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Page last updated at 06:10 GMT, Friday, 10 September 2010 07:10 UK

Matt Roberts' MotoGP column

Shoya Tomizawa
Shoya Tomizawa's tragic death at Misano has left the motorsport world stunned

By Matt Roberts
BBC MotoGP reporter

On stage in the centre of Misano last Thursday evening, a host of motorcycling world champions gathered to pay tribute to the late, great Daijiro Kato, who tragically lost his life following a crash at Suzuka in 2003.

The legendary Kevin Schwantz and Marco Lucchinelli were joined by current stars, including Bradley Smith, Julian Simon, Loris Capirossi, Marco Melandri and Valentino Rossi for 'Dedikato' - an annual charity fundraiser in celebration of the former MotoGP star, who lived in the area and has a street leading into the circuit named in his honour.

None of those who attended could have imagined that by Sunday evening they would be reflecting on the death of another comrade and another rising Japanese star, 19-year-old Shoya Tomizawa.

There was a time in grand prix motorcycle racing when death was an unspoken but accepted truth that the riders faced every time the flag dropped and they charged away from the line, winding through wooded forests, fizzing past ditches and skipping across tram lines.

For now, at least, we should reflect above all on the life of an outstanding young man and not the circumstances of his death

Nowadays, the huge run-off areas and air fencing at modern circuits and major advances in rider protection mean that in short circuit motor racing, at least, the worst-case scenario is a graciously rare one.

Indeed, until last Sunday there had not been a track fatality in MotoGP since Kato. Before that, the last in this championship was at Hockenheim in 1989, when Ivan Palazzese became the final passing of a dark era when tragedy was a regular occurrence.

Perhaps this is why the shock at the death of Tomizawa was felt all the more keenly at the Italian circuit on Sunday.

In some corners, however, disbelief quickly and distastefully turned to speculation and recrimination.

At a news conference held by race organisers to give details of the tragic incident and pay their respects to a colleague, a handful of journalists took to cross-examination and opinionative assertion.

There was justifiable questioning of the marshals, not least for seemingly dropping the stretcher in their haste to remove Tomizawa from the track.


Their actions were defended by race control doctor Claudio Machiagoddena, who explained that the rider needed to be taken back to the ambulance immediately to begin intensive care and that the marshals were rushing to save his life.

When asked why the red flag was not shown, race director Paul Butler explained that, once the stricken riders were removed from the track and undergoing treatment, there was no apparent need to stop the race in the name of safety.

One journalist asked safety officer Franco Uncini, who himself miraculously recovered from a coma after being struck by Wayne Gardner when lying stricken on the track at Assen in 1983, to clarify a reference he made to the technology of protective equipment.

Anybody unfortunate enough to have witnessed the collision between Tomizawa, Scott Redding and Alex de Angelis could see no amount of protective clothing could have made a difference to the Japanese rider. It did, of course, help conserve the lives of the other two.

Javier Alonso, of race organisers Dorna, was given the opinion of an Italian journalist, who believed that the MotoGP race should not have gone ahead.

Alonso explained that while they knew Tomizawa's condition was serious, the Japanese rider was not officially pronounced dead until 20 minutes after the MotoGP race had started. "We had to go on," stated Alonso.

Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi

MotoGP riders sombre after tragic day

Nicky Hayden later agreed. "I've always been taught you race and I think you do that out of respect," said the American, who lost his 10-year-old cousin Ethan Gillim in a dirt-track racing accident in 2007.

"It is tragic and we are motorcycle racers and it is what we do and it's our life. If it was me, I would want the show to go on."

The show will go on at Aragon, Spain, next week and thankfully it will count on the participation of Redding.

That the 17-year-old Briton is prepared to return to the track for a test at Valencia next Monday despite his mental scars and 12 stitches in his wounded back suggests he has courage to match his prodigious talent.

It is important, of course, that a full investigation takes place in the name of Tomizawa and of future safety but for now, at least, we should reflect above all on the life of an outstanding young man and not the circumstances of his death.

Tomizawa made his debut in the 250cc class on underpowered machinery in 2009 but the equality of the Moto2 field gave him his chance to shine in 2010.

And shine he duly did under the lights of Qatar, with a sensational victory in the first race for the new four-stroke prototype class.

With the spotlight on him, the Japanese won friends and admirers throughout the paddock and across the world not only with his stunning ability on a motorcycle - he took pole and a podium at Jerez and further poles at Assen and Brno - but also with his charming command of English, his sense of humour and his winning smile.

It is poignant that, throughout his short career, Tomizawa proudly wore the number 74 of his hero, Kato, on the shoulder of his leathers.

Now we are left to move on and carry the number 48 in our hearts.

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see also
Redding to race after fatal crash
09 Sep 10 |  MotoGP
Rossi leads tributes to Tomizawa
06 Sep 10 |  MotoGP
Moto2's Tomizawa dies after crash
05 Sep 10 |  MotoGP
Pedrosa wins on tragic MotoGP day
05 Sep 10 |  MotoGP
Matt Roberts' MotoGP column
01 Sep 10 |  MotoGP
Pedrosa secures Indianapolis win
29 Aug 10 |  MotoGP
Lorenzo claims Czech Grand Prix
15 Aug 10 |  MotoGP
Lorenzo secures US Grand Prix win
25 Jul 10 |  MotoGP
Pedrosa edges Lorenzo in Germany
18 Jul 10 |  MotoGP
Rossi makes superb track return
16 Jul 10 |  MotoGP
Matt Roberts' MotoGP Q&A
16 Jul 10 |  MotoGP
MotoGP standings
31 Oct 10 |  MotoGP
MotoGP on the BBC
15 Mar 11 |  MotoGP

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