|Image copyright Peter Guld, courtesy HFL Magazine|
He was 24.
Just typing those words makes me more sad than I would have ever imagined. He was not my favorite racer. He didn't ride for a team that I particularly cared about. I never met him. I don't know anyone that was friends with him. We never interacted directly in any way.
Here is the summary of the crash from motomatters.com:
On the second lap of the race, in dry conditions, Simoncelli's rear tire broke loose at Turn 11, then gripped, sending Simoncelli and his bike across the track into the path of another rider. [Ed. It was actually two riders, Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi.] Simoncelli was struck, losing his helmet in the impact, and the race was red-flagged. Simoncelli was transported to the medical center, but died from the injuries sustained in the crash at 16:56 local time.
I've been wondering why his death makes me so sad. I've never shed tears for a professional athlete; I'm too old and far too cynical. Simoncelli is the first. He was young, charismatic, talented, and he was a racer's racer. The older riders didn't like Simoncelli's all-or-nothing style, they said he needed to settle down. The younger riders (and some racing legends, like Kevin Schwantz) disagreed, and suggested that the people complaining needed to go faster or get out of the way.
I thought he was reckless at times, but his recklessness had nothing to do with the crash that killed him.
What everyone agreed on was that he was incredibly nice, generous, and friendly. He was the people's champion, especially now that the great Rossi is stuck in the middle of the pack. Unlike Lorenzo (the nicest robot you could ever hope to meet), Simoncelli was a gregarious, charming personality. His nickname was Super Sic (pronounced Super SEECH, if you prefer the Italian version), a reference to his extraordinary riding skills (sick) and also his general awesomeness (which, according to everyone that interacted with him, was super).
As for me, I will never feel the same about racing motorcycles. I was not very affected by the untimely death of Dan Wheldon, maybe because I don't spend my free time driving open-wheel race cars as fast as I can. But racing motorcycles is one of my great passions. I understand what motivated Simoncelli, not least because he said during his recent contract negotiations that if they stopped paying him to race then he would happily pay his own way. A lot of riders say that, but with Super Sic you tended to believe it.
Forever is a long time, but I expect that people like me will be telling future racers about the young Italian rider with the wild hair that was capable of going as fast or faster than anyone on two wheels. He made it to the mountaintop that is MotoGP and the only thing that slowed him down was tragedy. Legends have been made out of less.