To watch Marco Simoncelli race was to realize how great MotoGP could be. The 800cc era wasn’t kind to fans of spectacular racing action. The modern, electronically optimized machines rewarded android-like precision, and the most successful riders of the era—the so-called “aliens”—had personalities to match their cold, clinical riding styles.
Not Marco Simoncelli. “Super Sic” still made riding a motorcycle look like an art. In contrast to the others’ slot-car predictability, Simoncelli would use the entire racetrack. He often chose the most impossible race line, then made it stick, creating his own daring, beautiful trajectory around the track. Other riders barely moved from behind their Perspex bubbles, while Simoncelli’s gangly, 6-foot frame went everywhere on the bike. He moved with the pure physicality of a confident, natural-born athlete, like watching Michael Jordan dunk, or Muhammed Ali box.
A 125cc Italian and European Champion and a 250cc World Champion, Simoncelli was undeniably good on a motorcycle. We loved him for that, but we loved him more for who he was off the bike. Charming, smart, humble and always gracious, Simoncelli was disarmingly authentic in an increasingly inauthentic world. He always looked like he was having more fun than anyone else. Some weekends—sandwiched between grumpy Casey Stoner and robotic Dani Pedrosa at a press conference—he looked like the only person in MotoGP having any fun at all!
Simoncelli’s MotoGP career was short—just 34 races between his 2010 Qatar debut and his death, at age 24, during the second lap of the 2011 Malaysian Grand Prix. He never won a MotoGP race, but he came close. He earned two poles and two podium finishes, his last at Phillip Island the weekend before his death. He almost certainly would have won a race by the end of the season, maybe even a championship. Now we’ll never know his true potential. Now we can only guess.
Simoncelli described racing as “mortal combat.” Unfortunately for him, this was literally true. He rode with outsized ferocity, battling for each position, attacking every corner as though it were his last. He rode with a pure warrior heart, giving up nothing, taking every chance and, eventually, paying the ultimate price. He was more than just a skilled rider. He was truly a great racer. He personified everything meaningful about that term.
Simoncelli touched a tremendous number of people in his few short years on this earth. More than 20,000 fans attended his funeral in his adopted hometown of Coriano, Italy. That city’s sports arena was renamed in his honor, and so was his home track, now called Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli. His loss leaves a void that won’t be easily filled. Any alien can win a race, but few can entertain and inspire us like he did; like his good friends Valentino Rossi and Kevin Schwantz did before him. That’s why we’ve chosen to honor Marco Simoncelli as our 2012 Motorcyclist of the Year. He was the most human of our many two-wheeled gods. On 34 Sundays he showed us how to live right, work hard, take chances, celebrate successes, apologize when necessary, embrace your friends and family and, above all, always have fun. Thank you, Super Sic, you will be sorely missed.