SEPANG: The world of motorsports was rocked when Italian MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli was killed following a horrific crash at the Shell Advance Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix here.
The 24-year-old Gresini Honda team rider's machine veered across the track on the second lap of the race that started at 4pm yesterday and into the path of his compatriot Valentino Rossi of Ducati and American Colin Edwards of Yamaha.
It is the first fatal crash at the Sepang International Circuit since it opened in 1999.
Simoncelli, very much a rising star after enjoying his finest hour at Sepang when he finished third to clinch the 2008 season's 250cc title, had his helmet knocked off in the crash.
Rossi was able to ride away slowly to the pits while Edwards later got up and walked away but Simoncelli lay motionless on the track as his father Paolo and girlfriend Kate watched in horror from the garage.
The race was immediately red-flagged and later cancelled by the organiser Sepang International Circuit so that medical staff could continue to focus completely on treating the Italian in the medical centre.
The mop-haired and scruffy Simoncelli succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at the on-track medical centre at 4.56pm.
This last week has been a nightmare for motorsports.
The fatal crash comes just a week after IndyCar racing driver Dan Wheldon died in a 15-car crash in Las Vegas and 2010 MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo crashed during warm-ups in Australia, severing a finger that was later surgically re-attached.
After Simoncelli's crash, restless fans were upset with the lengthy delay and threw water bottles and other debris onto the track.
His tragic death was not made known to the packed crowd at that time as his family had to be officially informed first.
News of his death was also beamed on various international news channels including CNN.
The Italian Olympic Committee said it would honour the racer by requesting a minute's silence at yesterday's Serie A football matches.
MotoGP medical director Michele Macchiagodena confirmed Simoncelli's death, saying he died due to chest, head and neck injuries.
“He was already unconscious when the medical staff arrived within minutes. We immediately brought him to the medical centre and gave him CPR but failed to revive him. He died 45 minutes later at 4.56pm,” he said.
Race director Paul Butler said the MotoGP paddock expressed grief and sympathies for the rider's family, friends and team.
“Circumstances surrounding the incident will be thoroughly investigated by the concerned parties,” he said.
Simoncelli had claimed his best-ever MotoGP finish of a second placing last weekend at Phillip Island, Australia.
This year was Simoncelli's second MotoGP season and he had signed to remain with Gresini Honda next year.
During his grand prix career, which began in 2002, Simoncelli won 14 times 12 in the 250cc class and twice in 125cc.
His death is the first in the premier class since another Gresini rider, Daijiro Kato, was killed at the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix.
Although there is a final race in Spain still to come, Australia's Casey Stoner has already secured the 2011 championship with his win last weekend in Australia, garnering a total of 325 points.
Simoncelli was tied with Rossi in sixth spot with 139 points.
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