Two deaths spark safety crisis
SIC DOWN: An image captured from video footage shows Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards ploughing into Simoncelli as he slides off his bike.
Motorsport was plunged into more grief and introspection on Sunday by the second death in a week amid intensified concern for safety standards in all forms of motorsport worldwide.
Only hours before a public memorial service for IndyCar driver Dan Wheldon was due to start in Indianapolis, where the Briton twice won the Indy 500, Italian MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli died in an horrific multi-bike crash during the Malaysian MotoGP in Sepang
'AT TIMES WE FORGET...'
The 24-year-old Italian was widely admired as a rising hope and his death was as a deep shock to a sport still reeling from Wheldon's accident. Motor racing was left facing its greatest safety inquest for a generation.
Simoncelli's fellow Honda rider Dani Pedrosa said: "At times, we forget how dangerous the sport is. These are things that should not happen, but this is sport."
Wheldon, 33, was killed last Sunday in a high-speed 15-car crash during the opening laps of the IndyCar season finale at Las Vegas. His funeral took place on Saturday in his home town, St. Petersburg in Florida, where family, friends and neighbours attended an emotional service.
Many at a parallel gathering in Indianapolis were shocked by the news from Malaysia where Simoncelli lost control on the second lap and was hit hard by the bikes of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi as he slid off his Honda. His helmet was knocked off in the incident and the season's penultimate
race was immediately red-flagged and, very shortly afterwards, cancelled
CHILLING: Race officials tend to the fatally injured Marco Simoncelli, while a dazed Colin Edwards stands to the left.
Casey Stoner, who won his second MotoGP title at his home Australian Grand Prix last week, said: "As soon as I saw the footage it just makes you sick inside. Whenever the helmet comes off that's not a good sign."
The loss of his Simoncelli's helmet will be the first - and most important - focal point of the investigation into his death, the first in premier motorcycle racing since another Honda rider, Daijiro Kato, was killed at the 2003 Japanese MotoGP.
Shoya Tomizawa also died in a crash similar to that of Simoncelli in Moto2, the class below MotoGP, at the 2010 San Marino GP since when motorcycling bosses and riders have been working hard to improve safety. However, even on an open, modern circuit such as Sepang, little can be done to reduce the danger implicit in high-speed, close-proximity racing - especially when riders, or cars, collide and are hit by others.
Even if the circuit is built to the highest level of contemporary safety racing remains dangerous; participants and spectators are warned as much by the "at your own risk" waiver when they buy a ticket.
After Wheldon's death drivers questioned the wisdom of running the IndyCar finale with 34 cars, some driven by novices, on a very fast, high-banked oval which had not staged an event in the series for 11 years. Other observers suggested that overall safety standards in IndyCar
racing were 20 years behind those of F1 in which a major revision was
instigated after the deaths of Ayrton Senna and Roland Ratzenberger in
Simoncelli's death was the first at Sepang. Circuit chairman Mokhzani Mahathir said: "We had our standard operating procedure... this is one-of-a-kind freak incident where the helmet came off and I am sure the International Federation of Motorcycling and MotoGP will be looking into this."
All Italian sports events on Sunday were set to observe a minute's silence in memory of Simoncelli, who was a big fan of soccer club AC Milan. In their Series A fixture against Lecce, Milan wore black armbands and recovered a three-goals deficit to win 4-3