At the beginning of this season, it all seemed pretty clear: In 2009, Ben Spies would be riding a Suzuki in MotoGP. Right now, two-thirds of the way in to the series, that early certainty has all but disappeared. For a number of reasons, most of which involve money in one form or another, the chances of American MotoGP fans seeing Ben Spies on a Rizla Suzuki next year have all but disappeared.
That leaves Spies in a quandary. The Texan does still have options in MotoGP, but these would not be in a factory team, leaving him waiting for important upgrades if the bike turns out not to be competitive. And with Spies' best MotoGP option currently with Gresini Honda, that is a bigger risk than it may seem. Ever since the switch to the 800cc formula, which Honda were expected to dominate, Honda riders - factory and satellite alike - have struggled, with only Dani Pedrosa capable of being truly competitive aboard the RC212V.
And so with Spies looking to ensure factory-level support, he is being forced to explore other options. One of these options, reported by the German website Motorsport-Total and the online magazine GPWeek, is a switch to the World Superbike series. There is already plenty of interest, with Alstare Suzuki's team manager Francis Batta expressing a keen interest in Spies at the recent World Superbike round at Utah, but now an even more attractive option has opened up.
With Troy Bayliss due to retire at the end of the season, the factory Xerox Ducati team is in dire need of someone to fill the giant hole that the Australian champion will leave. And Ben Spies could be just the man to help fill that gap. Signing Spies would make a huge amount of sense for Ducati, as having the American star on their bike would boost their profile in the vital US motorcycle market, which has lagged since they pulled out of the AMA series two years ago.
Although Doug Gonda, Spies' manager, has confirmed that they are talking to Ducati, a deal is far from done. Any deal is dependent on who is signed alongside Spies, as it is absolutely vital to Ducati to have an Italian in the factory team as well. But this, too, is looking probable, with Xerox Ducati reportedly close to a deal with Max Biaggi, and holding the talented young Ducati test rider Niccolo Canepa in reserve.
Though the situation may have changed since January, Ben Spies is still looking certain to end up in Europe, especially considering the disarray in which the US domestic series is likely to be in next year. But the question for Spies remains which series that will be.