It's a good thing that we're going to go racing again. Marco Simoncelli's tragic death at Sepang has cast a very heavy and very dark pall over the MotoGP paddock, and two weeks of inaction - the one thing that motorcycle racers cannot bear, along with just about everyone else in the paddock - meeting again at Valencia with the purpose of racing has given some direction again. Walking into the paddock at lunchtime today, the atmosphere was subdued, with journalists and team members holding quiet conversations everywhere, mostly on the subject of Marco Simoncelli, the crash in Sepang and their memories of the Italian.
The process of talking and the unfurling of tributes to the fallen Italian have been cathartic. His team had his bike in the pit box with the text "It has been an honor and a privilege to work with you" on a banner behind it, they also unfurled a banner above the media center with this number on it, the Ducati hospitality trucks have his number on them and the message "always in our hearts" and the number 58 is on stickers, badges and bikes everywhere. The activity, the discussions, the shared memories have started the process of healing the pain.
In the press conference, everyone spoke about Simoncelli, and at the sadness of his death. Loris Capirossi - his situation doubly difficult, as this is to be the final race of his 22-year career - spoke of how strange it was to be back in the paddock again. The Italian veteran announced he would be saying goodbye to MotoGP and to his friend Simoncelli in style, and will race with the #58 on his bike on Sunday. He is aiming to get the kind of result that Simoncelli would on his Honda, though that is perhaps more in hope than in expectation, given Capirossi's results this year.
Valentino Rossi told of the time he had spent with Simoncelli's family, the warmth with which they had received him and his gratitude at the display of affection shown throughout Italy and the world in the aftermath of Simoncelli's death. Casey Stoner said the incident had given him some time to think over the importance of racing, and was glad it had brought everything back into focus. The petty rivalries were gone, and everyone was united once again in their love of the sport.
Racing was the right thing to do, all were agreed. It was hard to come to the last race, Ben Spies told the press conference, but it was the right decision. "Everyone knows Marco would want us to race," he said. Racing was Simoncelli's life, Alvaro Bautista added, so the best the riders can do to honor him is to go out and race hard in his memory.
Some of the most touching comments came from Andrea Dovizioso. The Italian had grown up racing against Marco Simoncelli, and the two men had been rivals for 17 years, since they first started racing in pocket bikes. "Marco was my biggest rival ever," is how Dovizioso characterized it. In some ways, his battles with Simoncelli had defined his career, for at every stage, in every class, he always found himself up against the lanky Italian.
"The true story is that we always fight since we were eight years old," Dovizioso said. "We really fight, but both of us are a 'good guy' and we have a good character. So, we never ride over the limit. If he beat me, it was really bad for me, and the same in the opposite way. But we were just rivals. This makes a big difference." When asked about his favorite memory of Simoncelli, Dovizioso was quick to point out that they were not friends, so they had not spent much time together, but his favorite battle was back in his pocket bike days, when he was 12 years old. Simoncelli, Dovizioso and Simone Corsi had gone to Rome for the final round of the championship, and the winner would take the title. Dovizioso won that day, and the long and hard battle they had had all year made that victory so memorable.
But the most remarkable story that Dovizioso was what happened last week in Italy. On the Tuesday, two days after Simoncelli's fatal accident, and a couple of days before his funeral, Dovizioso went to Simoncelli's house in Coriano, to see his family. "I had never done that before, and I was very nervous," Dovizioso said. The warmth of the reception he received was overwhelming. "When I arrived there, the whole family came to meet me and we cried together. It was an incredible sensation."
Paolo Simoncelli, Marco's father, had been especially kind. "I never knew him very well, but on Tuesday, when I went to the house, I spoke with him. Not too much, but the important point was when we make a hug, this was a real sensation from both of us. This was important to do, as we'd never been friends, but this was really nice and important."
The incredible strength of the Simoncelli family was illustrated in another story, told to me by an Italian journalist friend, Nereo Balanzin. On the Thursday of Simoncelli's funeral, Balanzin had driven to Coriano early, to avoid the crowds. Arriving shortly after 6 in the morning, he wandered around the town close to the Simoncelli house, wanting to be close to the family but not wanting to intrude on their grief. As he sat on a wall by the side of the road, a car pulled up and the window wound down, a voice calling him over. It was Simoncelli's mother Rossella, and she invited him in to be with the family. He was met with the same strength and warmth that all of the family have displayed throughout the ordeal, a selflessness and generosity that is as rare as it is remarkable.
So over the long, dark months of winter, after the season is over, and after the paddock has split up to go its separate ways, spare a thought for the Simoncelli family. If you are in Italy, and passing by their door in Coriano, stop and lay some flowers. If you are further afield, send them a card, drop them a line, show them some of the generosity of spirit that they have shown to the entire world over the past two weeks. It takes great strength and great courage to hold up under the weight of grief that the Simoncellis have to face up to. The well of your kindness is where they will draw that strength from.