Recently crowned World Superbike Champion Ben Spies began the next chapter of his burgeoning career in some style by finishing seventh on his Yamaha MotoGP debut in Spain.
Ahead of his full-time switch to the premier class in 2010, following his record-breaking maiden season in World Superbikes, Spies debuted aboard a Yamaha M1 at the season-ending Valencia Grand Prix.
His first outing on the bike, Spies made linear progress throughout the weekend, qualifying ninth on the grid before shrugging off a difficult first few laps to work his way up to an eventual seventh place finish.
Although the race does not represent Spies' MotoGP debut having raced a Suzuki on three occasions in 2008, his efforts on an unfamiliar bike nonetheless puts him on a par with several other World Superbike graduates experiencing their first proper outing on a prototype machine.
The man he replaces at Tech 3 Yamaha in 2010, James Toseland, finished sixth on his debut in 2008, as did Colin Edwards in 2003. Troy Bayliss came home fifth on his first outing with Ducati, while Spies' WSBK sparring partner, Noriyuki Haga, finished tenth on his full-time debut on the Yamaha in 2001 having managed a podium as a wild-card debutant in 1998. Each enjoyed significantly more testing time than Spies would have had on the M1, however.
"It was a good day. We got a good start which something I didn't think was going to happen. For the first six or seven laps I wasn't really on it, I wasn't used to the way the tires come in so I was halfway taking it easy and halfway getting pushed around because I didn't want to do anything silly.
“Once we got into a rhythm I got to follow some people and it was ok, then I slowly started to pass some people and got my eyes set on the guys in front. Once I got passed Dovizioso I could see Nicky Hayden and Tony Elias up ahead. I knew I wasn't going to catch them but I tried to keep my pace going and was able to keep it steady.
“It's been a dream first weekend for us, to get seventh on a track I don't particularly favour is pretty cool, the feeling is the same as winning a superbike race. I'm happy we've kept the bike off the ground and made solid progress all weekend which was our number one goal.”
Significantly, Spies finished ahead of Toseland and Chris Vermeulen, both of whom will be heading in the other direction from MotoGP to World Superbikes next season.