The year 2011 is a year that will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons in the world of motorcycle sport.
The past 12 months will not be remembered for Casey Stoner’s dominance of the MotoGP class or the swansong for the 800cc era. It won’t be remembered for Carlos Checa defying Ducati’s decision to pull factory support from World Superbikes to take the WSB title and it won’t be remembered for Tommy Hill winning a thrilling BSB championship by just six thousandths of a second. Instead, it will be remembered for the loss of one of motorsport’s brightest stars.
On 23 October 2011 in Malaysia, Simoncelli lost traction at turn eleven of the Sepang International Circuit and was unavoidably struck in the head by the bikes of Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi. Despite being rushed to hospital, the 24-year-old was pronounced dead at 16:56 local time.
It was a tragedy that shook the world of motorsport to its core – coming just a matter of days after British driver Dan Wheldon died in an Indy car race in Las Vegas.
The tragedy robbed the sport of what was undoubtedly its brightest talent. Even as someone whose physique was arguably not suited for MotoGP, for many, Simoncelli was a bright point in a largely stale race series and someone who was destined to be a champion.
Amid the grief surrounding the tragic death of Simoncelli, it was often overlooked that motorcycle racing lost other, bright young talents in 2011.
In August, 18-year-old Ben Gautrey died following an accident during the Metzeler National Superstock 600 race at Cadwell Park and at the Isle of Man TT, there was further tragedy as four competitors lost their lives on the gruelling course.
Tony Cook, a veteran rider at 75 years of age, supersport rider Derek Brien and sidecar partners Bill Currie and Kevin Morgan all passed away at the TT.
In the end, there was little to write home about in the world of MotoGP beyond the loss of Simoncelli, as Casey Stoner dominated the championship from start to finish to claim his second world title.
The Aussie, on his first season with Repsol Honda, recorded ten race wins from a possible 17 on his procession to the title, as Honda focused their efforts on recording their first and last championship of the 800cc era.
But once again, cost pressures took their toll on their sport as Suzuki confirmed speculation that they would withdraw from the championship, forcing Alvaro Bautista to take Simoncelli’s seat at Gresini Honda.
In World Superbikes, Ducati’s decision to withdraw all support for the series didn’t seem to affect Spanish veteran Carlos Checa, who dominated the series on his satellite Ducati with 15 wins from 26 races, putting him 110 points clear of runner-up Marco Melandri.
But if Suzuki’s withdrawal from MotoGP was largely expected, thanks to poor results and financial pressures, Yamaha’s announcement that it would be quitting WSB was a bolt from the blue. Whilst the manufacturer had struggled to find sponsors for both its MotoGP and WSB, the announcement that the series would lose one of its leading teams was a bitter blow.
But if things were predictable in MotoGP and WSB, they were anything but in the British Superbike Championship.
It was a season in which momentum was consistently swinging between three riders, Hill, John Hopkins and Shayne Byrne, with each of them being affected by injuries and retirements at some point during the season, whilst the likes of Josh Brookes and Michael Laverty remained in the hunt as the season entered the final weekend at Brands Hatch.
In the end, it came down to the final race and the final sixth thousandths of a second, as Hill pipped Hopkins to second place to take the championship by just two points.