Trackside Tuesday: The Summer of Our Discontent

07/24/2012 @ 3:42 pm, by Scott Jones36 COMMENTS

The view from pit lane into Ben Spies’ garage has been fairly grim in 2012, and today’s announcement that Ben is leaving the factory Yamaha team at the end of the season sheds some new light on this gloomy situation. If you have watched Ben since his AMA days, where he learned from, and then triumphed over, the formidable Mat Mladin, you may not have been surprised by Spies’ rookie season WSBK Championship, or his success at Tech 3 when he entered MotoGP, or his being the first non-alien to win a dry race since the Rossi-Lorenzo-Pedrosa-Stoner lockout. His move to Rossi’s spot alongside Lorenzo made perfect sense, as did Ben’s good results last season.

Surely after a season of adjustment, in 2012 he would repeat his success at Assen, by adding more wins and taking his rightful place among the elite riders. His difficulties in 2012 could be chalked up to the pressure of being at the very top for the first time in his career. Or could they?

Those of us who have watched Ben since his AMA days have said to ourselves, nothing should faze a guy who has been Mladin’s teammate for that long and come out on top to win three national titles. But 2012 has been a story different from what we have been expecting, a story that from the perspective of pit lane, grid, and Yamaha hospitality suite has only grown more mysterious.

It has been clear that something has been going on, but many of us have been writing that off as discomfort with a bunch of bad luck. Few, if any, doubt Ben’s pace or mental toughness, but everyone gets unlucky, and sometimes a run of bad luck can mean good results are very hard to come by. Wasn’t this the explanation for Ben’s manner in the hospitality? We know he is a quiet person, shy even, but also friendly, personable, and confident.

Yet each time I have attended his end-of-day press sessions he has waited at the side of the room, face buried in his laptop, emerging only to answer questions with his usual professionalism, before heading right back to his laptop again. His crew chief, Tom Houseworth, usually gregarious, smiling, and joking, has been circumspect and uneasy when I have stopped to talk to him in pit lane. I have been explaining these things, as many others have, by thinking the team is waiting patiently for things to turn around and for the results to come.

But today’s announcement suggests that there is something far deeper going on inside Yamaha that may help explain Ben’s dismal 2012 results. There are, after all, powerful personalities and egos involved at the top level of MotoGP, and for a quiet guy who cares only for the racing and not for the politics, the situation may be even more of a challenge than the one Mladin presented. For now we can only wait to hear more from Ben, though it is quite possible we may never know the whole story.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • So, let me guess, you’re suggesting in a round-about way that Spies’s problems aren’t related to his lack of ability to match Lorenzo on an identical bike but are due to political back-room deals. Oh well, you can console yourself with that if it suits you, but the real answer is that he can’t cut it at the top level. Too many unforced errors, too many excuses and too much blaming others for his misfortunes. Fact is that there is a yawning gap between being a top WSBK rider and a top-flight MotoGp pilot and nobody has managed yet to jump the gap and Spies is just the latest proof of concept.

  • There is certainly something going on, more than “bad luck.” I have believed this since the first few races, and do hope the story comes out.

  • Dr. Gellar

    I gotta side with Tyler on this one. I’m pretty sure there is a very interesting story here just waiting to be told.

  • Scooter

    Haters gonna hate…

  • Gritboy

    Who knows if we’ll ever know the truth. Regardless, I’m sad to hear it. My fingers are crossed Ben finds a good MotoGP ride, but the field looks pretty well filed for 2013. Wait-n-see.

  • Phil has nailed it. Every GP I wait for the “Spies moment”. It always happens, that lapse in concentration, the run wide and get over taken to eventually finish mid-pack. Harsh? Yes.

    The whole issue of the rookie rule, do you really think that Ben, or 2/3rds of the MotoGP grid for that matter could cut it at the front of the Moto2 grid? A resounding no.

