CORIANO, Italy (AP) — Thousands of fans filled the streets of Coriano in central Italy on Thursday to pay their final respects to MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli, whose funeral took place at the Church of Santa Maria Assunta.
The 24-year-old Simoncelli died of chest, head and neck injuries after he lost control of his Honda during Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.
Simoncelli's funeral was attended by his friends and family — his father, Paolo, his mother, Rossella, his sister, Martina — as well as stars of the sport, such as Valentino Rossi, Mattia Pasini, Jorge Lorenzo and Randy De Puniet.
"The night before your last race you said you wanted to win the Grand Prix, because there on the podium everyone could see you better," Bishop of Rimini, Francesco Lambiasi said. "Now it pains us not to be able to see you, but it gives us peace and so much joy to know that we are being looked down on by you from the highest podium of them all.
"I also want to sign the banner that says 'Marco, teach the angels to do wheelies'."
The hearse arrived at the church in the afternoon and was greeted with applause from thousands of people who had been gathering in the square outside the church since the morning. The square also was filled with balloons and banners bearing Simoncelli's number, 58.
Beside Simoncelli's coffin at the altar were two motorcycles — one that he rode to win the 250cc championship in 2008 and another used this season.
The funeral was broadcast live on big screens outside the church on various Italian TV stations and to more than 10,000 people gathered at the nearby Misano Adriatico circuit.
At the end of the service, seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi revved the engine of Simoncelli's Honda and then wheeled it out as a tribute to his close friend, to the sound of Vasco Rossi's "Siamo solo noi" — Simoncelli's favorite song.
Simoncelli was a rising star in the sport who, with his trademark mop of curly hair, was beloved by Italy's legions of motorcycle racing fans.
More than 10,000 fans had lined up in the rain Wednesday for a public viewing of his coffin in the city theater of his hometown.