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3 days ago
By Matthew Birt

Respect wins out

Matthew Birt reflects on a difficult weekend in Catalunya the tragic loss of Luis Salom still looming in the minds of many.

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

The tragic loss of Luis Salom in a practice crash at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya was a painful reminder of why sometimes I hate the sport I truly love.

Motorcycle racing is a dangerous sport and no matter what steps are taken to make it as safe as possible, you can never completely eradicate the risks.

It is the danger that lurks around every corner, managing the risk and the thrill of the chase that makes the sport such an adrenaline rush for the riders.

And it is why when you talk to any of them that they can’t find a single experience they’ve tried in life that comes close to matching the buzz of racing. Base jumping, wing walking and white water rafting can’t come close to the exhilaration of slipstreaming at close to 220mph or scrubbing your knee and elbow on the ground at close to 150mph.

Every single lap of every single session of every single race, they are on the limit in pursuit of milliseconds that can mean the difference between the front or the fifth row or the podium and no points.

And all of the time they acknowledge they may pay the ultimate price in pursuit of their dreams. They don’t think about the risks they expose themselves to and they want to talk about it even less. “It won’t be me.” That’s the attitude, because if they thought too much about the risks and death, then they wouldn’t be the adrenaline junkies we admire that they are.

I’m sure that was Salom’s perspective before his untimely death.

Mercifully, fatal accidents are rare events in the MotoGP™ World Championship. Four have occurred in my time in the paddock since 1996 and just like in the aftermath of Kato, Tomizawa and Simoncelli, how safety improvements can be facilitated will be examined in microscopic detail.

Suzuka was banished from the calendar after Kato’s accident in 2003. Rider equipment has been analysed in great depth after Tomizawa and Simoncelli perished after being hit by pursuing motorcycles.

And now there will be a thorough examination on how best to avoid anything like what happened to Salom being repeated at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

With the full blessing of the Salom family, the race weekend continued. There was little time for Salom’s passing to fully sink in. There was little time for reflection and little time for the grieving process to begin.

As difficult as it was, particularly for the riders, it felt right for the show to go on.

Moto2™ World Champion Johann Zarco delivered a heartfelt and eloquent case for continuing after his pole position.

Salom was a racer, a young man who had sacrificed most of his life to his passion and who had dedicated himself to being the best he could be on two wheels. The best way to remember him was to race on and once again the MotoGP™ paddock came together in one its darkest hours to show the world what unity, respect and dignity is all about.

There was an impeccably observed silence and powerful and moving tribute to Salom on the grid before the races started on Sunday.

Every rider that finished on the podium wore a special tribute T-shirt to Salom and of all the very personal tributes, none were more poignant than the touching gesture made by Marc Marquez when he reversed his number 93 to Salom’s number 39.

The emotions were still raw on Sunday but three fascinating and incident-packed races quickly reminded us again all why we love MotoGP™ so much.

All were a fitting tribute to the Spaniard. I am sure he was looking down with that infectious smile appreciating the way his grief stricken colleagues honoured his memory in the best possible way.

It was also heart warming when so many hearts had been broken to see Valentino Rossi and Marquez shake hands in Parc Ferme after their epic Barcelona battle.

The very public meltdown in their relationship last October in Sepang has been one the most acrimonious fallouts I can recall. Reconciliation seemed unthinkable but the passing of Salom showed that some good could come out of tragedy.

It was the appropriate time for respect to win over rivalry.

I will fondly remember Salom as a fearsome competitor who wasn’t afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve.

I recall many passionate displays of emotion that I loved because it showed what racing and being successful meant to him.

It is a testament to his talent that he remains the most successful Moto3™ rider in history with nine wins.

Six of those were won by less than two-tenths-of-a-second and it was hard to find a rider who was more fearless, tactically astute and clinical on the last lap in 2013.

He was an incredibly charming and engaging character who was always approachable for his fans.

What happened after Salom’s accident on Friday made me immensely proud to be part of the close-knit MotoGP™ family. It’s so hard to comprehend we will never see one the most popular members of that family again.

RIP Luis Salom. You’ll be greatly missed.