Sunday morning here in Valencia marks the final race of the 2011 MotoGP Championship, and the already bittersweet Grand Prix will become increasingly somber as the GP paddock will also be paying its final respects to Marco Simoncelli. Starting at 10:10am, 125GP, Moto2, and MotoGP riders will partake in a parade lap around the Circuito de la Comunitat Valenciana. The procession will be lead by Kevin Schwantz, who will ride Marco Simoncelli’s San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V race bike for the occasion.
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 MotoGP paddock has reconvened in Valencia for its final round of the 2011 season, and percolating at the top of everyone’s mind here is the passing of Marco Simoncelli. While the Italian’s death has been talked about non-stop the past week or so, with the MotoGP community together again for the first time since SuperSic’s passing, the emotions here are still very raw (A&R is coming to you live from Valencia, Spain this race weekend).
With the riders unanimous on the importance of racing, and everyone honoring Simoncelli in his or her own way, the final official tribute to Marco will come on Sunday at 10:15am local time. In a more fitting manner to honor Marco Simoncelli, over the course of MotoGP’s tribute there will be a minute of noise, in lieu of the usual minute of silence. Suggested by Marco’s father, Paolo Simoncelli, the celebration of SuperSic’s career will be a boisterous affair, with presumably all the bikes in the paddock revving their motors to honor the Italian racer.
At the inaugural GP of India for Formula One, a moment of silence was observed for Marco Simoncelli and Dan Wheldon, and while I wondered how many among the F1 audience had ever heard of Marco, it was a fine gesture and certainly appreciated by the MotoGP community.
This week has been largely about trying to move on after the accident at Sepang, but that has proved very difficult to do for me and my colleagues, friends, and as yet unmet fellow MotoGP fans. I continue to receive requests for Simoncelli photos from increasingly obscure connections, in addition to those from close friends who want something with which to remember Marco.
I ran across this image from Catalunya, which helps put the loss in a proper context. The translation, provided at the time by a linguistically gifted friend on the Dorna staff, was something like: You gave everything because you loved. Certainly a 58 will appear beside the numbers of Shoya Tomizawa and Daijiro Kato if this fellow redoes his banner next season. And in all three cases, we are left to wonder what excitements and triumphs we might have witnessed had fate allowed 74, 48, & 58 to contest more Grand Prix races.
It has taken me a week to collect my thoughts and process the passing of Marco Simoncelli, the San Carlo Gresini Honda rider that lost his life during the MotoGP race in Malaysia. I’m not one of those journalists that can belt out some poignant thoughts on an event immediately after it happens, nor did I personally know Simoncelli well enough to offer a comprehensive anecdote on the man’s short but distinguished life. Having only met and talked to Marco briefly a few times, I cannot shed some deeper insight regarding who he was as a man, stripped away of all the pomp, prestige, and PR spin of the premier class.
I’ve heard the MotoGP paddock described as a family or village, so as one of its most recent members, this tragedy both cuts me deeply, but yet also seems like a distant and surreal event. Perhaps it will affect me more as I travel to Valencia this week, or perhaps I will continue to feel as if I am on the outside looking in at cataclysm of grief that has befallen friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Time will tell in that regard, and I’ll leave it to those masters of the pen who are better suited to the task to account for the young Italian’s life and racing career.
Instead my closing thoughts about Marco Simoncelli are a mixed commentary of life, tragedy, and where we go from here.
While it is still not clear whether the San Carlo Honda Gresini team will race with Hiroshi Aoyama in the upcoming Valencian GP, the Gresini Racing team has confirmed it will at least travel to the final MotoGP round. The Gresini Racing team has confirmed that many members of the San Carlo Honda Gresini MotoGP team will be present at the spanish track, and that the customary team pit box will be setup with Marco Simoncelli’s #58 Honda RC212V on display to tribute the fallen rider.
After the tragic events at the cancelled Malaysian GP, and the subsequent tragic death of Marco Simoncelli, there were whispers regarding whether Valentino Rossi and/or Colin Edwards would retire after the incident that cut-short SuperSic’s life. These whispers and thoughts turned into idle chatter, which then lead to unfounded speculation.
It is of course only natural in this FOX News world that we live in that every possible angle and outcome be explored before any sort of precedent for those mental exercises presents themselves. Perhaps a lessen on the difficulties of basic human communication, even the most well-intended and honest speculation can be misperceived and distorted as it is retold, which in this case lead to a mass hysteria that the nine-time World Champion would retire from MotoGP racing.
Marco Simoncelli has tragically died today, after crashing in a horrific accident during the second lap of the Malaysian GP. Trading corners with Rizla Suzuki rider Álvaro Bautista and battling for fourth place, Simoncelli began the race in Sepang with his usual full-of-heart riding style. Certainly a podium contender for the day, the Italian lost control of his motorcycle in Turn 11 after losing the front. Propping the bike on his knee in order to save the slide, Simoncelli heroically but unfortunately stayed upright, cut back across the track, and collided with fellow racers Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi.
While Rossi rode away unhurt, and Edwards injured only his shoulder, Simoncelli suffered the brunt of the impact, and lay helmetless on the track after the incident. Despite the best efforts of the medical staff at Sepang, Simoncelli could not be resuscitated and succumb to his injuries at 4:56pm local time. Accordingly the Malaysian GP has been cancelled. Asphalt & Rubber joins the MotoGP paddock in mourning the loss of one the most beloved riders in series, and send our thoughts and prayers to Marco’s family, friends, team, and loved ones.
Ciao Marco, SuperSic forever.
Photo: © 2011 Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved