Belfast Telegraph

Motorbike racer Martin Finnegan killed by failing brake

By Patrice Dougan

Motorbike racer Martin Finnegan crashed to his death after the front brake of the bike he was racing failed, a court has heard.

A loose bolt and a racing technical fault known as 'knock-back' have been given as possible causes for the failure.

The Dublin-born motorcyclist was killed instantly when his bike flipped onto a bank at the Tandragee 100 race in May 2008.

An inquest into his death yesterday, attended by his parents and wife Brenda, heard how his front brake failed as he approached a sharp bend, known as Marlacoo Corner, sending him careering into the bank during the second lap of the Supersport 600 race.

Eye-witnesses described how they saw him fighting with the bike, which was shaking violently, as he approached the bend at a speed of around 140mph.

In DVD footage he can be seen pumping his front brake as he steers the bike left in an attempt to take the corner at a wider berth, before his back wheel hits a bump in the road flipping him and the bike into a bank.

Finnegan (29) had been racing for over 10 years and had earlier won the open race at the Tandragee event on a brand new Yamaha R6 600cc bike.

The bike had been purchased in January and it was only the second time he had taken it out for a competitive race.

Yesterday the Belfast court heard how a dispute has arisen over what caused the brake on the bike to fail. A banjo bolt was found to be loose when the bike was examined after the fatal crash.

But mechanics denied they had failed to properly ensure the bike was safe before allowing Finnegan to ride.

They put the brake failure down to a racing problem known as 'knock back', where the brake pads stick and do not work properly when the brake is applied.

Martin Gallagher, chief mechanic with the Millsport Racing Team which Finnegan raced for, told the court that every bolt was checked before the race.

Talking specifically about the banjo bolt, he said: "When the race began I would say the banjo bolt was where it should be."

Later he said: "I know it was sufficiently tightened. I checked it with a spanner check (before the race)."

The bike was also checked by the race scrutineers.

Terry Patterson, the scrutineer who checked Mr Finnegan's bike, agreed all the bolts were tight and said the "only logical explanation" was 'knock back'.

But racer Ryan Farquhar, who was behind Finnegan when he crashed, expressed doubt over the 'knock back' theory, saying he had "never experienced" the phenomenon in over 500 races.

The Dungannon road racing champion described how he saw Finnegan get into difficulty before crashing. "I saw smoke coming from Martin's bike," he recalled. "I thought it had blown up. I saw him fight with it because it was shaking badly."

The inquest continues.

BACKGROUND

Martin Finnegan (29) was a Dublin-born motorcycle racer who died at the Tandragee 100 race on May 3, 2008. Nicknamed 'Flying Finn', he was a former Manx Grand Prix winner who had been racing since 1997. A winner of 43 Irish road races, he became a record breaker in 2005 as the fastest Irishman to lap the Isle of Man TT course at over 127 mph. He was competing in the Supersport 600 race when he crashed into a bank on the Drumnamether Road, Tandragee. Three spectators were hurt in the incident. A married father-of-one, his funeral was attended by 10,000 mourners.

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