VALENCIA, SPAIN, NOV 9 – Ben Spies finished his first day as a factory rider with the third fastest time on a cool, windy day at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia, Spain.Two days after ending his rookie MotoGP season with a fourth place finish, Spies lapped faster than he had in the race. His best race lap was a 1:33.294, while in testing he lapped in 1:32.878 on the 35th of 42 laps. The time put him third best on the day behind teammate Jorge Lorenzo, whose 1:32.012 was untouchable, and Casey Stoner in his debut on the factory Honda.Spies didn’t have formal meetings with the media this year, but as a factory rider he was center stage in Yamaha’s hospitality unit. Asked how he felt about his first day as a factory MotoGP rider, he said, “I feel kinda royalty or something. It’s a little different. Just with this little conference here.”There’s a lot of changes. I mean, even starting with the bike, it’s very similar to what I raced last year, but a lot of little subtle changes. And a lot of changes with the crew. Not everybody’s here that I’ll be working with. And the engineers, the Ohlins, just putting on the different colored suits, it’s a big change. But for the first day I’m happy with it. We, like I said, didn’t do anything too crazy. Stayed comfortable. Got used to some differences with the bike. I’m happy with it. We were pretty quick most of the day and I’m pretty comfortable too.”Spies didn’t know how the factory bike was different from what he raced, but he said it did everything better. It had a bigger seat and other changes to keep it more balanced. What it translated to was “some better grip and better feel with the bike and more stability. Nothing mind-blowing, but kind of in every department better and I’m happy. And like I said, I learned with working with the Ohlins tech better and the new engineer, and when my data guy comes the more we can work together, I think we can make the package we’ve got even better.”The engine wasn’t much better, with an upgrade in the works for the February Malaysia tests. “Again, really I have no clue what was in the bike, what was different. It felt pretty similar to yesterday. So it’s pretty good.’The improved lap time came from “just the initial braking, the turn-in, the more side grip. Just the bike just seems to work a little bit better in every way. I guess that’s being on the factory bike. I can say that now being on it, it’s not like you jump on it and you’re going to go faster than Jorge (Lorenzo). It’s not like that. But it’s definitely, the overall package is a little bit better in every way.”Spies spent the day using settings that he’d race on on Sunday, along with a “couple little tweaks and that’s pretty much what we rode all day. You don’t want to get a false impression and jump on something and just think, ‘Ah, I’m going to get on this and it’s going to better.’ We’ve definitely been working in a direction and it’s good and that’s what we did.”Lorenzo and Spies haven’t shared any data yet, but they will, and that’s something Spies is looking forward to because he’d “like to learn something from him. He’s definitely rolling right along right now and I’d like to…there’s some areas that being what I’ve seen throughout the year I’d like to keep, my strong points, but also I know I need to improve. And there’s some stuff that he does really well that you can’t just always copy it, but you can try to incorporate it with what you’ve got.”You know, next year I just look forward to everything, being on the factory bike with the factory team and as a rider I need to improve too. I know that. And we look to do that with the comparing stuff from Jorge. We do have different styles, but I’m getting a little better at riding a GP bike and just got to push myself and get better in every way for next year. Maybe not huge gains, but just gotta get better.”
Ben Spies: Yamaha Factory Rider
Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor
Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.