Three-time AMA Superbike Champion Ben Spies continued his transition into World Superbike this week with the completion of a successful three-day tire test aboard the factory Yamaha R1 at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit in South Africa.
Spies ended the test with the second fastest overall lap time during the Pirelli testing session. The 24-year-old Texan clocked a lap of one minute, 39.978 seconds on the 2.6-mile, 13-turn Kyalami circuit. Spies was one of only three riders to break into the 1:39 bracket joining top runner Michel Fabrizio (1:39.714) and veteran Noriyuki Haga (1:39.984), who was third in the test.
Spies overcame a tumble during Thursday’s session and returned strong Friday, turning his fast time late in the day.
“A lot of the riders ran qualifying tires early in the morning session while I was running a race set up,” Spies said. “That put me down in the standings a bit most of the day, but I knew we had a lot in reserve.”
Spies was right. When the dust settled after a late afternoon flourish of fast times on a cooler racing surface, Spies had turned in a solid performance with the second best time. His early success is considered somewhat surprising for many longtime World Superbike observers since Spies is riding a totally new machine, still early in development, and is visiting these circuits for the first time.
“I’m really happy with the bike, the team and the progress we’re making,” Spies continued. “This was the first time we had the opportunity to go out and size ourselves up against everyone in a major test. We’re ahead of where we thought we’d be at this point. There are two more test sessions this winter and I expect the bike will continue to improve as we move towards the season opener at Phillip Island in March.”
Spies was surprised by the exciting atmosphere and fan attendance for the test in South Africa.
“We had more fans here for testing than we do at some races in the States,” Spies said. “The fan support here is pretty amazing. It was a good week to get to know some of the other riders too. I had a lot of them come up and shake my hand and welcome me to the series. Max Biaggi came up and talked with me for awhile. That was pretty awesome for me. I’ve been a fan of Max since I was a kid.”
The biggest difference Spies sees between World Superbike and its American counterpart is the fact that testing seems to be taken more seriously.
“In AMA there might be two or three guys in testing who get down to business from start to finish,” Spies admitted. “There’s no lollygagging here. No one’s going around doing wheelies the length of the straightaway. Everyone pushes hard here all the time. The competition is going to be good for sure.”
Spies went on to say that he was looking forward to continued testing and is more than anxious for the season to get underway. The next test is slated for Portugal in late January.