Monday, 24 October 2011

A Dark Fortnight In Motor Racing

In the last two weeks, three highly respected racing drivers have died, with two of them dying shortly after brutal accidents in their respective series. Is this the sign of a lack of safety in motorsport? Is organisation getting worse? Nope, it's just a horrible coincidence. Even though I don't follow Moto GP, IndyCar or American off-road racing (think DiRT games), but I am aware of them, and whether you follow them or not, a dead sportsman is always a tragic loss, especially when in two weeks we lose an off-road champion, double Indy 500 winner and "a rising star in the world of Moto GP", someone rising to the very top of motorcycle racing. It's also a chilling reminder that despite the huge emphasis on safety in motorsport (hell, in everything) these days, and even though it's nothing like 1960s/70s Formula 1, it's never impossible to die racing.

To be honest, I think that getting to a point where it did become impossible to die while motor racing would be a shame, not because I'm one of the sick ones who wants to watch fatal accidents/crashes often, but because the result would be an incredibly sterile and watered-down version of the sport. The drivers know they can die, and unless we're kidding ourselves, we know they can die each time they belt up and don their HANS device (even if we don't consciously think about it each time), and yet they're prepared to accept the risks as par for the course and go for glory, because that's what they want to do. I think anyone can appreciate people doing what they love for a living.

Rest In Peace, Rick Huseman (1973 - 2011)

Mr. Huseman was the 2009 PRO4X4 Traxxas TORC Series Champion, scoring 6 wins and 10 podiums that year driving something pretty similar to the "Trophy Trucks" you get in DiRT 3, with lots of suspension travel for the huge jumps, AWD, a substantial rollcage and a big V8. The following year he won the 2010 Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series Pro-4 Championship, and was second in the same series this year, 23 points down on the leader. His achievements also earned him the DirtSports Magazine Driver of the Year Award last year. On the 16th October this year, he and his younger brother Jeff (27) died along with friend and pilot Andrew Hicks (35) in a plane crash, when the Beechcraft 33 Bonanza light aircraft attempted an emergency landing at Barstow-Dagget Airport. His race teams's website confirmed:

"The plane was travelling from Las Vegas to Corona when it went down about 5 miles north east of the airport. Coroner's officials say it took three hours to recover the victims because the wreckage was in a canyon.

Before the crash, Rick used his cell phone to alert his mother that the plane was having trouble, a friend told KTLA. Rick's mother did not know Jeff was aboard the plane.

The cause of the crash is under investigation but the National Transportation Safety Board.

It sounds like he had a lot more in him despite being 38, if he was champion two years in a row and fighting for another championship this year, so it's a terrible shame that the off-road world will never get to see his potential fully realised. RIP

Rest In Peace, Dan Wheldon (1978 - 2011)

Mr. Wheldon won the prestigious Indianapolis 500 twice, once in 2005 when he also won the IndyCar series, and this year after race leader J.R.Hildebrand crashed out on the last corner of the last lap when overtaking a backmarker and running wide into the wall. Wheldon scored 16 career wins. He started the Las Vegas 300 on the 16th October in 34th and last place, apparently commenting before the race about concerns of all the dirty air of 33 cars ahead of him. He started there with the hope of winning the race as anon-regular series driver to subsequently earn $5million from IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard. [skip to the next paragraph to avoid the crash description if you want] Many had concerns going into the race about having 35 open-wheeled cars racing around the fairly tight Las Vegas Motor Speedway at speeds of around 220mph, and after climbing up 10 places to 24th, Dan was involved in a horrendous 15-car pile-up on turn 2 of lap 12, wherein he caught the backs of two slow-moving cars ahead of him - who slowed to avoid the ensuing chaos - catapulting him into the air. His car landed and then bounced up again, sending him into the "catch fence" (that stops cars hitting spectators) while travelling backwards and with the cockpit facing the fence. The car ignited, and the crash blew both the sidepods and all the wheels off. The chassis then landed right-way-up, spinning a few times as it skidded down the banking, and came to rest along with the other crashed cars. He was alive when he was airlifted to hospital, but later succumbed to his injuries, which I won't list.

Earlier in the year he was testing next year's car, which is complete with a lot of new safety features that, who knows, could have saved his life in the same kind of crash next year. Alas, that fact is really neither here nor there, as the crash happened this year. Dallara will name next year's IndyCar car after him in some way. From what I've read and heard of Dan Wheldon, he was a great asset to the sport and will be sorely missed by many drivers and many more fans, especially his wife, who got the couple's initials tattooed on her wrist with Dan before raceday, and their two children, Sebastian (2 years old) and Oliver (6 months old). RIP

Rest In Peace, Marco Simoncelli (1987 - 2011)

Mr. Simoncelli was fast becoming a big name in Moto GP, the premier motorbike racing series, having secured many pole positions this year and extended his contract with Gresini Honda for next year. His best result was a surprise 2nd place in the Australian GP at Philip Island last week, when he looked set to finish 3rd, but overtook Andrea Dovizoiso in the closing stages of a rainy race, getting within inches of the rider that passed him earlier in the race and finishing just 0.2 seconds ahead of him (although quite far back from winner Casey Stoner). Like Rick Huseman, his potential will never be realised, although "Super Sic" is arguably a more tragic passing - not that one should compare things like this - as he didn't even have the chance to win a Moto GP championship, something that may well have happened within the next 3-5 years (that said, he did win the 250cc title in '08). His accident was also very violent, so skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know. On lap 2 of the Malaysian round at Sepang, at turn 11, the front end of his bike lost traction, and when he finally regained it he was leant over at quite a steep angle, so the bike veered over to the right. He would've had to leave the bike anyway and slide onto the grass, but then Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi hit Simoncelli in the upper back/neck with the front wheels of their bikes, one of which impacts knocked his helmet off his head. He suffered severe trauma to the head, neck and chest, and when he was reached he was in cardiac arrest. He died aged 24. Colin Edwards also had a dislocated shoulder after falling off his bike.

Simoncelli was known for his exuberant riding style, always going all-out. This unfortunately resulted in many crashes in his career, but there was no doubt about his talent. It's terrible that one of the crushing blows was dealt by Valentino Rossi, who was very close with Marco. Sic was Rossi's "protégé" of sorts until he started beating him in races, after which they remained friends. I could try writing more, but coverage on Jalopnik has brought about two tributes that I can't hope to top as a casual observer, one by commenter BtheD19 and one by writer Mike Spinelli. Like the other racers, he will be sorely missed. RIP

Fatal Accidents Below:

Of course, some of you reading this probably don't want to watch the crashes knowing someone dies in each one, but for those who do want to, here they are:

Dan Wheldon
(he's the white-on-black car that takes off and hits the catch fence)

Marco Simoncelli

My thoughts go out to the families and friends of those who were tragically lost over the last 2 weeks.
Drive Safely.

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