Indianapolis Motor Speedway Teleconference: Ben Spies On Winning, Confidence, Tires And Indy

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway press office organized yet another teleconference in the run up to the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix at the end of August. This time, the subject of the interview was Ben Spies, a timely choice of interviewee given that the factory Yamaha rider is coming off his first ever MotoGP victory. Here's what Spies had to tell reporters:

Ben Spies
Thursday, June 30, 2011

Note: American MotoGP star Ben Spies participated in a Red Bull Indianapolis GP teleconference Thursday, June 30 after earning his first career MotoGP victory June 25 at TT Assen at Assen, Netherlands. It was the first MotoGP victory for an American rider since 2006. Spies, 26, from Longview, Texas, led every lap on a Yamaha Factory Racing machine.

Spies will join fellow American MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards in the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 26-28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

MODERATOR: It's been kind of rush going from Assen to Mugello. Has it sunk in yet, the victory, or has it just been so busy that you're in the race routine?

BEN SPIES: It's definitely starting to sink in, for sure, when something that big happens. It takes a couple of days to start sinking in, but it has. And we're still enjoying it. The team has got really good confidence and morale, and I guess we've got one more day to enjoy it. Work starts again tomorrow. We've got to take the positives from Assen, and like I said, the confidence. But also we have to start a new weekend here, and we'd love to do the same thing. But we can't get in over our heads and think we can do that all the time. We've got to know and understand that it is possible; we can do it. But we've got to work with a good work ethic during the weekend and give 100 percent and do what we can do this Sunday. But like I said, today we're still enjoying it, and it's still sinking in. It definitely takes a little bit to realize what happened.

MODERATOR: You lead from entering the second turn of the first lap all the way to the finish. Was it a situation because you were so far in front that, you hear sometimes guy say they hear every squeak, they hear every rattle, any sort of change in the engine. Were thoughts like that going through your head at all?

SPIES: It was quite a strange race but also a very fun race. We got out to the lead, and once I got to a three-and-a-half, four-second lead, I wanted to see what the pace was that Casey was. When he started taking a tenth and two-tenths out of me, we could put it back and go faster. Once I realized we had the pace to win, I just rode as hard as I could without making any mistakes to keep the gap. Toward the end of the race, we got more comfortable and went faster and pulled the gap out. With about eight laps to go, I realized what was going to happen. We definitely could win the race. Then I thought: "I can't make mistakes. I can't slow down and think too much. I've just got to stay in the same rhythm I've been in the whole race and continue to churn out the laps, and that's what we did. And actually the gap went up to six-plus seconds. It was a great situation the middle of the race, having the gap the way it was, because it kept me riding hard until the end. We had to stay concentrated and basically race myself for the last six laps and do that. It was a great race. I think a lot of the stories when you hear about people hearing noises in the bike and things like that are when it's the first win. It's the first MotoGP win for me, but we've led races before. So it's more of a comfortable feeling. But the bike was great. Didn't have any worries at all. Just needed to keep it clean and not make mistakes and bring it home.

Q: You had a memorable moment here last year at Indianapolis, getting on the pole and kind of announcing yourself to everybody. I'm wondering how much this win means in terms of growing motorcycle racing as a sport, or you don't think of yourself as an ambassador, you don't think of yourself as someone trying to maybe help other Americans get turned on to this.

SPIES: It's difficult because in Europe, obviously, motorcycle racing is like NASCAR in the States. So it's hard. But if I can help that and be of any assistance basically to build the MotoGP reputation in the U.S., that's the goal. That's what we want. So, yeah, if that helps in any way, that's the goal and that's what we do. I race for Yamaha to help them sell motorcycles, and they give me motorcycles that we can win. That's always the goal, not just what we do on the racetrack but what happens afterward. That's definitely the goal, to help MotoGP become bigger in the U.S.

Q: You were supposed to test next year's 1000 at Mugello, and now that test has been pushed back to Brno. Have you had any involvement with the development of that bike so far?

SPIES: Yes and no. We obviously haven't ridden the 1000 yet, and we're going to be riding it later. But we haven't been doing a lot of work, even with the 800, just with different chassis setups and trying different things that will move over to the 1000. Yes and no. We have been starting the development of that, but I've not rode the 1000 yet. But I think it's actually a blessing in disguise that we're going to ride it a little bit later because when we ride it, we won't just have the bike to ride. We'll have the bike to ride plus parts to test to give the engineers a better direction to go for the second test.

Q: You said something at Assen about the Yamaha being fast enough at the top end but not really as fast out of corners or under acceleration. Is this due to electronics that are preventing you from getting all the power that you need? I've noticed that the Yamaha never seems to drift? Is this something you guys are going to try to work on in the future?

SPIES: It's always a combination. It's not always what even the rider feels and what is seen on TV. When we want acceleration, that's what we want right now with the bike. There's many things. There's traction that starts the acceleration. There is electronics. There is the engine power. There's the bike is always basically harnessed by how much power you can put down with traction and wheelies, and maybe the bike will wheelie more if you put more power to it. There's such a fine line in so many departments that add up to what the bike does coming off the corner. So we do need to work on it. It's not just one thing. It's not like we've got to throw in an engine that's got 20 more horsepower. We've got to figure out how to get it to the ground, and we've got to figure out the electronics to go with it. It's a complete package that we are working on, and we've made it better. But it's still, definitely that's where we need to work on the bike, to get it to accelerate out of the corner.

