Monday, 24 October 2011

Marco Simoncelli 1987 - 2011

It was with shock and disbelief that I heard the news that Marco “SuperSic” Simoncelli lost his life during the Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang track, in one of those freak racing accidents that shouldn’t happen, when his out-of-control bike crossed the path of Colin Edwards’ Yamaha and the Ducati ridden by his close friend Valentino Rossi. “Sic” was just 24 years of age.

I won’t go into the details of the accident: I’m sure that, like myself, you have all seen photographs and videos of the collision. They left me deeply shocked and terribly upset. Instead I’ll just say a few words about Simoncelli.

Marco Simoncelli was a flamboyant, larger-than-life character who – literally – stood head and shoulders above almost everyone else in the MotoGP paddock, instantly recognisable by his extravagant Afro-style hairdo, which quickly earned him the affectionate nickname of “Sideshow Bob” amongst fans, due to a certain resemblance to the character of that name in the Simpsons. His hairstyle was not his only anachronism; he was wont to wear Jimi Hendrix T-shirts in a world in which many young riders and fans alike might not even be able to name or recognise a single song by that revolutionary guitarist. He seemed to have a liking for the era of the Seventies.

This was also reflected in his riding style. He quickly gained notoriety and a reputation as a bad boy for his unforgiving, aggressive, no-holds-barred riding, having no hang-ups in swapping fairing stickers with rivals in risky overtakes that drew the wrath of other riders and of journalists (in both cases, mainly the Spanish contingent), culminating in a coming-together with Spaniard Dani Pedrosa at the French Grand Prix in Le Mans earlier this season, which earned him a talking to from FIM and DORNA officials and required that he be escorted at all times by armed bodyguards during the Catalunya Grand Prix (he apparently received death threats prior to the race at the track outside Barcelona).

Personally I think that Simoncelli’s riding style was a breath of fresh air in MotoGP. In the years since the (re)introduction of four-stroke machines, overtakes have become rather tame and almost insipid, with many riders waiting until they can make a clean pass, and usually applying Jorge Lorenzo’s maxim of “por fuera” (round the outside). The cheeky and opportunistic win-or-bust lunge down the inside that one saw so much of in years gone by has almost become an obscene gesture. And Marco loved sticking two fingers up at the establishment.

Off the track, Simoncelli was a jovial, good-natured and – in close friend Valentino Rossi’s words – “sweet” guy, always ready to stop to have a quick chat with a fan, pose for a couple of photos and sign a few autographs. He was always game for a laugh and a joke, and his general bonhomie made it clear that his aggressive riding was not born of spite, but that it was just the way he envisaged the sport; after all this is motorcycle racing we’re talking about, not a Sunday matinée thé dansant!

It is such a shame that fate has taken Marco away from us in such an untimely manner, because it was so glaringly obvious that the best was yet to come from this lovable, brash, big-hearted Renaissance man of a rider: I am of the opinion that next season he would really have shone on the slightly more down-to-earth 1,000cc bikes. But – alas! – we shall never know…

I would like to finish by addressing my sincerest condolences and sympathy to Marco Simoncelli’s family and friends, as well as to the Honda Gresini San Carlo team and the entire MotoGP paddock. I also have a thought for the town of Cattolica, which has just lost one of its greatest sons.

Addio, Sic! Resterai sempre nel nostro cuore…

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