season.

The initial plan was to have wildcards in 2013, but Suzuki bosses visiting Brno for talks with Dorna about their plans played down any chances of wildcards for next year. That would leave Spies racing a Suzuki in World Superbikes for a season – a tough proposition, for the long-in-the-tooth GSX-R1000 has been far from competitive in WSBK this year – while developing the bike at the same time.

So where will Spies finally end up? Leaving the MotoGP paddock is a risk, as he acknowledged himself at Brno. “Honestly, I think if I left there isn’t much of a possibility I would be coming back, so it’s more looking at the packages we have here now, seeing if it is good enough to fight up front,” Spies told reporters. On the other hand, the rides on offer in World Superbikes would put him in a position to be immediately competitive for the championship. What’s more, if Spies went with either the Suzuki or the BMW WSBK rides, those would be his best chances of making the step back to MotoGP in the near future.

Spies’ problem is that time is starting to run short. The World Superbike grid is slowly but surely filling up, and the last few rides in MotoGP are also being taken. It is looking increasingly likely that Scott Redding will end up on the Gresini Honda, with just the details over sponsorship and funding to be filled in – a much simpler proposition, as the money that Redding would have to find to take the ride is probably a tenth of what Spies would want to race the Gresini Honda – and that is if Spies would be willing to accept using Showa suspension, reported to be a stumbling block for the Texan.

The Ducati Junior team / Pramac satellite squad looks like Ben Spies’ best option for staying in MotoGP for 2013, but as the saga surrounding Cal Crutchlow demonstrated, Ducati takes a long time to make a decision, and when they do, the outcome may be very different from what was expected. At Mugello in July, Ducati boss Alessandro Cicognani told us that he expected to have the Ducati junior team sorted out in two to four weeks: that was now more than six weeks’ ago.

While Spies has stayed silent on his deliberations, the biggest hint that he gave came in a (now deleted) tweet on his Twitter feed, saying he would be going ‘back where I belong’. That would suggest to most that his preference would be Suzuki, a preference supported by other comments the Texan has made. But that is a very big risk indeed, given that is impossible to judge where the Suzuki MotoGP bike stands in terms of competitiveness, as well as what Spies would do to fill in the season without racing.

Whatever Ben Spies decides to do, he will have to make a decision soon. If he does not, then he could find himself in more trouble than he intended. And that would be a waste of a prodigious talent indeed.

Photo: © 2012 Jules Cisek / Popmonkey – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • I’m checking Ben’s twitter feed every day to see where he is going to end up. hoping not Ducati as we all know what is going to happen with his motogp career (long live front end problems and rear tire grip issues) I would say Grenissi is his best option.

  • smiler

    Given the state Suzuki is in. Would have thought they would want Ben Spies. In 15th place in WSB and no MotoGP. Who else are they going to get?
    Spies would work well in WSB for a year, get his confidence back. He has done it and will havbe time for the MotoGP gig as well, ready for 2014.
    Think most people underrate what Ducati or rather Audi via Lambo will do with the GP bike. Audi will not be interested in their flagship bike presence not being competitive. If the link in MotoGP between developement and trickle down into the rest of the bike range is broken then Ducati will be able to make a proper prototype, not one derived and linkes to the rest of its range.

  • Ken C.

    Ben Spies has been my favorite rider for the past few years. He doesn’t seem to let the chaos of the paddock affect him too much. He still keeps his feet on the ground, and has other interests outside of MotoGP. I admire that. However, drawing out this decision is killing me. It’s a great way to keep up the interest in him though. Kudos to his PR team. :P

  • Brandon

    Spies should be smart enough to see Ducati GP isn’t a joke, its a tragedy. Just because Audi wants to win in MotoGP with the Ducati brand doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. I’m sure Ducati has wanted to win for a long time, more than anyone, but it hasn’t happened. I figure the existing development team is what is slowing them down. BMW took three years to be competitive in SBK with a good package in place: Ducati is a bad package. Staying the coarse is going to be trouble, starting new will take years to be competitive. Spies should go the BMW route, win another championship, then work to develop the BMW MotGP bike.

  • Choco

    Ben needs to go to Honda Gresini and chase down those blue Yamahas. I’d love to see him finish ahead of Jorge and Rossi from time to time.

  • Damo

    Would love to see him back at Suzuki.

  • Gutterslob

    So it’s either joining Suzuki and taking a year off MotoGP to ride a superbike before coming back with their new MotoGP bike, or joining Ducaudi and riding a Diesel Desmo with all-wheel drive (Twattro?), or riding a Gresini Honda with suspension that’s not Ohlins?

  • Westward

    Ducati has more heart than Suzuki ever had. Plus Audi was serious enough to overpay for Ducati. If either of his options seem more likely to produce a championship in MotoGP I would think it to be going the Ducati route or quit possibly the BMW one…

    Besides, he will have Ohlins suspension, a factory spec bike that is currently able to race around fourth to sixth. Who knows, maybe, just maybe he will toss a leg over that D16 and end up being well suited for it, and be a podium finisher or race winner immediately.

    The desire and determination of Ducati/Audi, for outweighs that of Suzuki or the Gresini team. The only options for an up-side are with either Ducati or BMW.

    However, I think Ducati are much closer to a MotoGP championship in the next five seasons than BMW are. Suzuki are not even close, and Gresini will never as long as there is a Repsol, and Spies is not Spanish enough for that to work…

  • Flyingfox

    Ben is mad not to take up the BMW offer, he will immediately be competitive in WSBK on the fast developing (now proven) BMW and the brand will not let him down. Suzuki is a few bridges too far from competitive in either WSBK or MotoGP to be a realistic option. Ben has the talent to shine on the BMW and that will lead him back to the MotoGP paddock if that’s where he wants to go.
    Ducati is poison and the rider who drops his leathers to ride the mongrel thing will kill his career in one season.
    BMW ~ Ben (got a nice ring to it!)

  • MikeD

    Good read. Got my pop-corn ready for any event/development.