Italian MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli died after a horrific crash at the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang yesterday, completing a harrowing week for motorsport after British IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon lost his life on Oct. 16.
Simoncelli, 24, crashed on the second lap and was hit by the bikes of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi as he slid across the track on his Honda.
His helmet was knocked off in the incident and the race was stopped immediately with a red flag and then canceled.
Yamaha’s Edwards also came off his bike, but escaped serious injury, while Rossi was able to get his Ducati back to the pits.
Simoncelli lay stricken on the track before being taken to the circuit’s medical center where he was pronounced dead.
“As soon as I saw the footage it just makes you sick inside,” said Casey Stoner, who won his second MotoGP title at his home Australian Grand Prix last week. “Whenever the helmet comes off that’s not a good sign.”
Simoncelli’s death is the first in the premier class since another Honda rider, Daijiro Kato, was killed at the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix.
Shoya Tomizawa also died in a similar crash to Simoncelli in Moto2 last year.
Simoncelli, known for his shaggy afro haircut and fun-loving personality, began in the 125cc class in 2002, before moving up to the 250cc class in 2006.
He won the 250cc world title in 2008.
MotoGP bosses and riders have been working hard to improve safety following Tomizawa’s death at the San Marino Grand Prix in September last year, but have acknowledged there is little more they can do given the implicit danger in motorcycle racing, especially when riders are hit by other bikes.
All Italian sports events yesterday were to observe a minute’s silence in memory of Simoncelli, the Italian Olympic Committee said.
Last season’s MotoGP world champion Jorge Lorenzo recently suffered a serious injury which could have cost him a finger, underlining the danger of the sport.
“On a day like this I don’t know what to say. Marco, rest in peace,” Lorenzo said.
Nicky Hayden, the 2006 champion who rides for Italian team Ducati, was heartbroken.
“On the track we are all brothers. Marco, we will miss you so much,” Hayden said.
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