The following is from Ben Spies' publicist...
Yamaha World Superbike rider Ben Spies lost ground to championship rival Nori Haga Sunday at Magny-Cours, in spite of winning the first race in a nail biter. The exciting victory in race one moved Spies into the series lead, but it was short-lived. It was the second leg that did the damage. Something was not right with the front tire on his Yamaha and he knew it from the start. Spies fell behind the lead group early, ran fourth the entire race, and could only watch in frustration as Haga pulled away to victory and a 10-point lead going into the championship finale in Portugal on October 25.
In spite of the set back in France, Spies is still in control of his own destiny. If he manages to win both races in Portugal he will win the world championship regardless of where Haga finishes.
"I tried as hard as I could in that second race, but just went backwards," a disappointed Spies said. "It's unfortunate, but we got some sort of faulty [front] tire in the second race. It was a bad time for that to happen, but it's part of racing. It felt like I had a motorhome tire on the thing and there was nothing I could do. With the way I had to ride I was fortunate to be able to finish in the top-10, so I feel very lucky to get fourth.
"This makes the equation very simple for me at Portimao. I've been in this position before where I needed to win to earn a championship, so it's not new."
Spies was referring to his epic 2007 AMA Superbike Championship campaign where he was behind teammate and rival Mat Mladin going into the last event and won the race to win the championship.
After a stunning Superpole session on Saturday where Spies shattered the Magny-Cours track record and was nearly a half-second faster than the second-place qualifier, he came into Sunday's races extremely confident. In race one Spies sprinted off to an early lead, which he held the entire race, until on the final lap Spies ran wide at the 180-degree turn (turn 9) and found Haga moving past him. Spies remained calm and turned in a strong last half-lap to hold off Haga by 0.181 seconds in one of the most exciting finishes of the season.
"I was making a bunch of little mistakes in the first race," Spies admitted. "I should have won that going away, but with the mistakes Nori was able to catch me. I ran wide in that corner and Nori got by me for about a half second. I knew I could get back under him, so I squared it up, got on the gas and got back in front. I figured he might make another attempt to get by, but I was able to hold him off."
In the second race Spies was on pace early, but with the front tire problem he quickly fell back from the leading trio of Haga, Max Biaggi and Jonathan Rea. In the end Spies was 18-seconds behind Haga, losing the series lead, falling behind by 10 points.
Spies was philosophical about losing ground to Haga this weekend.
"Realistically, even if I'd won race two Nori would have been close enough in the points that I would still have to win at Portimao," Spies reasoned. "So nothing's changed. We have to put together a perfect weekend in Portugal. It's still possible to win the championship and just to be in that position is a great feeling. Regardless of how it turns out I feel like I've had a phenomenal season.
"I'm a rookie here racing a world championship on tracks I don't know against one of the greatest World Superbike racers of all time. To even be in the position to fight for this title with Nori is more than I could have expected."
With the frustration of France now in the past, Spies looks forward to Portugal, saying in three weeks time he will give everything he has to try to win the championship.
"I'm going to race hard," Spies concluded. "Portimao is one of my favorite tracks and I'm looking forward to racing there."
In the U.S. both legs of World Superbike from Magny-Cours will be shown back to back today (Sunday, Oct. 4) starting at 3:00 pm Eastern on SPEED.
Ben Spies is sponsored by Yamaha, HJC, Alpinestars, Specialized and Parts Europe.