The death of Moto2 rider Luis Salom left the MotoGP world reeling. The 24-year-old had been a prominent member of the community even before he joined its ranks, as one of the leading riders in the inaugural Red Bull Rookies Cup.
Luis Salom, riding competitively from the age of eight, was in some ways typical of the current generation of Spanish riders, dedicated and determined. But compared to some more privileged compatriots, he had to fight to gain high-level support. He was also a unique character; he had an often sombre mien, and was openly emotional in victory and defeat. This was reflected in the strength of the emotion he left behind him, after his sudden and violent departure.
Luis Salom was born in Palma de Mallorca on 7 August 1991, and moved rapidly through the junior ranks of Spanish racing to become an obvious choice for the newly formed Red Bull Rookies Cup in 2007, winning a race in his first year and finishing runner-up in 2008, just four points adrift of American JD Beach.
His first GP in 2009 was in the 125 class at Jerez, as a wildcard for the same SAG team for whom he was riding in 2016. For the last 10 rounds, he was taken into the Jack & Jones team to replace a defecting Simone Corsi, with a best of sixth at Donington Park.
A chequered 2010 saw him switch teams from Lambretta to Aprilia, with a best of fifth at Estoril among nine top 10 finishes. He was 12th that year, eighth the next, and in 2012 in the new Moto3 class, riding a Kalex-KTM, Salom finished a distant second overall to Sandro Cortese, claiming his first GP win at Indianapolis, and adding one more at Aragon.
His fighting style earned him a place in the factory-backed Red Bull KTM team for 2013. He won seven races in his best season, but his bad luck struck again. He was leading the championship until the last round at Valencia, in spite of scoring zero points the previous race at Motegi, where he was knocked flying by former teammate Isaac Viñales. He was fighting for the lead in the final showdown when he slipped off, remounting to score just two points while Maverick Viñales narrowly defeated Alex Rins for the crown.
Salom moved to Moto2 in 2014. He made the podium twice in his first year, but struggled more in 2015, still taking eight top-10 finishes. This year, back with the SAG team, he finished an emotional second in the first round at Qatar, but again battled to find consistency, with a best of ninth along with four more finishes in the points.
Among many messages of condolence, one of the most moving was from his former Red Bull Moto3 team, Ajo Motorsport, ending simply: “Rest in peace, ‘Mexicano’, we will never forget you.” One of the most apposite was from Cal Crutchlow: “Our sport is the best sport in the world, but can be so very cruel sometimes.”
Luis Salom’s Crash was a typical, in that it happened at a corner where falls are uncommon. More than that, it was a freak accident. His trajectory was beyond any predictions, well wide of the usual line. As a result, he passed narrowly to the left of a gravel trap that might have slowed him down and saved his life.
Instead, his bike continued at high speed across a paved area, in place in the interest of Formula 1. It struck the air fence, and bounced back … but before it had come to rest the sliding rider arrived at barely reduced speed. Salom ploughed into his own bike and sustained the injuries that – in spite of commendably prompt and sustained medical intervention – would prove fatal.
A statement from the medical team explained that he had suffered cardiac arrest in the impact. Trackside treatment lasting 18 minutes included intubation and CPR while the medical helicopter landed at the scene, before it was decided to transfer him to Hospital General de Catalunya by ambulance.
Emergency surgery failed to revive him, and he was declared dead shortly before 5pm, almost an hour and a half after the crash. Salom is the first grand prix rider to die in almost five years. The last victim was Marco Simoncelli in 2011; the previous had been Moto2 race winner Shoya Tomizawa in 2010, and prior to that Daijiro Katoh in 2003.
Luis Salom crashed on an out lap, and was not the only rider to do so on a track that was deemed more slippery than usual. Marc Márquez also fell, as did Héctor Barberá and Franco Morbidelli.