I came home on Sunday night to the sad news that Marco Simoncelli had been killed in an accident during the Malaysian MotoGP at Sepang. On the second lap, Simoncelli was about to lose the front end in a slide at about 100 mph, and had dug his knee into the tarmac to save it. This caused the bike to slew to the right, straight into the path of Edwards and Rossi, who both collided with the fallen bike and rider. Simoncelli's helmet came off in the impact, and that was the end of that.
Simoncelli was a vastly entertaining rider, never afraid to take monumental risks in the pursuit of a place in the race, and this didn't always endear him to the other riders. But he was a colourful character and he will be sadly missed. It is worth remembering that fatalities in motorcycle racing are now extremely rare. Riders are falling off all the time, but the protective gear is so good, and the run-off areas at major circuits so generous, that even minor injuries are uncommon. Once in a while, however, circumstances come together and bad things happen. It's part of the game, and the riders are all quite realistic about it.
By way of a tribute, here is a photo of Simoncelli showing the unearthy skills that the top riders demonstrate day after day. It's a corner, right enough, but look at the orientation of the bike. It's pointing towards the grass in the inside of the track. The rear tyre has come unstuck (intentionally) and the bike is sliding sideways with the rear wheel spinning, the better to get a good drive onto the straight. Not too hard to do in a car (Jeremy Clarkson manages it whenever he takes a fast car onto the track in Top Gear), but much harder on a bike, where you have to balance the grip and power on a machine that wants to fall over. The rider is already hanging off the side of the bike to increase the ground clearance and keep the rear tyre off the sidewalls. All of this at probably 120 mph. The black rubber streaks on the track tell the story.