Every once in a while something happens in life that stops you in your tracks, and makes everything else in life seem totally insignificant.
Such an occasion happened last Sunday (23rd) when Marco Simoncelli was tragically killed at Sepang. I can't quite put my finger on why, but its something thats really hit me. I was a massive fan of his and watched him progress through the lower classes up to MotoGP. His tall build and crazy big hair set him a unique figure, and there was many an occasion when I referred to Alfie as 'Marco' or 'Simmo' due to his crazy hair tendancies.
When I watched him on a 250 you could tell he'd make it. He had that something about him that seperates the great riders from the good. And, much like his close friend Valentino Rossi, he had that Italian charm and broken English which always seems to go down well with the English crowd. Toby Moody commented in his blog about the way Sic used to say "Ciao Tobbee" and even though I never heard him utter those words you can just imagine him saying them!
I think its the events of this year that have really made his death so untimely, and a factor to why I've found myself spending the past week rewatching interviews, searching for pictures and yesterday (Thursday) watching the Italian stream of his funeral.
My friend Barry Kidney only started watching MotoGP this year, he said he was looking for the outsider to cheer on, someone who might be able to take on the big boys. I said Simoncelli was the man, the last race of the 2010 season had shown he wasn't to be pushed around by anyone, even if that meant upsetting the current champion Jorge Lorenzo.
With Rossi struggling to sort this years Ducati it meant most MotoGP races were quite processional - I said to many people this year that MotoGP was only worth watching till Simoncelli binned it. He was the one to watch, the one pushing the boundaries, and the new boy taking it to the 'aliens'. He had factory support - Honda could see how great he was going to be - but he was still on an independent bike and it was clear he would be chasing wins this year. You could see this was going to be a learning year for Sic, a year where the exploration of the boundaries would result in a few trips to the kitty litter but you knew would also bring podiums. That isn't a slight on his ability, I remember Stoner and Lorenzo highsiding themselves into orbit whilst they learnt exactly where the 'line' lies.
And it was great to watch, his tall 6ft+ frame like a preying mantis on the Honda whilst all around him were 5ft nothing jockeys trying to hold on to 230+bhp monsters.
Only three races in and Lorenzo was taking shots, but Marco seemed to take it all in his stride.
But then came Le Mans. Simoncelli knew he was quick, we all felt his first podium was just around the corner. He made a hard move coming back against Pedrosa. Pedrosa went down and broke a collar bone. Im still not convinced Simmo was wrong, but either way it was exactly the kind of racing us fans want to be watching! If you haven't seen it, this is the best video i've found of the incident, but I can't seem to embed it into the blog easily.
Simoncelli got a ride through pentaly which I felt was riduculously harsh, and a large portion of the MotoGP paddock seemed to turn on him.
Three weeks later Sic had an unfortunate highside on the first lap, and his crash took out Lorenzo. A week later Dani Pedrosa refused to shake his hand at Mugello.
All this did was endear him me - and all his fans - even more though. This is clearly shown in this interview at the British GP (which fell between Catalunya and Assen) - his Italian charm there for all to see!
For a few weeks we lost our 'SuperSic', his confidence clearly had taken a knock and he just wanted to get some finishes under his belt. He looked a more mature rider than his 24 years suggested, and you sensed it was a step forward. Then since the summer break he'd nailed consecutive fourth places before a career best 2nd (and his first podium) just two weeks ago at Phillip Island.
He was back on the up, and as he went into the Malaysian Grand Prix he must have fancied himself for victory. Certainly none of us ever imagined what would play out last weekend.
I remember thinking mid season how happy I would be for him when he won his first race, however he was taken from us before he had the chance to pop that feather in his cap. Without doubt I think he will always be the greatest World Champion that there never was.
Ciao Marco, you were a breath of fresh air to MotoGP!
As Matt Roberts said in his excellent blog, "Motorcycle racing brought Marco Simoncelli to his death but it also brought him to life" and when aboard his Gresini Honda he came alive like no other!