KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, October 24 – The Sepang circuit will take a hard look at safety after the death of MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli, but the notoriously tricky raceway was not to blame in the tragedy, its chairman said Monday.
The rising Italian speedster’s death in a crash Sunday in the Malaysian MotoGP sent shockwaves through motor sports, which were already reeling from the previous weekend’s death of IndyCar’s Dan Wheldon in a race in Las Vegas.
Simoncelli’s death will likely add fuel to questions being asked about the dangers of racing, and Sepang International Circuit chairman Mokhzani Mahathir said the track’s first-ever fatality would prompt a new look at safety.
“Sepang race organisers have to re-look at safety from every angle again,” he told AFP.
Mokhzani said the International Motorcycling Federation would investigate the crash, which occurred early in the race and resulted in its cancellation.
“We will see from it (the investigation) if there is anything we could have done differently,” he said.
The Sepang circuit outside the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur is considered a challenging track due to the high heat, humidity, and frequent rain.
However, despite the usual sweltering tropical temperatures, conditions on Sunday were dry.
It was not immediately clear what prompted the crash. In footage of the accident, Simoncelli’s bike veers in from outside the frame, with the 24-year-old Italian appearing to be sliding off.
With his head at track level, Simoncelli ploughed into the front tyres of racers Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi.
The horrific collision tore Simoncelli’s helmet off and left him lying motionless on the asphalt. Doctors fought for nearly an hour to save him before pronouncing him dead of severe head, neck and chest injuries.
Despite the tragedy, Sepang, which also hosts the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix and other races, was “a safe track”, Mokhzani said.
“It is a sad and unfortunate racing accident but the circuit is designed to the highest safety levels,” he said, adding it was inspected by motor sports’ governing bodies.
“Yesterday’s accident was beyond anybody’s control or expectation.”
Simoncelli’s death occurred on the same day as a memorial service in Indiana for Wheldon, a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, who died of severe head injuries in a crash on October 16.
An investigation has also been launched into that collision.
That same weekend, 2010 MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo crashed during warm-ups in the Australian MotoGP, severing a finger that was later surgically reattached.
After Wheldon’s death, Australian Formula One driver Mark Webber took a shot at IndyCar safety, saying F1 was “safer”.
Seven-time world champion Rossi led the mourning of his close friend and compatriot Simoncelli.
“For me Sic was like a younger brother, as tough on the track as he was gentle in life,” Rossi said on Twitter, using Simoncelli’s nickname.
“I still can’t believe it, I miss him so much.”
Mokhzani said the sport’s highly competitive nature would lead to occasional tragedies.
“They (riders) are professionals who are trained to compete and they have safety in mind all the time. But sometimes something tragic happens and reminds us how dangerous it can be,” he said.