Ben Spies is to retire from motorcycle racing. The shoulder injuries the Texan suffered in the past year have cast doubts over whether his shoulders will ever be strong enough to race a motorcycle again, and so Ducati and Spies have come to a mutual agreement for Spies to terminate their contract after just 1 year. Spies' retirement leaves the second seat at Pramac Ducati vacant for 2014.
The trouble started for Spies during his difficult second year with the factory Yamaha team. After a series of strange mechanical issues and a few crashes, which led to his decision to leave the team, Spies had a massive highside in the wet at Sepang, in which he badly damaged his right shoulder. He had surgery to fix that injury late 2012, in the hope of being ready to test at Sepang with the Pramac Ducati team. Riding that soon after such major surgery proved to be a mistake, and after the Austin round of MotoGP, Spies decided to pull out. A brief return at Mugello followed, and then a return to full fitness at Indianapolis in August. Another huge highside damaged saw Spies damage his left shoulder, and be forced to pull out for the rest of the season.
Spies retirement brings to an end a spectacularly successful career. The Texan won three straight AMA Superbike championships against Mat Mladin with the Yoshimura Suzuki team, before moving to World Superbikes with Yamaha. Spies impressed everyone in WSBK, taking the title at the first attempt, on race tracks he had never ridden before. A move to MotoGP followed, where he spent a relatively successful year with the Tech 3 team, before moving up to the factory Yamaha team in 2011. His first year with the factory Yamaha team saw him win at Assen, and he looked set to make another step in 2012, but a disastrous year followed. Spies joined Ducati for 2013, but barely rode.
What Spies will do next is unknown, but the Texan already has several business interests, including the Stackhouse burger restaurant in Dallas. He also owns a cycling team, in which he is actively involved. The press release does not make it entirely clear whether Spies intends to retire from motorcycle racing permanently, but in a candid and fascinating interview with Cycle World magazine, Spies makes it clear that he understands he will never be able to race at the highest level again, and he does not want to just circulate making up the numbers.
With Spies out, speculation is now commencing over who will take the second seat at Pramac Ducati. What seems clear is that the bike on offer will not be a 2014 prototype, to be raced by Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone next season, but a 2013 Desmosedici run under the Open rules, meaning the bike will have more engines, more fuel and run the spec Dorna software. Eugene Laverty has been linked to the ride, but the package offered meant he had no interest. Paddock rumor currently puts either Danilo Petrucci or Yonny Hernandez on the bike. With Hernandez already filling in for Spies, the Colombian is likely to be favorite for the ride.
EDIT: After this was published, Cycle World magazine posted their superb interview with Spies on their website (linked above). A great read, and fascinating insight into the mind of a rider when he retires.
Below is the official press release issued by Ducati on Spies' retirement:
Ducati and Ben Spies announce the American’s retirement from racing competition
- Spies announces retirement after a successful career in Superbike and MotoGP
- Decision taken jointly by Ducati and the Texan rider
- Retirement prompted by doubts about physical ability to race next year
Borgo Panigale (Bologna, Italy), October 26, 2013 - Ducati Motor Holding and Ben Spies announced today that the American will not be racing in 2014 after the parties reached agreement to resolve Ben’s current contract with the Italian racing manufacturer. The 29-year-old Texan had signed a two-year agreement with Ducati at the end of last season to race in MotoGP in 2013 and 2014 as part of the factory-supported Ignite Pramac Racing Team.
Ben has been sidelined for most of this season due to an injury to his right shoulder sustained in October 2012 while riding for another manufacturer team. While he began 2013 racing with Pramac, it quickly became clear that he was not fully healed from his injury and needed to undergo further rehabilitation on his shoulder. Unfortunately, on his return to racing at Indianapolis in August, Ben had another setback when he suffered a season-ending crash during practice.
The resulting operations on both shoulders have left Spies feeling that his physical ability to ride next year remains in question and a decision was jointly made by Ducati and Ben to release Ben from any requirement to race in 2014.
The 2009 World Superbike Champion, three-time AMA Superbike Champion and MotoGP race winner announced his retirement from the sport in the following way: “I had such high hopes for racing for Ducati, and Ducati has been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging year, so I am tremendously disappointed that I have not been able to fulfill my personal goals and team goals with Ducati. I want to thank everyone from racing organizations, factories, teams and all my fans for helping me and supporting me throughout my career. I never dreamed that I would reach the level of success that I have over the past 20 years of racing, but the time has come to stop and I do so with great sadness.”
Spies’ manager/mother Mary Spies added: “Wherever Ben has raced over the years—from AMA Superbike to World Superbike to MotoGP—he has always felt the warmth and appreciation of the organizers, circuits, teams and fans. We are so grateful to them for their support.”
Ducati MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti declared: "We had high expectations when Ben joined Ducati in MotoGP this year, and we really hoped that he would fully recover from his Indianapolis crash injuries and continue to race for us in the future. However we understand the reasons for his decision and respect them. It is really a shame for our sport that Ben will not be racing anymore, because in our opinion he is one of the most talented riders in the world. We will miss him and wish him all the best for his future life."