  • John

    About the good motoGP ride, according to a well known french reporter, Ben should be in WSBK next year, alongside to Marco Melandri on the BMW Italia

  • Dave

    Not trying to be an outright hater here, but I think that Spies and Lorenzo’s machines are far from “identical”. One machine is for development. It gets the best, closest to spec parts, and all the newest upgrades from R&D. Sometimes both machines get some love, but not all the time, and not identical. Also, I cannot recall Ben ever fingering blame, or being a “moaner”. (i could be wrong here, and feel free to call me out) That being said, I think it is foolish to suppose that Ben will be faster on the “same” machine as Jorge. I really don’t want to see him leave the MotoGP paddock, as that would leave only Nicky and Colin (kinda, i mean are we really grouping CRT with the prototypes?) for the U.S. fans to root for. Even if he moves to WSB, he must have burned the bridges with Yamaha, so where to? I’ve got my fingers crossed, cheers.

  • Really foolish thinks they have the same machinery.

    In the F1, when Ayrton Senna was on Honda, his car and Mansells car have receveid different treatment. Ayrton has more ‘charisma’, and the crew and engineers works on him, letting Mansell “moaning”

  • jzj

    Just wishful thinking, but when Spies said something to the effect that he is going ‘back where he belongs,’ I kinda hope that this means that he will be riding a MotoGP bike for Suzuki.

  • Kk

    IMO there’s no way spies and Lorenzo’s bikes are identical. Lorenzo’s bike is basically spot on every weekend, while spies, even on a good weekend just isn’t the same level. And I don’t think it’s 100% spies not being quite as good as lorenzo

  • Dave

    Not to mention, he used to chase Mladin, and catch him. Then he learned to sprint ahead at the start. He applied the same technique in WSBK and found success. For the situation he is in (2nd chair), this skill-set should be a recipe for success. Instead we see mistakes, set-up issues, and just pain bad luck. I can imagine a longing for the “old” days.

  • David

    Spies is a beaten man. It’s over for him. He had his chance and couldn’t cut the mustard.

    Soon the announcement will be made that Rossi is moving to Yamaha.

    The move is obvious. With Stoner out, there is nobody to challenge Lorenzo. Pedrosa ain’t the guy to do it.

    Lorenzo has 2 GP titles at the age of 25. Looks like 3 this year. Lorenzo could reel off 2 more titles in the next couple years as all the new riders come to grips with new machinery and teams. That would give Lorenzo 5 titles, possibly.

    NO WAY Rossi is going to sit around trying to develop the Ducati and watch Lorenzo take away the GOAT title.

    The GOAT is the greatest, most important title of all and Rossi will fight for it……you watch.

  • CB

    Just like Rossi used to get the “special” tires flown in by Bridgestone it is very well possible that Lorenzo is getting better equipment from Yamaha. Or maybe Spies is just sick of the BS that surrounds Moto GP just like Stoner. And another rider defects from Dorma.

  • 76

    I dont think there is a silver bullet with Spies this year. Of course everyone want s to jump and say it muct be this, it must be that. I think its just like everything in life, its a combination of things, sure there has been some luck go the wrong way with him. I can think of 3 major fckups his team has thrown his way including the opener when they sent him out to race on a bent chassis? I mean wtf? This is GP, millions of dollars in sponsors, R&D, personnel, spares, the entire world watching and 1 race. Your going to send someone out to race on a bent chassis? I mean that happens in AMA supersport with dad sending you out and no spares, not motogp.

    Other than a couple other sloppy moves by his team Spies has to take responsibility because its going to come down on him if he isnt challenging for the top step. I also think Spies has had a new girlfriend since the beginning of the season, and as life teaches you those kind of things sometimes arent the most conducive emotions for focus and priorities.

  • Rob

    May sound thick, but I refuse to believe that Ben can’t run with the likes of Lorenzo, Pedrosa etc. He’s got immense talent and needs to gain some momentum in winning. Yes I know you can’t compare WSBK riders to GP riders..but seriously….a champion in his ROOKIE year of being on the damn bike? This kid is one in a million. He’ll get it sorted..hopefully sooner than later.

