If Valentino Rossi's move to Ducati was the worst-kept secret in motorcycle racing, then his replacement at Yamaha was probably the second worst. Rumors of Ben Spies moving up to the Fiat Yamaha team should either Rossi or teammate Jorge Lorenzo leave started before Spies had even wrapped up the 2009 World Superbike title, and now that Rossi's departure has been confirmed, those rumors have move far beyond the realm of speculation.
Over the past few days, Ben Spies has tried in vain to fend off questions about his destination for 2011 in a range of interviews, including with David Williams of OnTheThrottle, veteran broadcaster Dave Despain of Speed TV, and now also during the pre-event press conference at Indianapolis. With each answer, Spies has become less and less evasive, and on Thursday, Spies finally admitted that an announcement would be imminent within the next couple of days. With an official announcement to be made at Spies' home MotoGP round at Indianapolis, there is really only one outcome possible, that Spies will be confirmed in the factory Yamaha team.
That factory Yamaha team could see some changes. For a start, the chance that the team will be the Fiat Yamaha team is fairly slim, as the Italian car maker is expected to depart to Ducati along with Valentino Rossi. Taking their place is likely to be Movistar, the mobile network division of Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica, making a return to the paddock after an absence of nearly 5 years. This, though, requires that Jorge Lorenzo sorts out the final details of his contract with Yamaha, a negotiation that has seen Lorenzo's manager Marcos Hirsch play hardball with the Japanese giant. Despite the toughness of the negotiations, both Yamaha and Lorenzo are happily condemned to stay together, and a deal should be finalized in the next few weeks.
If Indianapolis is the obvious place for Spies to announce his deal, that is even more true for Marlboro Ducati's Nicky Hayden. The Kentucky Kid has a long history at Indy, having raced flat track here for years before moving to AMA Superbikes and then MotoGP. Like Spies, Hayden has been coy on an extension with Ducati, saying only that he was happy with the team and that negotiations were going very well. However well-meaning, Hayden's attempts at diffusing questions about his contract were never really very convincing, and another extension for Ducati is certain to be announced this weekend.
Hayden's announcement is most likely to come on Saturday night, when the former flat tracker acts as Grand Marshall at the spectacular Indy Mile flat track race. If the Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix is Hayden's home MotoGP round, the Indy Mile is truly his spiritual home. What better place to announce his future than among the fans who have been watching him since he was a young kid following in his father's footsteps?