By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive interview with Pramac Ducati's Ben Spies, who is returning to action in this weekend's Italian MotoGP at Mugello after missing the last two rounds.

Spies talks about his shoulder injury, his career progression, the move from Yamaha to Ducati, how to make the racing in MotoGP closer and more...
The first question has to be, how are you feeling?

Ben Spies:
I think I'm doing, in fact I know I'm doing a lot better than I was in Austin. It's been 30 to 35 days now doing rehab during the day when I've been home and I feel a lot better than I did 4 or 5 weeks ago and I just need to get back on the bike to see how I feel and start building from there. I won't know until Friday or Saturday how things are going, but we can say that we've done everything possible to be fit for the race.
So you haven't ridden a bike recently?

Ben Spies:
No, I haven't been able to do testing or anything like that but I've been doing workouts that I'd never done in my life before to try to work out the various muscles needed.
You've got a shoulder injury and chest pain, are they linked?

Ben Spies:
Yeah, we got a chest injury at Austin on Sunday morning and that was effectively due to me compensating for my shoulder and that gave me a major strain of the pec muscle where it attaches into the shoulder.

They say injuries can make injuries and that's kinda what happened and we've been working on all the areas around it to make it less likely to happen. Coming back so soon has meant that there are so many areas in the chest shoulder and back which are very weak and we have been trying to work on areas that I might compensate with.
Does the fact that there can be a stand-in for an injured rider make recovery from injury more difficult for a bike racer?

Ben Spies:
I can see that in a bunch of different ways, we didn't have any pressure in that way to come back after the shoulder injury, but that was also the reason why I may have come back a little too soon. Not because anyone else was going to be riding the bike but because of it being the beginning of the season. We don't just have matches, we've got a whole championship and I needed to come back as soon as I could and it was that that kinda set the other injury off.

Yes there are always riders who can step in and take your place when you're out, but for me my first goal is just to get healthy for me and what happens 'til then is basically out of my control. So I don't look at it like that, I'm just trying to get to 100% and that's all we can do. It's one of those injuries you can't just ride through like you can with a little bit of pain from a small broken bone. It's a different style of injury that takes a lot of time.

When we're not healthy we have a test rider and that helps a lot. Michele [Pirro] did a great job at Le Mans, I wanted to be on the bike but I had to do other things to get fit.
How much pain are you in on a day-to-day basis?

Ben Spies:
4 or 5 weeks ago it was still affecting me off the bike, now after the rehab though, I don't have any day-to-day problems. It's on the motorcycle that we'll see where it stands. Maybe it's 100%, we'll just have to wait and see. Right now I feel fine, jumping on a 250bhp motorbike though, even when you're fine is a different matter.
So after a difficult 2012 season and frustrating injury, what keeps you racing?

Ben Spies:
That's what we do, it's the competitiveness. For sure there've been a lot of low points, I haven't been able to ride a motorcycle without pain since Sepang last year so it's been a long road and I've had 6 or 7 months with no fun at all, but the time will pass and we'll get back to where we need to be.

When you're 100% healthy, riding a motorcycle is what you started, what you have fun doing and what you love to do. When you're in pain though it's difficult to have fun and it's the competitiveness that keeps you going. You need to have fun and to do that you have to be healthy and that's what we're doing.
Going back to happier times, in AMA you were riding against Matt Mladin, was he the most competitive rider you have ever come up against?

Ben Spies:
Yeah for sure and those weren't easy times back then, I was having a lot of fun riding though. I can't say we got along that well either so it was great to beat him and to win, it was no cakewalk though. He taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do and looking back those were good days. I'm glad I don't have to race against someone of his tenacity again, that's for sure.
One of your finest hours so far was in WSBK, how did you do that?

Ben Spies:
I don't know, we just had a good year, but we had our ups and downs too. People often forget how many downs we had with mechanicals, crashes and big points gaps. I just got on the bike and pushed at 100% and we were able to win the championship. The things that came with it were new to me and new to Yamaha and I think that everything was so different and new that I didn't grasp what was going on and the records that were being broken.

I didn't bring all my crew to WSBK, just some of the people I thought mattered.