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  • Looking at Spies riding style he is better suited for a Honda or Ducati and not the Yamaha… Lorenzo fast corner 250 style fits the Yamaha perfect cause that’s the bikes natural character… I’m sure Spies is tired of the engineers telling him to ride like Lorenzo and carry the speed into the turns. Not going to happen so I wonder if he’s headed to Ducati or WSBK?? In MotoGp the bike and rider have to be a perfect fit or success is only an ILLUSION.

  • Steven Oliver

    I have to admit, normally, I’d be swearing this off as someone who bit off more than can chew. But in this case I think Spies is getting screwed.

    For one, like some of the others here, I don’t think the bikes are “identical.” That’s not really how racing works at that level. It seems very obvious Lorezo is Yamaha’s golden boy and is getting 90% of the love.

    I for one am glad Spies is leaving Yamaha, or at least their MotoGP squad. He’ll be better off somewhere else where is talent is better utilized and appreciated.

  • SB8K

    Maybe the bikes are not identical but can his be worse than the Tech3 yams that often out place him? I doubt it. I’m a fan, being from the States and watching his career grow, but WSBK wasn’t a slam dunk. Haga always manages to come in second and my recollection (could be wrong) was he was helped greatly by his many mistakes that year.
    I think he could dominate WSBK but I don’t think he’s top 5 in MotoGP. I think Yamaha took a chance, they owed him that from his WSBK win, but it didn’t pan out.

  • frod04

    I think one of the previous post gave us the biggest hint yet… Ben wrote in his tweeted fee “going back where he belongs” and that means Suzuki, WSBK or worse yet AMA.

    If I see Ben back in WSBK or AMA it would be such a waste of talent, would be painful to watch but I’ll watch anyways.

  • Neil

    Lorenzo is the #1 Rider/Bike for Yamaha, Spies is the #2 Rider/Bike, I doubt the bikes are identical….the “upgrade” parts would go to Lorenzo first, you just don’t hear about it and the riders can’t openly talk about it….behind the scenes politics.

    ie…Hayden won the title in ’06 yet Honda built the new 800 bike around Pedrosa, go figure….???

    I don’t question Spies talent one bit, he’s getting the raw end of the deal somehow, as are the rest of the americans also…

  • Dave

    The main question here is, where can he fit in? I would assume that he is not going back to AMA, so we can rule that out. Also, Moto2 isn’t going to happen, there’s like 300 riders in that field. So, if its WSBK again, with whom? Suzuki doesn’t really have a top notch team budget, Yamaha ain’t gonna happen, Ducati has a new bike coming, and i’m sure they are happy with Checa and Giugliano’s efforts so far. Again, i think his home is with MotoGP, he just needs better support.

    On a side note, Stoner is out, Rossi is set to take Ben’s seat and we could be looking at some EPIC redemption. I would love to see Rossi fighting for the top spot again.

  • Bob Krzeszkiewicz

    I don’t believe for a second that Spies is not cut out for the top level. What I do believe is there is severe politics involved and his side of the garage is a victim of it.

    Before the season even started, Jarvis publicly put Spies down in front of all the media and placed demands that he win races this season or he’ll be gone. The problem with that is also prior to the season, Yamaha stated that Lorenzo is Yamaha’s future. Everyone knows that having 2 riders fighting each other every weekend, taking points off each other is not the way to beat Stoner who is the current champion and the man to beat. In order to ensure that Lorenzo gets the most points in the garage would be to make sure Spies always finishes behind Lorenzo.

    Now, crew chief Houseworth and his techs can only do so much mechanically. Ultimately the electronic setup is governed by the software programmers and they listen to Jarvis who listens to Nakajima. There is nothing Houseworth can do about it. Judging by the way Spies’ tires look compared to Lorenzo’s, I’d say that there is definitely a difference in programming. Everything from fuel mapping in the upper rpms, TC and the GPS data acquired mapping for power delivery curves and corner exit. Mechanical suspension adjustment will only get you so far at the GP level.

    The mistakes Ben has been seen making is more likely related to him trying to over ride the bikes’ mechanical capabilities, just like Stoner did on the Ducati. The difference is that Stoner wanted to beat the odds and go for the win even if he was on a lame Duc and would bin it more often in a race. Ben prefers to finish with a few points rather than zero.

