One way you can gauge the life of a competitor is to talk to his rivals, and for Marco Simoncelli, there was no greater rival than Andrea Dovizioso. Racing against each other since the age of eight on pocket bikes, Dovi and Simoncelli have come through the GP ranks battling one another throughout every turn of their 125, 250, and MotoGP careers.With that on-track rivalry coming to a head this season, as both Italians were on factory-supported Honda RC212V race bikes, Marco and Andrea found themselves battling not only on the track, but off the track as well, as Both riders looked to secure the third and final factory bike from Honda for the 2012 season.
With Simoncelli winning the bid for a factory Honda seat, and such a fierce adversarial story brewing between the two racers, you would expect Dovizioso to have hated his counterpart, but nothing could be farther from the truth. As Dovi explained to A&R at Valencia this week, while the pair of Italians were rivals on the track, they were also colleagues who respected each others once the helmets, leathers, and gloves came off. Speaking solemnly to a small group of journalists, Dovizioso talked about a man who perhaps defined his own career more than the contrary, and while the Italian was clear to point out that he and Simoncelli were not friends, they both had a professional relationship of mutual respect forged out of two-wheeled combat.
“The last weekend was really hard — really, really hard, and I didn’t expect it. Marco was my biggest rival ever. The true story is that we always fight, since we were eight years old,” said Dovizioso emphatically when talking about Marco Simoncelli. The life-long battle between the two riders was so great, Dovizioso recounted his victory over Marco during a youth pocket bike race as one of his happiest racing memories with SuperSic. “We really fight, but both of us are a ‘good guy’ and we have a good character. So, we never ride over the limit. If he beat me, it was really bad for me…and the same is true in the opposite way. But, we were just rivals. This makes a big difference,” explained Dovi when trying to draw the distinction between his on-track and off-track relationship with Simoncelli.
Like many who witnessed Simoncelli’s crash in person and on TV, for Dovizioso there was a moment of disbelief that Marco was actually seriously injured from the crash. “I was really surprised, when I saw the crash in Malaysia. I didn’t expect what happened…I didn’t realize what happened,” said Dovizioso, almost recounting the same stunned reaction he had in Sepang when he heard the news of Simoncelli’s death. “I raced with Simoncelli for 17 years, and he crashed a lot…and nothing happened. Maybe he broke his wrist one time, but never something happen. So, to realize that Marco has died, it was impossible to realize, because I always see Marco so strong, tall, and big.”
“The Tuesday after Malaysia, I went to the home of the [Simoncelli] family. I’ve never done that before, and it was really uncomfortable to go there. But, when I arrive there, the whole family come to me, and we cry together. It was a true sensation,” conveyed Dovi. “I never meet [Paolo Simoncelli] very well, but Tuesday when I go to the house, I speak a little bit with him. Not too much, but the important point was when we make a hug, this was a real sensation from both of us. This was important to do, as we’d never been friends, but this was really nice and important.
In closing, when asked what he would say if he had one more chance to talk to Marco, Dovizioso summarized his thoughts best. “You are a good rival, and a good guy. I think that he know…and I know…but we never say it. Like many people who never say such things.”