Bird strike unlikely cause of Locatelli crash

Published: 27 March 2007

Investigations into the horror crash that left former world 125 champion Roberto Locatelli seriously injured at last weekend’s Spanish GP have ruled out a bird strike as a possible cause.

Extensive studies of video footage of the incident at Jerez have proven ‘inconclusive’, according to MotoGP Race Director Paul Butler.

Butler ruled out the bird strike theory after it emerged high definition footage of the incident in Saturday’s second 250 free practice session apparently showed Locatelli striking an object before he suddenly veered off track to smash head on into a tyre wall.

Butler told MCN: “I didn’t see that and I couldn’t see it from where I was in terms of the video footage we’d got. All you could see was his left foot was off the footrest. Somebody saw some high definition video – the same shot – but on a different screen that indicated there might have been a bird struck him on the leg but I didn’t see it myself and I couldn’t see it on the screens that I had available. As many times as you run the video footage you can’t come to any clear conclusion.”

Butler confirmed to MCN that Hannspree Honda rider Toni Elias – who finished fourth in Sunday’s Spanish GP – had struck a bird during the MotoGP free practice session held shortly before Locatelli’s crash occurred.

“There was a bird strike earlier on Saturday with Elias but on a different part of the track, so you could say there were birds about, no doubt about that. We actually had a partridge squatting by the track at one stage during the event. But if it was a bird that struck him I wouldn’t have thought it would have caused him to veer left as sharply as he did, “said Butler, who said there was no evidence of a bird strike in the wreckage of Locatelli’s bike.

“There were no feathers or anything that remained in the wreck and Technical Director Mike Webb did a thorough examination of the wreck. Obviously it is very, very hard to deduce what is cause and what is consequence because the whole of the left side of the bike was pretty much wiped out anyway, “added Butler.

Butler said he had never seen anything like Locatelli’s crash in a motorsport career spanning nearly 40 years.

Puzzling to Butler and Locatelli’s Gilera squad is that that he made no attempt to avoid accident with data showing he didn’t try and counter steer and no brake pressure was applied.

Butler said: “It’s really strange. Dr (Claudio) Costa has got a theory that the trauma of the ankle could have been caused by the foot getting trapped under the bike, and subsequently that could have caused him to lose control. But I very much doubt that because in my experience with riders they can suffer horrendous injuries and still don’t lose the ability to ride or steer. It’s inexplicable. The only conclusion really is that we have top hope that Roberto will be able to tell us what happened. The trajectory was totally unusual and I have never seen anything like that before. The initial thought was that something had locked up or a handlebar had broken because you normally react vigorously to regain control. I suppose a footrest or handlebar breaking would be enough, but even then the whole body language was strange. You can’t possibly tell from the fact that there is a lack of a footrest and a lack of a handlebar whether it happened before or after. They looked like consequences of the accident. It was like he was almost unconscious. That’s a dramatic way of putting it but there was no obvious body language of any resistance to the sudden change of trajectory which is sort of odd.”

Butler said there was nothing to suggest that Locatelli had blacked out moments before he lost control after lengthy discussions with doctors from the Clinica Mobile and Jerez circuit medical centre.

He added: “There is nothing to suggest that at all, absolutely not.”

The crash left the Gilera rider with serious multiple injuries including a compound fracture to his left ankle and severe facial injuries that will require major reconstructive surgery.

Data meticulously studied by his Gilera crew showed no evidence of mechanical failure, though data-logging confirmed Locatelli was doing 86.99mph when he inexplicably veered off track as he accelerated towards the Alex Criville Corner.

He hit the trackside tyre wall with such velocity that he was bounced back onto the track.

Locatelli is due to return to Italy today.