According to sources in Europe, American Ben Spies reportedly is set to announce his retirement from racing sometime today (CONFIRMED: The press release at the bottom of this page was given out at 5:00pm on Saturday in Japan). Continuing shoulder problems—his right shoulder was injured at Sepang in 2012, then aggravated that injury with another fall during the January 2013 Sepang test, while his left shoulder took a hit at Indianapolis when he crashed during practice after forgetting that the traction control wasn’t activated in first gear—have forced the former World Superbike champion to compete in only two races in the first year of his two-year contract with Ducati. During his time off, sources say the manufacturer was growing tired of Spies’ increasing aloofness and separation from the team (including the Twitter gaffe involving Italian manager Carlo Pernat), and began to question his commitment to the project. Ducati MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti reportedly offered Spies a chance to move to World Superbike in order to open up the Pramac Ducati seat to another rider, but Spies apparently rejected that offer. With nearly all of the factory and factory-supported rides already signed up, the Texan is going to hang up his leathers rather than start looking for another ride elsewhere.
Spies turned pro at age 15 after signing with Valvoline Suzuki to compete in the AMA 750 Supersport series in 2000. He won the AMA Formula Xtreme championship in 2003, but his AMA career is probably best remembered for his three consecutive AMA Superbike championships (2006-2008) that came at the expense of Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Mat Mladin, who was the dominant rider in the series for many years. The 2008 title came down to the wire, with Spies taking the championship by a single point over Mladin.
Spies then moved to the World Superbike Championship with Yamaha on the Sterilgarda Yamaha team, and the American shocked the established series stars by winning the title in his rookie year, setting a record for consecutive pole positions in the process with seven. Although he’d signed a two-year contract to contest the WSBK series, it was announced after his 2009 title that Spies would be moving to MotoGP in 2010, riding for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha satellite squad. Two podium finishes and Rookie of the Year honors saw Spies then move to the factory Yamaha team for 2011 alongside Jorge Lorenzo.
Spies won his first and only MotoGP race at Assen that year, after Marco Simoncelli crashed in front of Lorenzo, taking both out of the race. Spies inherited a 2.5-second lead over Casey Stoner that he eventually grew to over seven seconds at the finish. Spies finished the season fifth that year, and there were high hopes for the following season.
But 2012 didn’t work out as hoped. Numerous issues with the bike or his physical condition resulted in subpar season that culminated in a heated meeting after the Laguna Seca round where his commitment was reportedly questioned. This ended badly as Spies announced through email and social media channels that he would not be riding for the factory Yamaha team in 2013 before any official Yamaha statement could be made, infuriating Yamaha management who found themselves in the middle of a media storm after the surprise announcement.
Below is the press release from Ducati:
Ducati and Ben Spies announce the American’s retirement from racing competition
· Spies announces retirement after a successful career in Superbike and MotoGP
· Decision taken jointly by Ducati and the Texan rider
· Retirement prompted by doubts about physical ability to race next year
Borgo Panigale (Bologna, Italy), October 26, 2013 - Ducati Motor Holding and Ben Spies announced today that the American will not be racing in 2014 after the parties reached agreement to resolve Ben’s current contract with the Italian racing manufacturer. The 29-year-old Texan had signed a two-year agreement with Ducati at the end of last season to race in MotoGP in 2013 and 2014 as part of the factory-supported Ignite Pramac Racing Team.
Ben has been sidelined for most of this season due to an injury to his right shoulder sustained in October 2012 while riding for another manufacturer team. While he began 2013 racing with Pramac, it quickly became clear that he was not fully healed from his injury and needed to undergo further rehabilitation on his shoulder. Unfortunately, on his return to racing at Indianapolis in August, Ben had another setback when he suffered a season-ending crash during practice.
The resulting operations on both shoulders have left Spies feeling that his physical ability to ride next year remains in question and a decision was jointly made by Ducati and Ben to release Ben from any requirement to race in 2014.
The 2009 World Superbike Champion, three-time AMA Superbike Champion and MotoGP race winner announced his retirement from the sport in the following way: “I had such high hopes for racing for Ducati, and Ducati has been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging year, so I am tremendously disappointed that I have not been able to fulfill my personal goals and team goals with Ducati. I want to thank everyone from racing organizations, factories, teams and all my fans for helping me and supporting me throughout my career. I never dreamed that I would reach the level of success that I have over the past 20 years of racing, but the time has come to stop and I do so with great sadness.”
Spies’ manager/mother Mary Spies added: “Wherever Ben has raced over the years—from AMA Superbike to World Superbike to MotoGP—he has always felt the warmth and appreciation of the organizers, circuits, teams and fans. We are so grateful to them for their support.”
Ducati MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti declared: "We had high expectations when Ben joined Ducati in MotoGP this year, and we really hoped that he would fully recover from his Indianapolis crash injuries and continue to race for us in the future. However we understand the reasons for his decision and respect them. It is really a shame for our sport that Ben will not be racing anymore, because in our opinion he is one of the most talented riders in the world. We will miss him and wish him all the best for his future life."