Ben Spies began his first full time MotoGP season by delivering one of the stand-out performances of Sunday night's Qatar Grand Prix.
The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider gained four places on the opening lap, then was elevated into the top six by a surprise mistake from race leader Casey Stoner on lap six of 22.
Pursuing factory Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo, Spies once again demonstrated his devastating speed on worn tyres as he threatened to haul himself into contention for the podium battle involving Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso.
For several laps, Spies was the fastest man on track and his best lap time of 1min 56.087sec was just a few hundredths slower than the fastest laps by Lorenzo and race winner Valentino Rossi.
Spies went on to cross the line just over two seconds off third position and less than four seconds away from top M1 rider and reigning world champion Rossi.
“The key was that I knew we had a good pace on race tyres. I got a good start and I was quite aggressive in the first couple of laps to try and make up some places and keep contact with the front group,” said Spies, who previous best MotoGP finish was sixth in the wet 2008 Indianapolis Grand Prix.
“My confidence was growing in the middle of the race and I could see Jorge and Valentino and those guys not a million miles in front of me. I wasn't catching them a lot, but I knew for a few laps in the middle of the race I was definitely the quickest out of the top five.
“Maybe if I'd have qualified higher I might have been in that fight for the podium at the end. But I can't be too greedy and this is a good start for me and gives me a platform to build on for the rest of the season,” he added.
“Everybody was expecting great things from Ben this year and we have to say already that he has shown what he is capable of tonight,” stated team manager Herve Poncharal. “We were a bit disappointed when he was only 11th in qualifying but we knew it would be better for the race because he was so strong on hard tyres and we know this is a major strength of Ben's.