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My Greatest Yamaha Memory

Ben Spies

Ben Spies

During his career, Ben Spies enjoyed success everywhere he went. After championing the AMA Superbike and Superstock series, the American left the United States to join the FIM Superbike World Championship in 2009, and duly won Yamaha’s first riders’ title at his first attempt, while he also boasts a MotoGP race victory to his name.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Spies was already winning national 600cc championships at the age of 14, and the following year in 2000 he joined the AMA 750 Superstock series, impressing enough to earn an AMA Horizon Award for road racing, given to the most outstanding and promising young talent.

His first professional victory came the following year in an AMA 750 Superstock race at Pikes Peak, before taking a maiden title in the 2003 AMA Formula Xtreme championship on 1000cc machinery, having also made his Superbike debut.

In 2006, Spies entered his second season of AMA Superbikes and scored 10 victories to beat his more experienced team-mate to the riders’ title. He claimed a second AMA Superbike championship the following year, also dominating the AMA Superstock series, before making it three top-class titles in a row in 2008.

Showing promise in his three MotoGP appearances in 2008, where he scored a best finish of sixth at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Yamaha signed Spies for the 2009 Superbike World Championship and it was instantly clear that the American was going to challenge for the title in his rookie season.

Riding the updated Yamaha R1 at the opening round in Philip Island, his first visit to the Australian circuit, Spies took pole position and went on to win the second race, following that up with a double victory in only his second WorldSBK weekend in Qatar.

Spies’ sensational win at Assen

After missing out on victory at Valencia for round three, Spies was determined to get back to winning ways when the Superbike World Championship headed to one of motorcycle racing’s most renowned venues - Assen.

Once again, Spies was quickest in the Superpole and took the holeshot as the field filed its way the opening left-hander of the Dutch circuit. In the early stages of the race, Spies held onto the lead from a hard charging Max Neukirchner.

His stern defence saw former Yamaha star Noriyuki Haga close the gap, before Neukirchner fell out of contention at half distance. A titanic three-way tussle for the lead ensued, after British rider Leon Haslam also joined the fray with 10 laps remaining.

Spies went wide at the Turn 5 hairpin, dropping back to third but neither Haga nor Haslam could pull away, as the trio continued to battle over the lead. With three laps to go, Spies and Haslam were locked in an almighty battle, going side-by-side through Turns 6, 7 and 8, before the American squeezed through.

A strong final sector saw Spies close onto the back of Haga ahead of the final lap, as he piled on the pressure through the opening sequence of corners. He made his move with a sensational pass at Turns 13 and 14, and held on to take a memorable victory.

That would set the tone for the remaining rounds of the 2009 Superbike World Championship season, with Spies taking 14 wins and a record 11 pole positions on his way to the title, Yamaha’s first, and so far only, in the WorldSBK.

His performance earned a full-time seat with the Tech 3 Yamaha squad in MotoGP, where he remained for three seasons between 2010 and 2012, taking an emotional victory at the Dutch Grand Prix at Assen, before persistent injury concerns led to his untimely retirement.

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