The overall speed in AMA and WSBK was about the same but there were more competitive guys who could do that speed. Me and Matt were about at the same speed in AMA and we were ahead, the difference in WSBK though was that there were 10 guys about the same speed as me and Matt and if I wasn't on my day in AMA I would finish second whereas in WSBK I would be 8th or 9th. The competition was just much more close
What was your perspective on last season, how do you rationalise that?

Ben Spies:
You don't really. I've never had a season like that before, we had a lot of mechanicals and problems and I also made some mistakes. It was just basically a really bad season and it shows how much the press and paddock's opinion can change in one year. If you can bounce back the next season it just automatically fixes everything though.

It shows who the real people are in the press and amongst the fans. In motorcycle racing it seems that you're only as good as your last race which doesn't say a lot for the fans of the people who are riding. I found it quite funny, but unfortunately that's the truth of it.

Usually I don't pay much attention to what people say online because they need stories to write about to get attention, but as regards what's happening behind the scenes with the rider and the bike, more often than not the fans are not getting the true story anyway because the factories won't allow it to be told.

Most of the time people who don't have something good to say are people who might not know too much or a kid who's in their mom's basement on the computer whereas people who come to races tend to know a little better, I've been racing long enough to know when something's right or not.
Do you think you had similar equipment at Yamaha to Jorge's?

Ben Spies:
Errm, no. It's one of those things that you can never be sure about, but I just know that at the end of the day the chassis and the engine weren't the same, even at the beginning of the year and there were a couple of engine upgrades during the year that we never got. It's hard to know what was what and what was being tested on my bike, the equipment was not quite the same though.
So you were fighting with lesser equipment at the end?

Ben Spies:
Some people thought you should return to WSBK at the end of last season...

Ben Spies:
We had a couple of offers in WSBK, but Ducati came to me with a good plan. Right now we're not in the best situation with the bike, I'm thinking of the future though and what's going to be happening is that Audi will be coming in making changes to really move Ducati forward - how far that goes remains to be seen.

With Audi coming on board there's going to be a lot more focus towards the racing project and trying to turn that around, that I know is going to happen.

I've got a two year deal and the biggest thing is that it's a factory contract which means that I can ride for Pramac, the factory team or any Ducati team that they have. Pramac is a great team, but the most important thing was having a two year deal with the factory.
How does your bike compare with Nicky's?

Ben Spies:
I don't honestly know, I know me and Andrea [Iannone] are on the same bike. I know that Nicky's got a few parts that we don't but the majority of the bike's very close. With the way I'm feeling right now with the injuries though that's not really something I'm worried about, I'm more concerned about getting me to 100% than the bike. In testing with Nicky they were always a little step ahead of me, I wasn't pushing the bike as hard though so we couldn't really compare.
What is it about the Ducati which makes it so different to the Honda and Yamaha?

Ben Spies:
Ducati ran the steel trellis frame for a long time and has the least experience with the aluminium one. It's only been a year that they've been working with it and it's very new to them but it's the precision of front end that we really have to work on.

It could be the chassis, it could be the weight distribution, it could be a lot of different things and that's what makes it so difficult to fix. It's just a different animal and I'm not saying it can't be a great motorcycle but right now we need more time to understand more about the chassis.

The difference between the Japanese bikes and the Ducati are just little bits of everything, there's nothing that jumps out at you as being hugely different. At the end of the day though, it's just a motorcycle.
An opinion among fans is that too many electronics are killing racing, where do you stand on that?

Ben Spies:
For me the easiest way to fix the racing and to make it closer is the level of the tyres. In WSBK BMW, Kawasaki, Aprilia and Honda can all win because the level of the tyre is much lower.

Now you have to build a bike in MotoGP to reach the potential of the tyre and if you lower the tyre performance by 30% every manufacturer would be able to reach its potential. To cheapen things up, make things easier and make the racing closer they just need to make a tyre that will go the race distance which has less grip.

If you want closer racing, then that's probably the easiest way. Also the manufacturers wouldn't need to spend so much money on development and that would mean that we see more bikes on the grid rather than the CRT ones.

I'm not for or against CRT, they make up the grid but it is basically another class and by changing a couple of things around it would cost the factories less money to race and they would be able to afford to put more bikes on the grid.
Thanks Ben, and good luck tomorrow...



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