SEPANG: The Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix was supposed to have basked in glory – thanks to having achieved its best-ever attendance of 111,385 and Banting-born Zulfahmi Khairuddin career-high seventh placing in the 125cc class.
A record 67,112 attended the race yesterday but the mood turned sombre following the accident which claimed Italian Honda rider Marco Simoncelli’s life – the first fatality since the Sepang track opened its doors to motorsports in 1999.
Simoncelli, a rising star who was the 250cc world champion, lost control of his bike and had his helmet ripped off as he ran into American Colin Edwards and compatriot Valentino Rossi in the second lap of the MotoGP race.
The 24-year-old, who remained unconscious on the track, later succumbed to his injuries at the on-site track medical centre at 4.56pm.
The race was immediately stopped and later cancelled by race organisers Sepang International Circuit.
The crowd, who were kept in the dark about Simoncelli’s death, grew restless with the long delay and starting throwing water bottles and plastic packets onto the track.
The organisers could not inform the public until Simoncelli’s family had been notified first.
“No one knew then that the incident had turned fatal as we took out time because we had to coordinate with Dorna (race promoters) and Simoncelli’s family regarding his death,” said Sepang circuit chairman Datuk Mokhzani Mahathir.
”I’m sure the fans understand why we had to cancel the race.”
This was the second fatal crash in MotoGP following the death of Gresini rider Daijiro Kato of Japan at the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix.
“The SIC express our sympathies to Simoncelli and his family. We will give our cooperation together with Dorna to avoid this from happening again,” said Mokhzani.
”It’s the first time we have had a fatal accident.
“It’s just that this is one of a kind freak accident where the helmet came off. I am sure FIM (motorcycling body) and MotoGP will be looking into this.
”In motorsport, the participants know and prepare for this eventuality.
“You can never guarantee 100% that nothing of this kind will happen.
“We can only put the safety aspects in place and make sure all procedures are followed.”