Franco and I often joke around on what I still today call the rabbit run. Without any reference to courage, of course, but only to the image of the animal that, when frightened, first stops and then sprints towards safety.
‘Franco’ is Uncini of course, who I’m honored to be friends with, since we met on the Vallelunga track during the glory days of the derivatives when he, 50 kilos with his suit on, helmet, and boots, rode a heavy Laverda SFC before switching to Spaggiari’s Ducati SS.
Franco Uncini, in my memory, is the only one to have emerged unscathed from an accident that, for motorcyclists, is fatal in 99% of cases: being run over by another rider.
His encounter with destiny took place on the old Assen circuit on June 25th, 1983. He lost control of his Suzuki 500, rolled to the ground, was run over, and hit in the head with such violence that his helmet flew off. I remember the scene because we were there, my colleagues Carlo Canzano and Carlo Florenzano Terenzi, and I. That’s when we were really friends with riders.
The frames of the accident clearly show what happened: most of the riders avoided Franco and dodged him to the right, a rookie, certainly Wayne Gardner –at his first Grand Prix riding a Honda Britain Honda NS500 – chose to go left instead.
We still joke about what happened with Uncini, who’s friends with Wayne now (even if Franco has never forgiven him), but the reality if it is... it was a miracle. After having been brought to the hospital in Groningen in a coma, the rider from Recanati lay comatose for almost a week. We left him there because, the following week, they were racing at Francorchamps. Franco then came out of the coma, so we went back to Holland – I was in the car with GB Marcheggiani, who was a Corriere dello Sport correspondent at the time – and then to Italy with a scheduled flight, and Franco locked in a bunk going a bit crazy. Usually a reserved person, he was, let’s say… not entirely himself. And I think I’ll stop here.
Franco Uncini was lucky, very lucky. He was even abel to get back on the bike by the end of the year, in Vallelunga, during a return orchestrated by Maurizio Flammini. This allows me to say that he has a hard head because, when things go well, we can joke about our great love for speed, but, unfortunately, not all fairy tales have a happy ending.
I’m going by heart here, starting from Monza in 1973, where Jarno Saarinen and Renzo Pasolini perished and, a few weeks later, in a junior competition, Galtrucco, Chionio, and Colombini. In 1977, in another multiple accident, in which Stadelmann lost his life, Uncini was saved by a young Claudio Costa, where Dieter Braun, Patrick Fernandez, and Johnny Cecotto were also involved.
Now let’s go forward in time: Silverstone 1980. Patrick Pons died, hit by his friend Michel Rougerie who, in turn, was run over and killed by Roger Sibille the following year in Rijeka, Yugoslavia. In 1989, Ivan Palazzese was run over by Preining and lost his life in Hockenheim.
More recently, in 2010, Tomizawa was run over in Misano by De Angelis and Redding and, about Marco Simoncelli’s accident, which involved Valentino Rossi and Colin Edwards, rivers of ink have been written.
All this to say that little can be done against these types of accidents. Since the 1970s, enormous progress has been made in safety, and not just regarding the circuits. Clothing, helmets, training make today’s riders more prepared. Yet, against these dynamics, nothing can be done.
I was chatting today with Luca Cadalora: “With the Superpole, you can avoid accidents in qualifying, but then there’s nothing you can do during the race.”
You can fall, and your friend behind you can run you over. But you never have a chance with speed, combined with weight, even if it’s light like a Moto3. And experience has little to do with it.
Even today, Franco will tell you that Gardner was wrong to look for space on the left, but the bike was in the middle of the track to the right.
And his view was certainly not clear. Fractions of a second. Instinctive decisions, more than reasoning. Luck.
Every rider thinks that it’ll never happen to him. But there is no parachute for this kind of accident. And it doesn’t exist, and not because no one has ever thought it through. Just think about it: absolute safety, in speed as in life, doesn’t exist.