Yamaha Factory Racing unveiled its new motorcycles and new rider American Ben Spies for the 2011 season as the team and the rest of the MotoGP paddock prepare for a crucial Sepang preseason test Feb. 22-24.
Spies, from Longview, Texas, was promoted to the factory team after a solid rookie season in 2010. He earned the pole and a second-place finish at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP in August at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the satellite Yamaha Monster Tech 3 team.
Spies finished sixth in the standings - the top result by an American and a non-factory rider in 2010 - and earned the MotoGP Rookie of the Year honors.
Taking the final step to the defending World Championship factory team could create plenty of pressure for Spies. But he has responded with results at every recent step of his career, winning three consecutive AMA Superbike championships from 2006-08, the World Superbike title as a rookie in 2009 and the MotoGP Rookie of the Year honors in 2010.
Ben Spies (Factory Yamaha M1) says: "We worked really hard last year to earn the seat with the Yamaha factory team, so it's a great feeling to be here alongside Jorge. It's obviously a special year for Yamaha with the 50th anniversary of GP racing celebrations, so I'm really stoked to be part of it.
"The bike's feeling really good. We've got a few days more of testing now to really shake it down and fine-tune the setup, and we'll be ready to go. I'm loving the corporate blue color scheme; I'm a big fan of the design."
"A lot of people might look at it and think it's a lot of pressure, but for me now the pressure is off," Spies said. "Last year I needed to prove something, which I did. Now I'm on the factory team I feel I worked hard last year to get there and deserve it.
"Now I need to keep giving 100 percent. I've got a great crew behind me and am riding for a great manufacturer. We should have a great bike this year, and I've got a World Champion teammate, so I've got the best of the best.
"This is the last step, MotoGP, on a factory bike. The only thing left to do in a rider's career is win a MotoGP race and win a MotoGP championship, and that's not impossible."
2010 Moto GP champ and 2009 Red Bull Indianapolis U.S.A. winner, the Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo, knows one of the toughest challenges for his title may come from the other side of the Yamaha garage.
Jorge Lorenzo (Factory Yamaha M1) says: "I think Ben is going to fight for the championship. He is very fast and has already shown he can fight to the front of the pack, and was the best satellite rider last year."
The second of three preseason tests will take place this week at the Sepang International Circuit near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
All 17 MotoGP riders are expected to participate, including Spies and fellow Americans Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team) and Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).