Six months after badly injuring his right shoulder in a Malaysian Grand Prix crash, Ben Spies gritted his teeth to get through a gruelling Ducati debut inside the top 10 in Qatar last night.
Tenth is nothing to write home about but given the lack of strength Spies is still suffering in the slowly recovering shoulder, he said his Losail International Circuit result was ‘the best 10th place I’ve ever had in my life.”
It’s not hard to see why.
Movement in the right shoulder he mangled in the Sepang spill is not an issue. A lack of strength remains the single biggest speed-limiting factor, which had prevented the Texan from doing more than five laps in a row before he went into last night’s 22-lap season opener.
Major reconstructive surgery on the shoulder was a success but the rehabilitation has been a long and laborious process.
Full strength is still weeks away according to the 2009 World Superbike champion, who had spoken with Ducati management prior to Sunday’s race about him retiring early to avoid risking a crash that could possibly aggravate the shoulder injury.
His Ducati debut had not run completely smoothly after a heavy crash on Saturday night had inevitably jolted his confidence on the GP13.
Speaking to MCN in the Ignite Ducati garage immediately after the race, Spies said: “After the crash last night (Saturday) whatever confidence I had been building on it kind of hurt it.
"After the warm-up I told the team I wasn’t sure if I could finish the race because my shoulder was killing me and we had a plan that if I was down in 13th or something they didn’t want me to do more damage for one or two points so I’d pull in.
"But I saw I was in 11th and after (Stefan) Bradl crashed I tried to hang in with (Aleix) Espargaro for as long as I could to make sure my shoulder could make it. I passed him and I set some fast times at the end but I just didn’t have the strength for 22 hard laps.
"Honestly I’m just glad I was able to finish the race. I didn’t think I could do it and to finish in the top 10 was a bonus. That was the best top 10 I’ve ever had in my life.”
Spies admitted he had contemplated retiring from the race before the halfway point and he added: “About seven or eight laps in I honestly didn’t think I’d make the race. I did a pretty slow lap and I let Aleix by and I couldn’t really feel my hand too good and I locked the front brake up.
"If you look at my lap times all weekend I put about three fast laps together. I did five laps in a sequence but I never did them fast.
"I had a meeting with (Paolo) Ciabatti and Bernhard (Gobmeier) and they knew I might not be able to make it. I’m just glad I could finish for the team.”
Explaining how his weakened shoulder is having such an impact on his riding he said: “I still lack a bit of strength. Moving the bike around for one fast lap I could be faster but if you actually talk to a doctor they’ll say the small tendons and ligaments and the stabilising muscles of the joint is what is very weak.
"The big muscles are fine but all you try and do when you ride is keep your shoulder stable. It is coming back slowly and I need things like this to build it up but it is hard wrestling one of these things around for 22 laps.
"The shoulder is not painful. It is just I have no strength after three of four laps.”
For more coverage from the season’s opening race in Qatar, see the April 10 issue of Motor Cycle News.