Ben Spies will return this weekend to the scene of his greatest triumph, as Yamaha welcome the former FIM Superbike World Champion as a special guest for this weekend’s WorldSBK round at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão, Portugal.
It was at the Portimão circuit that Spies clinched the FIM Superbike World Championship for Yamaha in 2009. The American returns to the track this weekend, to mark the tenth anniversary of his world title with a parade lap ahead of WorldSBK race 2 on Sunday, aboard the 2020 variant of the Yamaha YZF-R1 on which he won the championship a decade ago.
Having dominated the AMA Superbike Championship, with three consecutive titles in what was then one of the most fiercely contested domestic championships in the world, Spies made the move to WorldSBK for the 2009 season, to campaign the all-new YZF-R1 for the Yamaha factory team.
A direct descendant of the 2004 M1 Grand Prix machine on which Valentino Rossi secured Yamaha their first MotoGP World Championship title in the modern four-stroke era, the revolutionary 2009 YZF-R1 and WorldSBK rookie Spies were to prove a potent combination.
Racing at tracks he’d never seen previously and against vastly more experienced rivals, Spies immediately made his mark on the world stage aboard the YZF-R1. Having qualified on pole position for the first round of the season at Phillip Island, Spies went on to secure victory in the second race in Australia to become the first American to win in WorldSBK since 2002.
The Texan backed this up by winning both races from pole position at the next round in Qatar and, as a result, was immediately touted as one of the favourites for the 2009 WorldSBK title, despite his relative lack of experience on the world stage.
The American newcomer certainly lived up to expectations, racking up 17 podium finishes over the course of his rookie season, including 14 wins in the 28 races over which the 2009 WorldSBK Championship was contested.
A specialist when it came to the high pressure Superpole shootout, Spies qualified on pole position for all but three of the 14 WorldSBK rounds that season, a record that still stands to this day.
Spies’ last WorldSBK win came in Race 1 at Portimão, which in 2009 was the venue for the final round of the season. The victory meant that the Yamaha rider lined up for the final race of the season with a 15-point advantage over Noriyuki Haga at the top of the championship standings. An intelligent ride to fifth place in the final race was enough for Spies to clinch the title by six points and move to MotoGP the following season as the reigning Superbike World Champion.
No American has been crowned as FIM Superbike World Champion since Spies and the dominance with which he won the title in his debut year was even recognised by the U.S. House of Representatives, with Congressman Louie Gohmert stating from the floor “Ben Spies is to be congratulated upon his winning the 2009 FIM Superbike World Championship. He has no doubt blazed a trail for future successes with his steady hand, nerves of steel, and balance like nowhere found here in the House of Representatives.”
Although forced to retire from racing due to injury at the end of the 2013 season, Spies continues to ride on both road and dirt, with Yamaha YZF-R1 and YZF450F machines taking pride of place in his garage.
2009 Superbike World Champion
“I’m really excited to come back to Portugal on the 10th anniversary of my winning the World Championship title with Yamaha. In 2009 we had the odds stacked against us for sure but the team I had behind me was incredible and the WorldSBK paddock was one to remember.”