Thousands gathered in the rain to pay respect to Marco Simoncelli, a rising star in MotoGP, during a public viewing at the city theatre of his hometown of Coriano.

With his funeral scheduled for Thursday, two motorcycles were placed next to his body: the one he used to win the 250cc championship three years ago, and the one he rode this season.

Many MotoGP fans are still in shock after Simoncelli's tragic death on Sunday at the 2011 Malaysian motorcycle Grand Prix in Sepang, near Kuala Lumpur. The 24-year-old Italian crashed after being hit by two other riders, and was then sent to the local medical center where he was pronounced dead 45 minutes later of chest, head and neck injuries.

Simoncelli was motionless on the track following the collision, and his helmet had come off.

Simoncelli lost control of his Honda early in the race. At Turn 11, just four minutes into the race, his bike regained partial grip and swerved across the track, where he ended up in the path of Italian racer Valentino Rossi and American Colin Edwards.

The question that many are wondering is: could the crash have been prevented? To many in the sport, the answer is no.

I think we've done plenty for safety and we are very satisfied, said Franco Uncini, the MotoGP riders' safety representative, in a recent radio interview. Unfortunately in our hands we don't have the power to change fate. When it comes, there's nothing we can do. We must accept what comes defenselessly. Nothing else can be done.

There was an abundance of safety there, the circuit is perfectly inside the limits of safety as per our requests. What happened was a crash like many others. The only problem is that the bikes were close to one another so two other riders arrived and hit Marco's head and neck. That's what made the crash so dramatic.

Uncini was an admirer of Simoncelli, and said the racer made important contributions to the MotoGP safety commission.

On top of being an exceptional rider, he was an exceptional character, funny, friendly, and intelligent too, he said.

Simoncelli's death was the first in MotoGP since Daijiro Katoh died from injuries in April 2003 at the Japanese Grand Prix. Japanese teenager Shoya Tomizawa died after crashing in a Moto2 race at San Marino in September 2010.

The number of racing deaths in MotoGP is at 47 since its founding in 1949.

Here is a look at Simoncelli's accident (Warning: Video is graphic)