Free practice for Moto2 was perhaps the hardest of Saturday morning's sessions, as the riders headed out to test the new track layout, revised to avoid a repeat of the crash in which Luis Salom lost his life.
"MOTORSPORTS CAN BE DANGEROUS" it says on the back of my media pass, the hard card I wear around my neck and which gives me access to the paddock and the media center. It says the same thing everywhere around the circuit: on rider passes, on the back of tickets, on signs which hang on fences around the circuit.
You see it so much that it becomes a cliché, and like all clichés it quickly loses its meaning. Until reality intervenes, and reminds us that behind every cliché lies a deep truth.
Friday brought a stark reminder. During the afternoon session of free practice for the Moto2 class, Luis Salom exited Turn 11 and got on the gas towards Turn 12. Just before the turn, traveling at around 170 km/h, the riders caress the front brake to help the bike turn through the fast right hander of Turn 12, an engineer told me. At that point, Salom lost control of his bike, fell off, and he and his bike headed towards the air fence which protects the wall there. They slid across a patch of tarmac put in to help the cars if they run straight on at that corner, and Salom's bike hit the air fence and wall, careened off the wall and into Salom, fatally injuring him.
After the death of Luis Salom in a crash at Barcelona, many teams issued press releases offering their condolences. The press releases appear below:
Opening day in Barcelona marred by tragic death
Team Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS were saddened to hear that Luis Salom succumbed to injuries sustained in a crash during Free Practice 2 here in Barcelona and has passed away.
Luis was a fierce competitor and our heartfelt condolences go to his family, friends and the SAG team at this very sad time.
Michael Bartholemy: Team Principal
After the tragic death of Luis Salom as a result of injuries sustained in a crash during Moto2 FP2, the track layout is to be modified for the remainder of the weekend. The event is to continue, in accordance with the wishes of the family of Luis Salom, as well as the riders and teams.
The FIM issued the following press release containing a statement from the FIM MotoGP medical team:
FIM MotoGP World Championship Medical Team Report
Today, the Medical Team from the FIM MotoGP World Championship and the Medical Team of the Circuit Barcelona-Catalunya reached the scene of an incident involving Spanish Moto2 rider Luis Salom at turn 12 during the second practice session for Moto2 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Luis Salom has succumbed to injuries sustained in a crash at the Montmeló circuit in Barcelona. Although the crash was not caught on film, witnesses report that Salom tried to save a highside at Turn 12, which left him heading straight for the air fence. Salom reportedly parted from his bike and hit the air fence, but the bike rebounded off the air fence and hit Salom in the chest. (Edit: CCTV footage of the crash is available on the MotoGP.com website.)
The Moto2 session was red-flagged after a serious accident involving Luis Salom. Salom was attended to at track side, then transported to the Hospital General de Catalunya in Sant Cugat del Valles, where he died during treatment.
Taka Nakagami topped the first session of free practice for the Moto2 class at Barcelona, the Japanese rider putting in a late charge to depose Johann Zarco. The Frenchman had led Jonas Folger for most of the session, but had to conced top spot to Nakagami at the end. Alex Rins ended the session in fourth behind Folger, while championship leader Sam Lowes took fifth.
In any other year, the approaching weekend at Barcelona would see speculation around MotoGP's Silly Season nearing its peak, with a spate of contracts signed in the weeks which follow. But this is not any other year. Going into the 2016 Gran Premi de Catalunya at the Montmeló circuit, eight of the twelve factory seats open for next season have already been filled, while a ninth is just a matter of days away. Of the remaining three, only the seat at Aprilia is truly up for grabs, the open seats at Suzuki and KTM already having riders penciled in. It is truly a bizarre year.
So where are we so far? The seats at the factory Ducati and Yamaha teams are all taken, with Andrea Dovizioso partnering Jorge Lorenzo at Ducati while Maverick Viñales joins Valentino Rossi at Movistar Yamaha. Repsol Honda is as good as complete: Dani Pedrosa has already signed on for two more years, while Marc Márquez acknowledged at the press launch for the Barcelona MotoGP race that he would "definitely continue with this bike." He will sign a contract with Honda again, but he wants it to be a "perfect" contract.
Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia all have one rider signed already. Sam Lowes' seat at Aprilia was settled already two years' ago, when he signed for Gresini to race in Moto2 in 2016, and MotoGP for 2017 and 2018. Bradley Smith was the next to slot into place, signing on for the first seat at KTM ahead of the first race of this year. And Andrea Iannone took over at ECSTAR Suzuki after Viñales announced he was leaving, and Ducati announced they were keeping Dovizioso.
The Moto2 class has not had a lot of luck with their starts in 2016. First there was Qatar, where a mass jump start saw some riders called in for a ride through, some issued with a time penalty, and few people very happy about the way it was handled. That situation was all down to a problem with some of the high-speed starting grid cameras which check for false starts.
In Mugello there was more starting grid misery. This time, though, the problem was not with jump starts, but with restarts. An interrupted race and a quick start procedure ended up causing chaos, the first running of that procedure catching a lot of teams out, which in turn caused problems for Race Direction. As is their wont, unforeseen circumstances managed to catch everyone out, causing the first quick start procedure to be abandoned, and a regular restart instituted.