Marco Simoncelli has passed away today as a result of injuries sustained in a crash on lap 2 of the Malaysian MotoGP at Sepang.
Marco was a champion at 250cc level and a podium finisher this season in MotoGP. He was making a name for himself as a star not just of the future but of today. Sure he had some run-ins and disagreements with some of the others but that was fine, part of the appeal of MotoGP is that it has big characters willing to say and do what they think. There weren’t many with a bigger character than Marco Simoncelli.
You always knew when you were watching Simoncelli, he had a way of riding which was different to everyone else on the grid. Trying different lines through corners, inside the guy in front, outside, this way and that. Sometimes it went too far and he went off. He’d gained a reputation as a bit of a crasher, until recently that is.
After a trying early part of the year with just a few too many fairly minor crashes, he had recovered his form posting a string of 4th-places, and just one week ago he’d recorded his best ever MotoGP finish, 2nd place at Phillip Island in Australia. Everyone thought he’d ironed out the crashing, and perhaps he had. Some tipped him as a World Champion of the future, perhaps even as soon as 2012.
It wasn’t the fall from the bike which cost him his life today, it was the following racers being unable to avoid him. Something will need to be done to prevent accidents such as this and the similar Moto2 accident last year which claimed Shoya Tomizawa.
But that is not how we want to remember either rider. We want to remember how they raced, and their personalities, and their positive effect on the paddock and on MotoGP and racing as a whole.
Here’s Simoncelli’s press conference interview from last week in which he was his normal smiling, bubbly effusive self. Much like Dan Wheldon, you rarely saw Marco Simoncelli without a smile.
Two big losses in the space of a week, the motorsport world is in shock. This off-season cannot come soon enough.
Dan Wheldon last night passed away as a result of injuries sustained in a multi-car accident at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Dan finished 2nd in the 1998 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch and raced for the 1998 series championship (beaten by Jenson Button), before heading to the US where he finished 2nd in the 2000 Atlantics series and 2nd in the 2001 Indy Lights series, where he learned how to race on ovals.
Shortly thereafter he graduated to the IRL, what is now the IndyCar Series, where by 2004 he was winning races and in 2005 he became champion with Andretti-Green, winning the Indy 500 along the way. Despite his road course background in Europe he became renowned as a specialist on oval courses.
He switched to Target Chip Ganassi for a 3-year stint, scoring more race wins, before a moving to Panther Racing in 2009 where he was able to score 4 podiums over two years in the by-now midpack team. Out of a drive after 2010 he embarked on a part-season with Bryan Herta Autosport (partnered with Sam Schmidt Motorsport) in 2011, winning his second Indy 500 at the very last corner despite it being his first race start of the year. He was also entrusted with the initial development work on the 2012 Dallara IndyCar, before any other driver got his hands on it.
Ironically and tragically he was killed in the final race for the old, outdated, less safe IndyCar, in which he was competing at the behest of the IndyCar Series as part of a bid to win $2.5 million dollars each for himself and a fan.
However I am not going to use this opportunity to bash Dallara for the safety of the old car. There is a time and a place for that and it is not now. It may not have been a great car and there are difficult questions to be answered about its suitablity at this age on this track but the reality is 15 of them were damaged (most of them heavily), 3 of them got airborne and yet only one driver suffered serious injury. That is one too many but it could still have been 3 or 4 times worse.
That is no consolation to the family and friends of Dan Wheldon, and the tight-knit IndyCar community. Part of the reason IndyCar is tight-knit is because of the enduring spirit of Greg Moore in the late 90s who made it his business to be rivals on the track and friends off it, and who was tragically killed in strikingly similar circumstances in 1999. Dan Wheldon took the same attitude to his racing and was friends with many of his competitors, particularly the senior drivers such as Kanaan and Franchitti. Indeed, I don’t know anyone who could remain an enemy of Dan Wheldon for very long.
I am sad that it took this event for him to become famous in his home country and I hope he takes his rightful place among the legends of the sport.
The drivers of the undamaged cars chose to run 5 laps at Las Vegas in tribute to Dan, 3-abreast just as at the start of the Indy 500, the race that made his name.
I leave you with the closing words of what was a very professional and respectful ABC broadcast.
“Many people ask me why I always sign off ‘Till we meet again’. Because ‘Goodbye’ is always so final. Goodbye, Dan Wheldon.” – Marty Reid, ABC/ESPN.
In the best bit of pre-race build-up I’ve seen in a long time, the IndyCar Series took their impressively large field of 34 cars entered in this week’s Las Vegas round and drove them up and down ‘the strip’ in Las Vegas, complete with the legend that is Mario Andretti leading the way in his two-seater IndyCar (with some pop star I don’t know in the passenger seat).
And unbelievably the Daily Mail website based here in the UK as a nice spread of big pictures on the event, as well as a video of the action which you can see here.
Kudos to the IZOD IndyCar Series for becoming the first racing series to not only do a street demo in Las Vegas but also run their entire grid at once in it, AND rope in Mario Andretti and famous non-racing names!
I have never seen IndyCar-related promo activation of this level, this beats the stuff Red Bull, Renault and McLaren get up to with their F1 demos and those are very good indeed. I am impressed. They are making the Las Vegas season finale an Event with a capital E. So many of their races have lacked Event status, the series just pitching up in a town and expecting people to show up. I am so glad to see this turning around.
Combine this with the recent Baltimore event as well as existing successes like Toronto and of course the Indy 500 itself, the series looks set for a positive future. I’m also pleased they are able to do this for an oval race outside of Indy. I hope it shows with crowds appearing in the stands on Sunday. More big events please, Mr Bernard.