Ben Spies clearly had the speed and skill to eventually be a world champion heading into his first season of World Superbike, but likely very few on the world scene figured it would happen his first time out following a season that saw a record number of poles won and consistent running at the sharp end.
Mix in five DNFs from the Yamaha runner though, and typical strong running from second place finisher Noriyuki Haga aboard his Ducatti, and the title came down to the last weekend's races in Portimao, Portugal last weekend. Spies did the business in race one, taking home the win and padding his lead when Haga crashed out. But the second race was fairly nervous, with Haga getting up to second — behind his teammate — and Spies hovering in the range he needed to finish at to secure the title. In the end he did enough to win by 6 points.
The rest of the SBK paddock won't have to deal with Spies next season though, as he's moving on to the Tech 3 Yamaha team in Moto GP, making it one season and one championship in SBK. Not bad.
Should be fun to watch next season with Spies teaming with fellow American and Texan Colin Edwards at Tech 3. Spies is replacing James Toseland, who's actually assuming Spies' ride for Yamaha in SBK. Edwards has had a great season in Moto GP, but podiumed only once on the satellite factory team, while full factory Fiat Yamaha rides Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo will finish 1-2 in the championship. Will Spies be able to go for podiums and race wins against the full factory riders? We'll see.
The Moto GP season ends Nov. 8 in Valencia, and Spies will be entered as a wildcard entry before doing the full schedule next season.
I have to also give some props to my boy in the SBK feeder series World Superspot — Eugene Laverty — who finished second in the championship, but won four races including last weekend's season-ender. Title winner Cal Crutchlow is moving up to SBK next season, and Northern Irishman Laverty will be among the favorites for the 2010 Supersport title.
UPDATE: Spies did real well in the one-off Valencia race, finishing seventh which also secured fifth place in the season championship for fourth-place finisher and future teammate Edwards.