The BBC broadcast of the Assen MotoGP race offered some more insight into Ben Spies not taking advantage of Loris Capirossi’s bad luck to get more experience on the Rizla Suzuki 800cc machine. Suzuki Team Manager Paul Denning was interviewed briefly by Matt Roberts during the race and he had this to say about Spies opting not to ride the available bike:
“[Spies] took his own choice. It was quite surprising for me, personally. I understand his reasons from a competitive point of view, but I would’ve thought it would’ve been a great thing to continue learning the bike. But that’s his decision and that was that.”
BBC commentators Steve Parrish and Charlie Cox seemed to share the opinion that, judging from Denning’s tone as he spoke, Spies had made a poor choice in the boss’ view. With fourteen laps to go, Spies would’ve been at least in thirteenth place assuming he was still in the race. But Parrish went on to point out that since Spies missed the first day, that meant the American would only have had two one-hour sessions and the warm-up to learn yet another new track on the MotoGP Suzuki.
Parrish commented at the end of the discussion that Spies had “nothing to lose and everything to gain” by going out on Capirossi’s bike. But even for a skilled rider such as Spies, one can easily see how Assen’s fast and flowing layout could be intimidating to someone riding it for the first time on a bike of limited familiarity and in such treacherous conditions. The fact is that riding a MotoGP bike is always dangerous, and doing so on a new, challenging track is even more so. As a man trying to win his third AMA Championship, Spies has a lot to lose if he injures himself away from an AMA event.
Spies may also have been considering that he’ll be testing the 800cc Suzuki at Indianapolis tomorrow and Wednesday under more favorable conditions. Not only is the weather at Indy likely to present a safer track than a rainy Assen circuit, but Spies would put his time to better use by learning a course he’ll be racing on in September. He will also not have the pressure of a race weekend looming over his shoulder as he gains more experience with the MotoGP bike and Bridgestone tires. Had Spies risked riding a wet Assen circuit and crashed, he might easily have lost out on the Indy testing and thus arrived there in September without the benefit of having ridden the track before, further increasing the experience deficit he currently has relative to every other rider on the MotoGP grid.
So though his decision may not have been popular among those in the Suzuki paddock, who would certainly have liked possibly to pick up a few extra points from their wildcard rider, Spies’ decision is, as Denning said, understandable. Spies’ solid performance at Donington Park showed he is patient and in control of his competitive instincts even as he lapped faster and faster with each session, including the race itself. To have a single hour session before taking to the track for qualifying amid the efforts of riders contending a world championship title would have been to add additional risk to what is essentially an extended testing session for Spies. A mistake on his part during qualifying or during the race might have jeopardized the championship standings if it involved another rider. But the risk of a crash that could hurt his own lead in the AMA championship back would have been greater with such limited time on a challenging new track. Strong performances at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis will likely have Spies back in the good graces of Suzuki management.
BBC Assen Broadcast