Ben Spies relishing Ducati challenge

By Matthew Birt -

MotoGP

 04 April 2013 14:17

A factory Ducati Desmosedici might not seem like the ideal choice of machinery for a rider looking to bounce back from the worst year of his career.

Texan Ben Spies though will start that process in Qatar tonight relishing the big challenge he faces ahead to help the Bologna factory bounce back from a difficult 2011 and 2012.

Ducati is looking to recover from a nightmare spell with Valentino Rossi while Spies is seeking to put a disastrous and injury-hit second season with Yamaha’s factory squad behind him.

The 2009 World Superbike champion is currently nearing the end of pain-staking recovery from major right shoulder surgery he needed after his 2012 campaign was prematurely ended by a severe injury he suffered in a crash during last October’s Sepang race in Malaysia.

A lack of strength has been the main barrier preventing Spies from being able to seriously test the GP13 machine at close to 100% during the pre-season testing campaign.

But explaining to MCN recently why he had taken on the challenging of trying to tame Ducati’s Desmosedici, Spies said: “For me challenges are what drive me to push myself to do something different that people haven’t done or just push myself and not stay static.

"Last year was tough. We had a lot of mechanical problems and I made a lot of mistakes and I made a lot more mistakes because of the problems I was having and trying to get too much back. I just wasn’t riding normal and it showed and it was a horrible year.

"But if we look at way back from 2000 to now that was my worst year and another year doesn’t even come close to that, so I’ll take that. It was rough and it happens but I’ve got to rebuild slow and get back to where we need be.”

Getting back to where he needs to be will mean Spies becoming a regular podium contender again, as he was in 2011 when he scored his first MotoGP victory in Assen.

The road back to podium contention with Ducati will be a long one but looking at his potential he said: “You can look at it good and bad because a couple of people have done good like Casey (Stoner) and (Loris) Capirossi.

"(Sete) Gibernau had good results too but it is hard to tell because that was with a different bike too. Right now all I can do is focus on working with them to make the bike better because the package right now is not the package we need to run at the front.

"Valentino statistically for the amount of years he has been racing is the best rider and it showed there are limits to what you can do with the bike. He is a great racer but not an engineer. (Jerry) Burgess is a great crew chief too but you can’t design the bike if the best engineers are not doing that stuff.

"Right now with Audi coming in they know they have got to work on the base of bike and getting that better. Once it is 80% you can start working on the bike but it is the base package we need to improve.”

Solving the chronic understeer issue that constantly plagued Rossi and continues to haunt the Desmosedici remains a big priority for Ducati’s technical staff.

Spies gave MCN his opinion on the issue that has already been a regular complaint of factory team newcomer Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati stalwart Nicky Hayden.

The triple American Superbike champion said: “It could come from a couple of different things. We don’t know if it is weight distribution and all the riders complain about chatter. It is a different chatter that I’ve experienced before so it could be that it doesn’t have enough tracking grip to load it and do the turning.

"A lot of things could be leading to that but that definitely is the main area where we need to work on the bike. You need to have the bike turning. It can buck around and spin a little bit and move around on the brakes but if the thing is not turning round the corner then you have got no hope and that’s where we need to work on.

"We’ve tried to give them some input on the direction to go and I think all the riders are pretty much on the same playing field of what we are asking for and what they know they need to work on.

"People forget that Ducati has not had much time at all with an aluminium chassis. The Japanese bikes have years and years of experience with the aluminium stuff, so it is a learning curve for them too.”

With a winter dominated by the rehabilitation from the major shoulder surgery, Spies has been gradually working his way back to 100% fitness and he said: “I have done my collarbone before and had a separated shoulder but this last one that I did basically destroyed the joint itself and they’ve had to re-build it. It doesn’t happen overnight.

"First you get the swelling out and then you get the range of motion and then you get the strength back and then the endurance and it has been a long and tough road for sure. We definitely didn’t get any rest this off season in a good way and the season is upon us.

"For me to try and stay positive is we know we are a little bit behind the eight ball right now with the bike and nothing new is coming any time soon. So right now the most important thing is to get back to 100% and healthy and I know when we do that and the bike gets good we can do a lot of good things. But we know it is not going to happen for me or the bike overnight.”

For full coverage of the season opening MotoGP round in Qatar, see the April 10 issue of MCN.