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GP Week : Issue 112
T he case in question, as everyone knows, is the Rossi/Stoner crash on lap eight of the Spanish GP. Or, more to the point, its aftermath. As seen on TV, most of the marshals rushed to help Rossi out from under and onto his wheels – one even gave him a cheery pat on the back as he departed, in pursuit of an eventual fifth. Only then did they join the single marshal helping Stoner ... and then not for long. The fact that the official post-mortem is coming to pass four weeks later is a matter of convenience. Or possibly lassitude, because nobody actually cares that much. Certainly, nobody expects much more to come out of it, other than a possible mild reprimand to some individuals, and a general resolution to all marshals to make sure they appear even-handed in future. Unless Race Direction really grasps the nettle, and acts to bring MotoGP into line with all other motor sports, with no outside help to any competitor. The only concern should be safety, and thus the protection and removal of fallen riders and the rapid removal of the motorbikes. Unless the lucky rider manages to get it running and away himself, before the marshals get there. Actually, this used to be the practice at some tracks, back when the series was less unified, and local organisers made up rules to suit themselves. I recall watching 250 star Carlos Cardus, father of the current Moto2 rider Ricard, being stopped from rejoining at Assen by a security guard with a dog – the Alsatian biting the wheels of his Honda and wagging its tail furiously. In 2011, with just 17 MotoGP starters, the sympathy is more likely to be with helping anyone still standing to get going again. Not much will change. But there have been accidents that changed racing: crashes where the aftermath really made a difference. In the case of the Isle of Man, it was actually several crashes, generally fatal, that even in the days when deaths were a regular punctuation of the racing season were just too much. The TT was one of six foundation GPs in 1949, birth of the World Championship. But of course it was so much more – the very foundation of motorcycle racing, ever since the first Tourist Trophy race in 1907. Traditions died hard, and the annual death toll of the TT was taken for granted by racing organisers and by most of the riders. It was just part of the World Championship challenge and, to be honest, merely the oldest and longest of a number of dangerous public-roads or park circuits where they would race professionally all around Europe. But two crashes in particular proved too much for two different groups within racing, and their subsequent actions would hasten the end of the TT as part of the grand prix series. The events were further linked by a terrible irony. The first was in 1970, and the victim was popular and colourful Spanish 250 star Santiago Herrero. Riding the evocative monocoque Spanish Ossa single against the Yamaha hordes, the chiselled blond-haired hero from Bilbao narrowly missed the championship in 1969, and was leading on points when they arrived at the Isle of Man for round four. On the last lap, having fallen and remounted, he was lying third when he crashed again at high speed, sustaining injuries that proved fatal two days later. The crash was blamed on a patch of molten tar in blazing heat. The consequence was far-reaching. Not only did Ossa withdraw from racing, but the Spanish federation told all its licence holders to avoid the Isle of Man henceforth. Two years later, Gilberto Parlotti was leading the 125 championship on the home- grown Italian Morbidelli after winning the first two rounds. But his greatest rival Angel Nieto had won the next two. Because of the Spanish ban, Nieto would not be going to the TT. Against the wishes of team owner Giancarlo Morbidelli, Parlotti elected to take advantage of his absence. His crash was in different circumstances: in rain and mist, high on the Mountain section of the track. His death was instantaneous. Shocked friend Giacomo Agostini was eventually persuaded to take part in that afternoon’s Senior race, which he won, but he never returned to the island, and all the big stars joined the boycott that meant that from 1976 the British GP would move to the mainland, to a purpose-built circuit. The riders now realised they had some power, but it would take time for it to be harnessed ... and another history-changing crash. It happened in the 350 GP at Austria’s fearsome mountainside Salzburgring. Current FIM safety officer Franco Uncini, with the leaders, had a straightforward low- side crash on one of the very fast corners. But instead of sliding safely into a gravel trap, the narrow confines meant that his bike bounced back and skittled his close rivals. Fellow champions Dieter Braun and Johnny Cecotto were among those badly injured, in a scene of destruction strewn with straw bales and crashed bikes. But it was lesser-known Swiss rider Hans Stadelmann who died, when he ploughed into the wreckage with no warning from bewildered and utterly overwhelmed amateur marshals. The 500-class riders, led by Barry Sheene, staged a strike; and as a result marshalling standards were immediately improved, while the safety features (or their absence) became more of a talking point. It still took years, however, before the World Championship was confined to circuits with good run-off, quick ambulance access, and well-trained marshals. There is less now that needs changing, and these deathly memories underline the point of just how much safety standards have improved. If the biggest discussion after a high-profile crash is only about whether the marshals were fair or not, there is much for which to be thankful. CRASHES THAT CHANGED RACING In a couple of weeks, MotoGP Race Direction is to hold court at Estoril. On trial are the Jerez Clerk of the Course and those of his marshals who work at the Andalucian circuit’s first corner. Michael Scott backgrounds history-making bike crashes 34