Ben Spies: when voodoo strikes


This is the time of year I usually indulge myself with a list of awards, handing out praise and criticism, perhaps bearing a grudge or two and exacting a little revenge here and there.

But this year I’m only going to hand out one award because I don’t think there’s ever been a more deserving winner of any award than this. It’s for the unluckiest rider of the year, and the winner is former factory Yamaha rider Ben Spies whose 2012 season was such a tale of unmitigated disaster that it was (ironically) round 13 before he even had an incident-free race. I’ve been working the GP trail for a quarter of a century and I’ve never known a rider suffer so badly, week in, week out.

When Spies arrived in MotoGP three years ago many people expected him to go all the way to the top, as had fellow former AMA superbike champions Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey and Nicky Hayden. His first two seasons went well: his first pole and podium in 2010, aboard a satellite YZR-M1, then his first win in 2011, aboard a factory M1.

Then during 2012 the Texan’s career went utterly pear-shaped, almost as if he had developed an anti-Midas touch, so everything he touched turned to dust.

After a disastrous first few races of 2012 Spies suggested that “Someone’s got a voodoo doll on me right now”. And then it got worse. By Brno he was getting desperate: “Has anyone got a chicken we can sacrifice?”

But the worst was yet to come. A shoulder injury at Sepang brought his season to an early end. That crash was his 15th of the year, making him number one in the 2012 MotoGP crash list.

Next year Spies will be hoping for a dramatic change of luck. He’ll certainly need it because the year has a 13 in it and he’s aboard Ducati’s devilish Desmosedici…

Spies’ annus horribilis, blow by horrible blow:

Qatar GP, 11th: Struggles throughout the race with vicious chassis vibration. Post-race checks uncover a cracked sub-frame, the legacy of a crash during practice.

Spanish GP, 11th: Spies is unable to run at the front on the damp track due to a mysterious lack of front grip. Turns out to be a chassis set-up issue.

Portuguese GP, 8th: An eventful race, during which he runs wide and nearly highsides. Spies owns up: “I made a few big mistakes – my fault”.

French GP, 16th: A start-line incident damages his helmet, allowing rain water to flood inside. He couldn’t see, so he stops to change helmets. Finishes one place out of the points.

Catalan GP, 10th: Spies gets away with the leaders, grabs the lead, runs off the track and topples off his M1. Restarts and charges through the pack to tenth.

British GP, 5th: He leads the first few laps ahead of Stoner, then starts going backwards. His rear tyre had blistered. “From then it was just damage control.”

Dutch TT, 4th: Looking good for his first podium of the year when his rear tyre goes to pieces. He very nearly crashes but bravely continues to finish fourth.

German GP, 4th: Qualifies second and is full of confidence, but on race morning is told the soft tyre he wants to use won’t go the distance. Has to race with the less grippy hard tyre.

Italian GP, 11th: Gets food poisoning the night before the race but decides to race even though he’s really quite ill. “Afterwards I was puking and 110 per cent destroyed.”

US GP, DNF: Spies is heading for a confidence-boosting fourth-place finish when a shock mount breaks, chucking him down the road at the Corkscrew.

Indianapolis GP, DNF: After leading the first laps, Spies is looking safe in second place when his engine blows in spectacular style. Yamaha suspect a dropped valve.

Czech GP, DNF: His M1’s clutch slips from the start, dropping him to 14th. Once the clutch cools off he races through to eighth, then slides off.

San Marino GP, 5th: It’s a miracle! Spies completes his first incident-free race of 2012. “It wasn’t a great race. But no regrets, I just wanted to finish in one piece.”

Aragon GP, 5th: Running third in the early laps, Spies has two major front-end scares, so he backs it down a bit to stay on the right side of Lady Luck and ends up fifth.

Japanese GP, DNF: Brake failure at the start of lap two sends Spies through the gravel and into a trackside hoarding. His brake pads had worn 2mm in the first lap.

Malaysian GP, DNF: Spies was one of six fallers during the rain-lashed race, but the only rider to suffer serious injury – a broken shoulder that ended his season.

Good luck in 2013, Ben!

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