    No, I think Ben still has it but garage politics and tying the hands of Ben’s crew is the main culprit. Ben is miserable. Tom H is miserable. They’ve faced adversity before in the AMA and they overcame and beat Mladin. They were allowed to work towards their success. On the factory Yamaha SP, team, I’m betting they are not allowed to try and beat Lorenzo. Only allowed to get between Lorenzo and Stoner to increase the point spread if possible. No such thing going on at Tech 3. If Cal or Dovi went to the factory team, they’d be in the same spot that Ben is in… Lorenzo’s bitch.

  • Sloan

    I agree with Bob 100%. Yamaha won’t let Spies take points away from Lorenzo.

  • Westward

    Spies to Ducati, technically, they have no one signed up for 2013. I also think Spies is faster than Hayden, and if an american presence is needed for the US market, Spies would suffice…

    Besides, it would be fun to see what Spies can do on the GP12/13. Maybe all the bike needs are a good set of Elbowz…

    And NO… I don’t want to see him go to Suzuki that no heart bunch of @%#!…

  • Keith

    Oh, Spies has got “IT” and having watched him and Lorenzo for many years…on equal motorcycles i.e. out of the box, stone stock…he’d beat Lorenzo best out of 11. I’m thinking it boils down to politics and bias against american riders by the europeans. But, I don’t know that you can put it down to any one single thing.

  • TexusTim

    I have to think after watching the free video of ben on moto gp he is a little sidetracked with all of his investments and new girlfriend…he just hasent been making the best of it even when the opertunity was there.I also think a little of his “bad karma” has caught up to him…Im not hateing on him but when a judge tells you to your face ” you have a propensity to renig and use excuses to get out of legal contracts and not pay your benifactor” it sounds like what it is…I have seen all the excuses even when you blame a team or food poisoning ( second or third time used) at the end of the day it’s ben who aproves those stories……..I find it hard to belive that rossi is the reason, him and jorge dont get on that well and he was complaining how yamaha gave him all his secrets on the bike.I think rossi will have his own satalite yamaha team were they give him the best and let them duke it out in 2013…that will really raise the for ameicans in moto gp.sorry to say it but we may have a dryspell comming..there are as many as three riders looking for and deserving factory rides. honda, yamaha and ducatti are all on the list, dovisioso,crutchlow and bradel are all on the top of that list…..think about who rides what right now…….I see dovi going to yamaha,I see crutchlow going to that leaves bradel with honda but havent they decided on there two already ? too much to follow but makes good press……I would like to see nicky finish with ducatti.hes been there and never gave up and is going to be the last american standing when the music stops.

  • B.T.

    I may be a bit “off course” but….How is it Pedrosa seems to skate away unscathed when it comes to criticism? I mean, at least “Spies” puts up a fight! Pedrosa , has gotten a free ride “ALL” these years. If anyone should be leaving it’s him! Dovi and Crutch are “FIGHTING” Tooth and Nail every week with only one being able to podium and Pedrosa just “ho-hums” it! Nothing is fair in life ,we all know that, but Spies is having the kind of year that Pedrosa has had every year he’s been in GP! It’s politics, anyone can see, “Something is amiss”….If it was Dovi, he’d shoot his mouth off and tell us, unfortuantely it’s not and Ben is taking the high road. But the truth will surface!

  • irksome

    In MotoGO, if your name isn’t Rossi, you’d better be Spanish.

  • Tone

    I like Spies but those pretending he didn’t have very similar machinery and help from Yamaha are clutching at straws. And let’s say he didn’t have all the trick bits that Lorenzo got, he still hasn’t performed as well as the satellite Yamahas !!!
    I think he deserved another year on good machinery in MotoGP but if he can’t I’m sure he will be welcomed back in WSBK.

