LONDON // MotoGP is looking to develop improved body protection for riders to help them survive the kind of accident that has killed two teenagers on successive race weekends. Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa, 19, a rising talent who won this year's first Moto2 race, died in yesterday's San Marino Grand Prix after he fell and was hit at around 240kph by other riders close behind. Only a week before, American Peter Lenz, 13, had died in similar circumstances in a support race at the Indianapolis Grand Prix.
"We can say that what happened was nothing to do with safety," the MotoGP safety delegate Franco Uncini told a news conference after the accident at Misano left the sport in mourning. "These kinds of injuries unfortunately could happen at any time. "With the technology we have at this moment it's very difficult to solve this problem but we are trying to work on this and trying to have something that in the future will help us have less damage in this kind of incident."
"We are waiting on somebody who is working to solve this kind of problem with the impact," added the former world champion. "We know that somebody is starting research in this kind of area. At the moment, we are not ready yet. We think that with our experience and their experience, we'll work together to try and improve in this area in the future in the very near future." Falls and crashes are part of motorcycling, with leather-clad riders frequently escaping unscathed from the most spectacular spills.
The spine and back protectors, knee-blocks and helmets offer a degree of protection while circuits have been made safer, with more tarmac run-off areas and artificial grass alongside the circuits. However, the Australian former champion Casey Stoner suggested the increased safety measures were also creating a worrying mindset. "The extra tarmac gives everybody an invincible feeling that they can run-off and come straight back on," he told Australian media.
"It is ridiculous, riders become too confident and without fear they ride with too much confidence and things like this can happen." Fatalities, at least at purpose-designed circuits with modern medical facilities, are still rare compared to events like the Isle of Man TT races which are run on public roads. Two British amateur riders died at last week's Manx Grand Prix, taking the overall tally of deaths on the island circuit to 229 since the first race in 1907, with little media attention.
Circuits can be made safer but accidents will happen and when they do, riders cannot count on the roll cages and carbon fibre survival cells that protect rally drivers and Formula One racers. "Today was a sad reminder that racing remains dangerous despite all improvements in track safety," said the Suter chief executive Eskil Suter, whose machine was being raced by Tomizawa. "This is the worst thing that can happen in our sport you crash, you remain on the line, and other bikes are right behind," said Italy's MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi.
"At 230 kph, when another bike crashes in front, there's nothing you can do," added the Yamaha rider. The last rider to be killed in a MotoGP race was also a Japanese, Daijiro Kato, at his home grand prix at Suzuka in 2003. On that occasion, the circuit was blamed and MotoGP has not been back since. By a strange coincidence, Misano was Kato's home town in Europe with a street named after him there. It was also where the triple 500cc world champion Wayne Rainey broke his spine in a crash that left him paralysed from the chest down in 1993.