Ben Spies has announced that he will be leaving the Factory Yamaha MotoGP team at the end of this season.

The Texan, who won his first MotoGP race last year, has endured a torrid first half of 2012 and sits just tenth in the world championship with a best finish of fourth. Team-mate Jorge Lorenzo leads the standings with five wins and three second places from the opening nine rounds.

But Spies looked to have a strong chance of remaining alongside Lorenzo next season - until he made a surprise announcement, in the run-up to his home US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca this weekend, via an email to SuperbikePlanet.com:

"I have chosen to leave Yamaha after this season for a litany of reasons. I will explain more when I feel it is appropriate. I'm discussing my situation with my sponsors and they are behind me. There are a few people at Yamaha who I hate to leave. And they know who they are. I wish Yamaha the best. I won't make any further comments until the offical announcement comes out."

Spies then linked to the email on his official Twitter page (@BenSpies11), adding the following message:

"I'm extremely happy to push for the rest of the season to my fans and myself next year starts a new chapter. And yes I'm pumped!"

Earlier this week Spies hinted at the change to come, by tweeting:

"Big things are happening from the horses mouth! not the Internet sites haha. Gonna be fun that's for sure Ill keep ya updated!

"U can say next year will be a bit diff I'd say. excited at all prospects stay tuned."

But he then played down those comments, saying he was just being "dramatic like all the sites and reporters are haha" and "maybe nothing changes except to be back where we are meant to be!"

Spies' 2013 destination is not yet known and the words "a new chapter" and "back where we are meant to be" are sure to be analysed in detail over the coming days.

If 'back' means returning to a former manufacturer, then perhaps Spies is referring to Suzuki - with whom he won his AMA titles. Suzuki pulled out of MotoGP at the end of last year, but plans to return by 2014.

On the other hand, 'back' could mean returning to WSBK or even the AMA - although Spies' email talks of leaving Yamaha, rather than MotoGP. Time will tell...

One thing is certain, the 28-year-old's M1 exit is sure to fuel rumours that struggling MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi is set to leave Ducati and return to Yamaha for 2013.

After several wild-card rides for Suzuki, Spies joined MotoGP with Tech 3 Yamaha as the reigning World Superbike champion in 2010.

Two podiums and sixth in the championship cleared the way for a move to the Factory team last season, in place of Rossi, where Spies took three further podiums in addition to his debut Assen win.

Although Spies has naturally been under pressure to produce the results he has previously shown he is capable of, Yamaha had maintained public support for the Texan and it seemed that a strong ride in either of the forthcoming American events would have been enough to confirm a new contract.

The only riders so far signed for MotoGP next season are Lorenzo (Factory Yamaha), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda), Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda), Stefan Bradl (LCR Honda) and Bradley Smith (Tech 3 Yamaha).

Tech 3 team-mates Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow have made no secret of their desire to claim the second Factory Yamaha ride - but until Spies' email their chances seemed slim.

Dovizioso has the best 2012 record of any rider still available, with four podiums from the past five rounds - but his Factory M1 hopes will depend on how accurate the Rossi/Yamaha rumours are. Crutchlow has been strongly linked to Ducati.

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