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SEPANG, Malaysia: Nasser bin Khalifa Al Attiyah, President of the Qatar Motor and Motorcycling Federation (QMMF), yesterday paid glowing tributes to MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli who died in a race accident at Sepang Circuit last year.
Al Attiyah, Vice President of FIM, yesterday arrived in Malaysia where the MotoGP family remembered the Italian who died in a horror crash at last season’s race in Sepang after being hit by the bikes of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi as he slid across the track.
The race was immediately stopped and then canceled.
“It is sad that Marco is not with us. He was a superb rider and very well liked by the MotoGP fans,” Al Attiyah told The Peninsula.
“I am sad at this loss even today,” the Qatari added. “He was the rising star of the MotoGP family,” Al Attiyah added.
Simoncelli’s Honda team principal Fausto Gresini told reporters yesterday: “It left a void that can never be filled. Marco was a special person to all of us and we miss him a lot.” He added: “With heavy hearts we will give our best this weekend to honor his memory.” Gresini also lost Japanese rider Daijiro Kato in a gruesome crash at Suzuka in 2003.
A bronze plaque is fixed at the scene of Simoncelli’s accident at turn 11 in memory of the rider, organizers said in Malaysia.
When asked about safety of riders and the dangers of motor sport, Al Attiyah said: “Motor sport is a dangerous sport but the number of casualties in bike racing is much less than what we see in football, basketball or athletics.”
He added: “There is a great deal of awareness all around. Anything in life holds risk. The same could be said of bike racing but overall the safety standards are high.”
The QMMF president explained: “What happened with Marco is terrible and very unfortunate. It (the accident) could have happened anywhere and anytime. We are still hurt by this loss.”
World champion Casey Stoner said it would be a difficult weekend for the riders.
“This weekend marks the anniversary of Marco’s death, so I’m sure it will be a strange feeling when we all get on the track,” the Australian said.
Stoner, who won here in 2007 and 2009, said the incident was “a lot more fresh on everyone’s mind being the anniversary” and was making the racing community nervous.
“I think it is a good day to pay respect to him. Everyone is thinking about it again. Maybe even a little on edge,” he told reporters.
Simoncelli had taken his best Grand Prix finish of second just one week before the deadly incident. The 24-year-old was fighting for fourth when he lost control of his Honda bike on turn 11 and slid across the circuit, into the path of Edwards and Rossi, who appeared to have hit him.
Holding back his tears, Giampiero Sacchi, owner of Ioda racing team, who had known Simoncelli as a young rider, said he was pleased a large crowd turned up to pay their tribute.
“We know it is dangerous but the race must go on,” he said.
Simoncelli, considered an up-and-coming MotoGP star, had his helmet knocked off in the collision.
It was his second year at the premier class.
Sepang is to host the Malaysian Grand Prix tomorrow.