Ben Spies is looking forward to his first ride on a Ducati MotoGP bike this week at the Sepang Circuit in
Malaysia after spending the past few months sitting on a couch with his arm in a sling.
Three days after crashing out of last October’s Malaysian GP, the 28-year-old Texan underwent a 90-minute
procedure to reconstruct his injured right shoulder. Cadaver tissue was used to replace and reinforce the torn ligaments.
“I didn’t do anything for a solid eight weeks,” said Spies. “I mean, like, nothing. After that, I spent another two-to-four weeks slowly starting to straighten my arm. Just moving the elbow was pretty painful.”
Spies filled the time hanging with friends and family, watching movies and “doing other things I normally
don’t have time for. So, in a way, it was good. I can’t say enough about my girlfriend, my best friend and
my mom and dad for what they’ve done for me during the past three months, especially the first six weeks.”
Spies says the injury is 100 percent healed, but his shoulder strength is 70 percent and cardiovascular fitness is only 50 percent. That’s not as bad as it sounds.
“My physiologist didn’t think I would be able to ride at the first test,” said Spies, “but he’s blown away by what I’m able to do. I don’t have the strength to do race distance, and I definitely don’t want to touch the ground. We’ll just take the test session-by-session, day-by-day.”
Rehabilitation included time in a hyperbaric chamber and Cryotherapy, which exposes the body to sub-zero
temperatures to reduce inflammation and improve cell growth, among other claims.
This is Spies’ second trip overseas since the injury. Last month, he flew to Italy for Wrooom, the annual
Ducati/Ferrari media event held at a ski resort in the Dolomite Mountains.
“It was unbelievable,” said Spies. “Going there, I was like, ‘Man, I’m flying to Italy for two days, coming back to Texas, then I’ve got to go to Malaysia a week later.’ That’s a lot of travel, but I wouldn’t have changed it for anything. I got to do a lot of great things, hang out with a lot of great people and get to know my new teammate, Andrea Ianonne.”
New Ducati Corse General Manager Bernhard Gobmeier and MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti were
also in attendance. “Bernard and I are pretty good friends,” said Spies. “He tried to get me on a BMW a few different times. Paolo paved the way for me to get to World Superbike.” Spies won the Superbike World
Championship in 2009.
“I’d been talking with [Ducati CEO] Gabriele Del Torchio and [General Manager] Claudio Domenicali for the past few years,” said Spies. “Now, we’re in a team together. It’s a really good environment—warm and a lot more emotion.”
Spies’ crew chief, Tom Houseworth, has also made the transition from Yamaha to Ducati and will join his
rider in Malaysia for the three-day test. “Tom and I have been together for a long time,” said Spies. “I’m
like a son to him, and he’s like another dad to me. We have the same outlook for what we want from our
careers. I know how much longer he wants to race, and he knows how much longer I want to race.”
According to Spies, Houseworth “was cautious about this year, just like I was. But after the first test in
Spain, Tom said, ‘Ben, I know how you ride, and I think you’re really going to like the Ducati.’ He knows I have an aggressive riding style and that I like to ride the bike a little loose.”
Valentino Rossi gave the Ducati its best results last season—a pair of seconds in France and Italy.
Teammate Nicky Hayden’s best finish was fourth in Malaysia. Spies sees Ducati’s new four-rider, factory-
supported lineup—2006 MotoGP World Champion Hayden, 2004 125cc World Champion Andrea Dovizioso, Moto2 standout Iannone and himself—as a great development team.
“I come from Suzuki and Yamaha Superbikes, Pirelli tires, 800 and 1000cc MotoGP bikes,” he said. “Dovi
has his background. We know where Nicky comes from. Iannone’s a really big talent—fearless, fast as
hell—and nothing imbedded in his brain, good or bad, about MotoGP. Add the four riders together, and we
can make the bike better.
“I would much rather work hard with my teammates than hold back information that could improve the
bike. Mat Mladin and I didn’t have a great relationship at Suzuki in AMA Superbike, but we worked hard to
make the bike as good as it could be. On Sunday, we worried about beating each other, not five or six other guys.”
Spies knows success isn’t going to come overnight. In fact, he thinks Ducati will struggle for the first third of the season. “Audi’s coming in,” he said, “and they’re going to invest a lot of money when the time is right. By the end of the season, I think we’re going to see a big development change, moving the bike in the right direction and getting better results.”
Twenty-nine riders (24 full-timers and five testers) are scheduled to take part in the first official premier-class pre-season test, which begins at 10 a.m. MYT on Tuesday.