After months of speculation, finally the deal is done. Ben Spies will not be riding in MotoGP in 2009. But the triple AMA champion will be leaving America: as reported earlier, Spies will be joining the factory-supported Yamaha Motor Italia team in the World Superbikes championship.
The move has been in the air for a while now. After Suzuki failed to secure Spies the ride in MotoGP he longed for, it was increasingly likely that Spies would look elsewhere for a ride. The American was linked for a while with JiR Honda in MotoGP, but once it became clear that Luca Montiron would not be given an RC212V to contest, that deal imploded.
Spies' motivation in the press release announcing the move is interesting, and worthy of note. Spies says "after considering my offers it became obvious to me that Yamaha would be a great home. Yamaha was excited about the possibility of me joining them and they just made me feel like I was coming into a great family. You look at how Yamaha treats its riders and how, even after their careers are over, they’re always part of the Yamaha family. That was really important to me. I’m looking forward to the challenge at hand and to work with Yamaha to produce a winning team and ultimately a World Superbike Championship."
These sentiments are very similar to those of Jorge Lorenzo, when he signed with Yamaha to ride in MotoGP. The Japanese factory has shown itself to be extremely astute when it comes to rider signings over the past years, carefully cherrypicking talent away from other factories. The signing of Spies is one such example.
But Yamaha's World Superbike team has taken a risk with the signing of Spies. The team will be fielding two rookies aboard a brand new racebike in the championship, and both BSB star Tom Sykes and AMA champ Ben Spies have a lot of circuits to learn. Any hopes the team may have had of lifting the WSBK crown in 2009 have probably been sacrificed for a long-term strategy, hoping that investment next year will pay off in 2010.
There was some speculation that Spies could still make it into MotoGP, taking Colin Edwards' seat at Tech 3 Yamaha, with Edwards switching to World Superbikes to take a shot at a third title in the series, and help develop Yamaha's new long bang firing sequence R1. Clearly, Edwards was not keen on this scenario this year, but that doesn't mean the move is off indefinitely.
For it seems only a matter of time before Ben Spies finally ends up in MotoGP. Yamaha's Racing Division Manager Laurens Klein Koerkamp hinted as much in the press release, saying "we believe he’s got a long future ahead of him at the highest levels in motorcycle racing". But it will be a few more years yet.