Taking us slightly but unashamedly off piste from our usual bloggings on music and travel, Joe has written a tribute to his MotoGP hero Marco Simoncelli, who sadly died yesterday in Malaysia.
There is a code that motorcycle fans use to describe racing accidents. ’A crash’ generally means that the rider walked away. ‘A bad crash’ means they are probably in the medical centre. And ‘a really bad crash’ means that a human life is in the balance. This morning, as New Zealand rugby fans cheered and the boom of celebratory fireworks crackled through the Auckland night, I received a text from my friend Lee; ‘Simoncelli. Sepang. Really fucking bad crash’.
Marco Simoncelli, the brave, handsome, funny, thrilling motorcyclist had died during the second lap of the Malaysian MotoGP. His bike was sliding away from him through a corner when it suddenly resumed traction, veering at terrifying and unavoidable speed into the path of two other bikes. Either impact could have proved fatal. Somewhere in the incidents’ milliseconds Simoncelli’s helmet came off. He lay motionless on the track, his distinctive halo of hair lying flat and still amidst the tyre marks.
The majority of motorsports stars are best viewed ‘in character’. Leather clad, helmet on, visor down. In their impenetrable suits they become the anonymous immortals we so want them to be. The true greats however need little more than their eyes to communicate with the lenses watching them as they wait on the track. Pop up the perspex and there’s Ayrton Senna or Valentino Rossi, speaking to every viewer without needing to say a word. Yet place a driver – or rider – near their machine without the superhero outfit, and the lunacy of their sport becomes far too real.
As the commentators struggled to describe what had happened, everyone saw the same thing. Marco Simoncelli was missing his helmet. We knew what that meant.
Riders know that motorcycle racing is dangerous. Their crews, their sponsors, their friends and their parents know it. In the years that they have worked to reach the premiere class of MotoGP they will have lost teammates and competitors. No matter what the results of qualifying, death sometimes finds a place on the grid.
And today, at Corner 11 of the Sepang International Racing Circuit death found Marco Simoncelli. Despite the efforts of the medical staff and the prayers of his friends, at 4.56pm local time, it took him.
SuperSic was not to every riders’ taste. (You say his nickname ‘SuperSitch’ by the way – like so many things in life it sounds better when given the proper italian pronunciation). His riding style was so wonderfully full-on it could have been devised by a 1950s screenwriter. Heart-on-his-sleeve? Yes. All-or-nothing? Absolutely. On-the-limit? Of course.
Witness Marco at Silverstone earlier this year. He is racing nobody really, but still riding so hard that a pool of standing water throws him from his bike. He hurtles over two hundred metres at massive speed, yet manages to stand up at the end with the composure of a seven year old executing a knee slide across the kitchen tiles.
In a sport where many are ‘cool’, he was the coolest. In a risky sport, he was among the riskiest. Which made the public love him as much as many of his fellow riders were exasperated by him. Competing against such natural talent can be infuriating. To beat him on the track only to find him the natural star of the post race ceremonials probably didn’t endear him either. Such things sadly no longer matter.
Marco Simoncelli will never again taste victory champagne, nor will his hair shake in the wind from the top step of the podium. His big eyes will not smile at us from within the snug confines of his helmet. His glove won’t wave at us as he waits for the race to start. His sport will miss him, and so will we.
On a day when New Zealand lifted the Rugby World Cup for the first time since the infant Sic was learning to walk, few outside of the motorcycle fraternity will remember Marco’s passing. I will, and I happen to think you should too.
So when the Webb Ellis trophy is next held aloft spare a thought for the man who should be 28 years old, bashing fairings, rattling cages, grinning, chattering, and thrilling. And the time after that consider the 32 year old who should be contemplating retirement. And beyond that, well it’s folly and pain to imagine I suppose.
Death was on the grid today. It took a good man.