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Marco Simoncelli 1987-2011

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Marco Simoncelli, MotoGP rider, died at 16:56 local time on Sunday 23 October 2011 in Sepang, Malaysia, following a crash on lap 2 of the Malaysian Grand Prix.

At times like this we look for meaning in what has happened, to learn, and to improve safety in the sport. But, there’s little, if anything, that can be learned from Simoncelli’s death. This is not a ‘Senna moment’ for MotoGP. Senna’s death highlighted the fact that there were problems with the cars and the tracks that could be quickly and easily improved and they were. By contrast, Simoncelli’s death comes at a time when the bikes and tracks, and the helmets, gloves, boots, and leathers, are safer than ever before.

It’s difficult to accept that there isn’t a reason, some underlying cause, a rider error, or an equipment failure, that can explain what happened. Simoncelli’s death came as the result of a loss of control followed by a collision with other riders. The fact that this fatality occurred at one of the most modern and safe circuits underlines that this type of incident cannot be totally eliminated from the sport. The raw truth is that even in this day and age motorsport is dangerous and potentially lethal and, sooner or later, riders will die.

Any such death is a tragedy but Simoncelli’s is a particularly bitter blow. A likeable, straightforward guy who was his own man on and off the track, on and off camera. His performances at the start of this year’s season were a little erratic but his talent, enthusiasm, and will to win couldn’t be questioned. He was the epitome of the adage that a fast rider can learn to stop crashing but a slow rider can’t learn to be fast. His most recent results, a third place finish at Brno, a string of fourth places, and a second place at Phillip Island, proved that he was learning quickly. It always takes a lot of talent to put a bike on pole position and Simoncelli did it twice this year beating world champions like Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo in the process.

For the past few years MotoGP has been dominated by ‘the aliens’ – the elite handful of riders who are able to ride the current 800cc MotoGP bikes to the limit. This year only Simoncelli has been a regular threat to the aliens and at times has left some of them looking somewhat second rate. This is especially impressive considering that the aliens are all on full factory spec bikes in factory teams while Simoncelli is in a private team albeit on a factory bike and with support from Honda.

Honda’s problem at the moment is that they have too many riders in the factory team (three instead of the usual two) but it still offered Simoncelli a place in the factory team for 2012. Honda obviously saw a promising future for Simoncelli and wanted to bring him into the factory team despite already having a surplus of first rate riders. He turned Honda’s offer down to stay with the Gresini team for one more year but Honda agreed to continue providing a factory bike and support for 2012. The progress that he’d made this year and the continued factory support meant that he was likely to be on the podium regularly from the start of the 2012 season. With a third and a second place already secured he must have been looking towards his first race win. He clearly had the talent to win races and most, if not all, followers of the sport saw him as a likely future MotoGP World Champion.

Like many others I became a Simoncelli fan while watching him in the 250 GP class. I predicted great things for him in his first season in MotoGP and while he definitely made an early impact it wasn’t clear until halfway through the 2010 season that he had made a successful switch to the premier class. It’s worth remembering that even champions of the 125 and 250 (now Moto2) GP classes sometimes fail to make the transition to the premier class as the machines, their performance, and the riding style required, are vastly different. I didn’t fully realise how much of a fan I’d become until I experienced very mixed loyalties when Simoncelli and Cal Crutchlow were battling for seventh place in the closing laps of of a recent race. I was willing Simoncelli on when I suddenly realised that I ought to be supporting Crutchlow, the British rider. After a few seconds of confusion, I went with my heart and continued to shout encouragement for Simoncelli at the television screen.

Simoncelli’s performances on the track this year have provided most of the season’s excitement. His riding has been tough and uncompromising and has delivered some fantastic battles that he usually won. His quick but rough edged style was slowly being honed into something quite sublime. With the current 800cc MotoGP bikes, races are won and lost in the corners and Simoncelli’s ability to carry speed through a corner placed him among the best of the current riders. Not only did he take places by riding into and through a corner faster than his rivals, despite the disadvantage of his weight and size, he sometimes did it by riding the long way around rather than up the inside. His refusal to accept defeat, for example in the closing laps of this years Japanese GP, resulted in some of the most dramatic racing of the past few years.

His performances off the track were often as entertaining. For example, the press conference at Estoril this year where he joked, “Okay… I will be arrested!” when Jorge Lorenzo made an unprompted complaint about Simoncelli’s riding style. Or, his comment to a magazine reporter regarding the riders who complained about his allegedly dangerous riding: “They are not hard men – they are girls…”

To paraphrase a comment one poster made in a motorsport forum in relation to Simoncelli’s death: we are all defined by the date we are born and the date we die; it’s what we do between those two dates is that matters. Or as Simoncelli himself put it, “You live more for five minutes going fast on a bike like that than other people do in all of their life.” Few doubt Simoncelli’s comment that he’d be racing motorbikes even if he wasn’t being paid to do so.

He was a breath of fresh air in MotoGP and it’s difficult to imagine the sport without him. It will be a pale and bland imitation of what it was when we he was with us. We should be thankful to have witnessed a talent and personality such as his in the sport, no matter how briefly.


Written by Sea Monkey

October 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm

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