MODERATOR: I just wanted to ask you your reaction to the news that, in fact, the project is almost finished; it will be finished this week, the repaving of the infield portion of the road course for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP. As a guy who rode there the very first year as a wild card in '08 and last year in '10, you've kind of seen the surface evolve. What's your reaction to the news that the whole course now is pretty much going to have the same asphalt?

SPIES: It's always great when the track is investing and making the surface better for the riders. But also, there's also some things with bumps and things like that you can figure out as a rider, it's good to kind of have that. Where some riders complain about the bumps, maybe you figure it out better, you have the line better around, or things like that. All in all, I'm much happier that it's been repaved, and I'm very much appreciative of Indy doing that. But then there's also some times you've kind of figured out how to go fast on what was there last year. But it's the same for everybody. So we've just got to go there and know that we're going to get fresh pavement the whole track, which is a great feeling. It's nice to know. There's always 50-50, but I'm much happier that they have repaved the track, and it will make it a little more consistent for us riders.

Q: There's a lot to talk about the Bridgestones and the compounds you guys had. What is your take on the performance of the Bridgestones on the first lap? Is it something you can work around? You were out there really fast, and other riders were falling. Were you able to somehow work around that, keeping that in mind, knowing how the Bridgestone behaves? And were you one of the riders who agreed to take on the softer tires if they were made available at Assen?

SPIES: I was for the softer tire, which would have been fun. I would have raced on the same tire that I raced on in the race, in any case. But with the way the Bridgestone tires work, it's a lot of rider confidence. The more heat you can get into them at a faster rate, the better they work. And there is a fine line of learning how to do that. It's very difficult to even explain, even if you do it to the riders. The Bridgestones are great tires. We do need to work on the heating up of them in the first couple laps. But again, it's one of the things that's the same for everybody. We nailed it that day and had the pace right off the bat, and that made the race a lot easier.

Q: Professional athletes are confident. You guys don't get to the top rung unless you believe in yourself. But is there an extra sense of knowing that you have now because you have won now?

SPIES: Always. Coming into MotoGP, we've come from AMA, winning titles from AMA, winning the World Superbike title. When we came to MotoGP, we were Rookie of the Year last year. So there was a lot of media and a lot of good supporters behind us. But as a rider, when you go a year and a half without winning, there's a little thought like, "OK, am I going to win a MotoGP race? Or if I do, when is it going to happen?" Now that it's happened, it takes a whole lot of relief off your shoulders. And also in the back of my mind now, it might not be every weekend, it might happen one more time this year, it might happen this weekend, and it might not happen ever again: You never know. But at least I know in my head that when the bike is right and I'm riding well, I can win a MotoGP race and I can race with the fastest guys out there. So it's good for the confidence, for sure.

Q: Ben, you took a pretty good whack at Silverstone. Do you have any lingering injuries form that crash?

SPIES: A little bit. I'm 100 percent on the bike, riding. But there still, I have a little bit of pain in the my lower bike. I did take a big, big hit on it. But, obviously, at Assen there wasn't on the bike, physically, it doesn't slow down at all. But moving around every day, I can feel that I hit the wall going 25 or 30 miles an hour. That's what we have to do sometimes, race with a little bit of pain. That's our job. But there will be no effects on me on the bike this weekend. It's not going to slow me down. I'll feel it a little bit. But I would say I'm definitely 90 percent full fitness, for sure.

Q: Now that you've taken your first win at Assen. You go to Mugello, and it's a track similar to Assen in that it has a few slow corners and it's mostly a fast track. Do you think the Yamaha will perform well that, and you'll have a good shot at finishing really well?

SPIES: Yeah, definitely. Mugello is a very flowing track, just like Assen. It has actually more faster corners, which suits the bike better. You have to see how the top speed of the bike is because that's the biggest thing about Mugello, going basically over 200 miles an hour. I think our bike, we have good top speed. We like a little bit of acceleration, but fortunately here we never have to slow down that much. I do think the bike is going to work really well here. There's no pavement here, which will be more grip, which suits our bike even better. So I'm confident that we have a bike that can fight for the top again. It should be good. Definitely this would be a track that does help our bike out a little bit more. Le Mans was, I think, one of the worst tracks we could go to, just the way our bike reacts. But now every track affects every manufacturer differently. Assen was obviously good for us, and I think Mugello will be good. We have a lot of good tracks that they're going to work, and some tracks some bikes will work better than other on certain days. And that's just how racing is, with and sport.

Q: You've got that first win under your belt at Assen, and it's huge. You now have that confidence that you've done it, and you're a winner at the highest level. Would there be extra significance for you to win at Indianapolis on home soil?

SPIES: For sure. That was my best weekend last year. You always want to do good in front of the home crowd. You always say you're going to push to the limit and try harder, but any racer, it doesn't matter if were in Malaysia, I'm in Italy or America. For those 45 minutes on Sunday, I'm pushing the absolute most I can out of me and the bike. My third place at Catalunya, I rode with the same mentality as I did in Assen. It came together at Assen. You always hope when you're at your home Grand Prix that everything comes together, and you're able to do it for the fans. There's always extra incentive there, but the pace you run in the race is 100 percent for all the riders. It's the same. You just hope it does come together this year in Indy again, and we could do it again. We can maybe win another race. But it's definitely difficult. Right now, the focus is totally on tomorrow in Italy.

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