The traction control on the MotoGP machines varies greatly from bike to bike and rider to rider. Ducati Marlboro's Casey Stoner is the current master, loads of electronics allowing him to go wide open on the throttle early in the corner. Fiat Yamaha's Valentino Rossi likes more control, as does Repsol Honda's Nicky Hayden. What Spies never had time to do was "get comfortable with the bike, with the electronics, and whacking the throttle wide open." Crew chief Shenton says each rider dictates his own comfort level with the electronics, which are vastly improved from when Spies last rode it. "We didn't have a dedicated spin control system last year," revealed Shenton.
Sunday's race would be dry. This wasn't good news, but Spies accepted it. The plan was to settle in and not "do anything stupid with these guys in their championship, but I'm definitely going to try and hook on with them and race."
Spies' fastest lap was his 21st, a time he essentially matched two laps from the end of the 30-lap race. He finished 14th, less than a second out of 13th, and earned his first two MotoGP Championship points.
It was a definite trial by...
It was a definite trial by fire for Spies, as he had to adapt to a new motorcycle, tires, racing circuit, competition and crew. Here he debriefs with the Rizla Suzuki crew after his first wet practice session on Saturday.
Spies' crew chief for the...
Spies' crew chief for the weekend was GP veteran Stuart Shenton, who was also crew chief for Kevin Schwantz during the Lucky Strike Suzuki 500GP era.
In his motor home afterwards, Spies tried to make sense of it. He felt he should have done better, but on a dry track it would've been difficult. "Towards the end of the race-the result I'm not happy with it-I don't know what other people's opinions are, but I think towards the end of the race it was good. I thought we did pretty good. And the times I was doing, the guys I could see, basically up to 10th, I was catching on the last 12 laps pretty big."
"He was a bit flat, really, with the result, but we were really, really chuffed with the job he did," Rizla Suzuki team manager Paul Denning says." We had to look at the context of the whole weekend in terms of the weather condition, new track, new bike; the list goes on. Coming off two hours riding in the rain and such a slippery surface and having to go straight out in these dry conditions, but with this kind of wind, and go faster than you've gone before. He did 30 flat during the race, right at the end.
"And basically he's pleased with the second half of the race. Once he got a feel for the bike moving around a little bit and could start to generate a little bit of spin and understand how that works, and he felt the first half of the race for him was just getting to know the bike in the dry a little bit, then the second half he could start to push. You'd probably have to check, but lap 18 through lap 30, his lap times were good enough for 10th, 11th place, which was a fantastic first run on the bike."
The critical moment for Spies came mid-race in the left-hand Coppice Corner when he first slid the rear. "I was like, OK-I finally figured out how the traction control works on the bike. It's just different from [my superbike]. Just a different feeling. If you look at my last split where I sucked all weekend, it was getting even with everybody, the guys at least I was racing with. I knew how it was going to spin and how it was going to react, and I think riding in the rain helped that a little bit. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty damn happy with the times. I know we can do it. Just need more track time and that's all there is to it." Spies never did find the limit of the front tire.
"I know if we suited up and put on new tires we could definitely do 29s now and we'd be in the top 10. Honestly, I'm happy with it. But for me the race was lost in the first half of the race. And that's where the lack of experience definitely didn't help. I don't know what other people's opinions are, but I think for all the amount of track time and the last half of the race it definitely showed I was getting more comfortable with the bike and the track. If we raced tomorrow we'd definitely have a top-10 bike and a top-10 rider for sure."
At Laguna, Spies raced for...
At Laguna, Spies raced for a while with fellow AMA Superbike rider and good friend Jamie Hacking, who was also doing double duty on the Kawasaki ZX-RR MotoGP bike and his Monster Kawasaki ZX-10R superbike. Hacking finished in 11th place in his cameo ride in place of the injured John Hopkins.
Laguna Seca will be a better judge of his potential. With two more days of testing and on a track where he's had great success, Spies will be more relaxed, more confident. The race marks the start of the summer break, a time traditionally filled with contract negotiations. Spies is more resolute than ever to leave the AMA Superbike Championship. Like many others he's a vocal opponent of the new technical rules, class format and safety stand of the Daytona Motorsports Group.
"I've been told not to say much, but I really don't even care," he says back in the Alpinestars hospitality unit. "It's just ridiculous. I feel bad for my buddies that do race there. I wish they could all leave; it's gotten that bad. There's tracks where we can't ride in the rain, and there's tracks where we can. That needs to be understood. And then the rules that are being changed are a lot of . . . pretty much everybody I know doesn't really agree with them. That's another thing. But it's the safety thing that's completely blown me away. I don't even understand that, really." Of being asked to race in the rain on the horribly slick Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Spies made this offer to DMG CEO Roger Edmondson: "Tell homeboy to get on the back of my bike."
Needless to say, Spies will...
Needless to say, Spies will be at the top of many MotoGP teams' shopping lists for the '09 season after impressing many at the British and USA GPs.
Where will Spies end up? Finding a spot in the GP paddock could be tricky. Rizla Suzuki has Vermeulen under contract for next year and seems likely to keep Capirossi. Schwantz has tried for a few years to get Suzuki to field a third bike, so far with no success. Spies could end up replacing Anthony West at Kawasaki.
Whatever the options, Spies realizes time is short. "I thought I was young until I saw all those little kids on the 125s," the 23-year-old Spies says. The podium for Sunday's 125cc race will be the youngest ever: two 15-year-olds and a 20-year-old. "The fact is, if I want to do something over here I need to be over here as early as I can. Not that World Superbike's not bad, but this is definitely my first option and where I want to be, and we'll try to get that achieved."