  • SV

    @Tone: A rumor (I stress RUMOR) I read was that since he was (supposedly) testing parts for Lorenzo, he (supposedly) has to use a setup that wasn’t to his liking. I guess it was a setting closer to Lorenzo’s or something (supposedly), but maybe it was Grade A+ B.S.
    I keep hearing that he’s going to WSBK alongside Melandri at BMW Motorrad Italia, but a lot of rumors that spread this quickly turn out wrong, so I’m not holding my breath.

  • matt

    I’m sorry but I don’t believe this “Yamaha won’t let Ben take points from Lorenzo” reason for his underperforming this year. If you go by that logic, why would any factory have a #2 rider, and why on earth would Repsol honda last year field three world champions in their team. After all Repsol Honda surely would have known that they would have been taking podiums of one another. As much as I like watching all the MotoGP riders (I’m not in the business of trash talking anyone – they’re all magicians in my mind) there’s a very distinct gap in talent between the top, the middle and bottom tiers. Small gaps in the great scheme of things – we’re talking 10ths of seconds, but gaps nonetheless. Unfortunately for Ben his performances have been towards the bottom of the middle tier, and not at the very top of the middle or scraping into the top few. That’s what Yamaha expect, like it or not. If he’s not there, they’ll find someone else who can challenge and beat the other factory bikes, not dicing with the top of the CRT or fighting with the satellite machines. Politics maybe come into things, but don’t forget it is a business too and these guys want ROI. It’ll be sad if he leaves the series entirely because he’s an enormous talent – I’ll admit I was a doubter who suddenly took him VERY seriously after he won WSBK in his rookie year. Not many people get to beat seasoned campaigners like Biaggi, Checa, Haga, Corser et al on tracks they’ve never seen before.

  • Westward

    Spies is hands down the best american pilot in any series. his lack of success on the Yamaha M1 is strictly an issue of gremlins…

    Don’t feed ’em after dark, and god for bid you get ’em wet, they will only multiply. Hopefully Spies can expose them to some California sun, and get on with the business of racing.

    The man just needs a little bit of Elbow room…

  • Patron

    Spies definitely still has what it takes. I honestly believe Yamaha detune his bike, but only to make him finish in the 2nd – 4th range. It’s no secret that they do this. But I believe his run of bad luck and mistakes have just compounded this. I was surprised to see him announce he was leaving so early in the season, but if he doesn’t feel he is getting an honest shot at wins and eventually a title, then I don’t blame him for moving on. I’m sure it’s awesome to be inside the MGP paddock, but who wants to work for a team/company that wants him to be an also-ran at this point in time. Head over to WSBK where your talent will be appreciated and you will be given a real fighting chance to win every week….and have fun.

    The technology and bikes are so laser precise, and the riders so skilled to be able to get 100% from them, that if you take just 2% away from a bike it won’t be able to win on a regular basis. These championships are not a toss-up. There are 3 people that can win it each year. After 4 or 5 races that number sometimes drops to 2. Some may get lucky and steal a win away from time to time due to crashes or weather or big mistakes from the main contenders, but they aren’t consistently upsetting anyone. Look at the win ratio of the last two champions. It’s just astounding. If you have the talent, and the bike that’s unleashed to 100%, and a team that’s behind you 100%, finishing 1-2-1-1-1-2-2-1-1 is not a big surprise anymore. Remove only a small amount from any part of that equation, and it’s an uphill battle for you. Best of luck, but you just don’t have every piece to the puzzle. I wish Ben all the luck with whatever choice he is about to make.

    I just hope it’s to WSBK rather than AMA. If he did move back to AMA, they would have to make him wear an eye patch or something to make it possible for anyone else to take a win.

  • Tim

    Anyone who rides at this level has ability far beyond my own. I would not throw rocks at someone who struggles in this venue. I think it is childish to assume that Ben and Jorge have identical machines (wasn’t that the very crux of the complaint Jorge had against Valentino Rossi?).

    I also think it is far too easy for casual observers to lay value assessments on someone at this level, when they couldn’t mount and lap once on these machines without wetting themselves.

    If I had any say on the series, I would concur with Colin Edwards when he says, “Take all that electronic [stuff] off of the bikes and let the riders ride.”