American MotoGP rider Ben Spies announces retirement

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After battling shoulder injuries over the last year, American MotoGP rider and former World Superbike champion Ben Spies has announced his retirement from racing at the age of 29.

Spies, who rode a Ducati for Ignite Pramac Racing, had been out of action since injuring his left shoulder in a practice crash this past August during the Red Bull Indianapolis GP weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Prior to that point, he had been sidelined since the April round at Circuit of the Americas because of lingering effects from a late 2012 crash in Malaysia that had damaged his right shoulder and ended his season.

“I had such high hopes for racing for Ducati and Ducati has been incredibly supportive of me during this challenging year, so I am tremendously disappointed that I have not been able to fulfill my personal goals and team goals with Ducati,” Spies said in a statement.

“I want to thank everyone from racing organizations, factories, teams and all my fans for helping me and supporting me throughout my career. I never dreamed that I would reach the level of success that I have over the past 20 years of racing, but the time has come to stop and I do so with great sadness.”

Spies earned his sole career MotoGP race win in 2011 at the TT Circuit Assen in the Netherlands. With a fifth-place finish in the final standings, that season proved to be his best in the championship. He also claimed three consecutive AMA Superbike titles from 2006 to 2008 before winning the aforementioned World Superbike title in 2009.

Ducati MotoGP director Paolo Ciabatti said in his own statement that while his company had hoped Spies would recover from his injuries and return to racing, they respected his decision to retire.

“It is really a shame for our sport that Ben will not be racing anymore, because in our opinion he is one of the most talented riders in the world,” he said. “We will miss him and wish him all the best for his future life.”

In an interview with Cycle World magazine, Spies gave additional insight into his decision and noted that while his left shoulder is recovering well enough, his right shoulder continues to be problematic. He also ruled out a potential comeback down the road.

“If I attempted to come back and race, it would be for the wrong reasons,” he said to Cycle World’s Matthew Miles. “I know I can’t be at the same level I once was, and I always said I wasn’t going to be that rider who was just out there circulating. That’s not me.”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.