Belfast Telegraph

Loose bolt 'caused bike racer's death'

By Michael McHugh

Top Irish motorcyclist Martin Finnegan was killed in a 100mph crash after his front brake failed because of a loose bolt, a coroner ruled today.

The 29-year-old father of one died at the Tandragee 100 while among the leading racers after his machine flipped on to a bank as he approached a corner.

The Belfast courtroom heard the vital part was not tight when the machine was examined following the accident.

Afterwards, his widow claimed racing authorities were not taking safety seriously enough.

"They are treating it like a hobby. If it is a professional sport, it should be treated in a professional way," Brenda Finnegan said.

The rider, from Rhencullen, Main Street, Lusk, near Dublin, was killed in May 2008 when 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.

Witnesses said they saw him fighting with the bike, which was shaking violently as it approached the bend.

Mr Finnegan was nicknamed the Flying Finn and was a former Manx Grand Prix winner who had been racing since 1997. He held the record for the fastest speed at the Isle of Man.

Mrs Finnegan said: "It has been an extremely difficult three-and-a-half years.

"I am happy with the outcome today, it is the outcome we were looking for and I am glad Martin has been completely exonerated. He did everything he could but unfortunately it was not enough.

"If the course safety had been different, he could have had a chance of surviving the crash."

Experts at the inquest agreed that if the victim did not suffer severe "tank slap" (involving the petrol container) then in all probability the cause of failure was the loose banjo bolt, forensic scientist Damien Coll said.

Although the part was loose upon examination after the crash, Martin Gallagher, chief mechanic of Millsport Racing for which Finnegan raced, said every bolt was checked before the race.

Senior coroner John Leckey said brake failure was the "sole catalyst" for the loss of control.

"Having carefully considered all the evidence in conjunction with the agreed position of the experts, I am able to conclude that, on the balance of probabilities, the loose banjo bolt was the cause of failure of the front brake," he said.

He added that the motorcycle struck a grass verge, catapulting the rider off the bike. He died at the scene.

Following the inquest, Mrs Finnegan said it was clear from the evidence of fellow racer Ryan Farquhar that at all times while her husband was in his view his riding was exemplary.

She added that the conclusion was inevitable that he did not suffer from tank slap leading to brake pad "knock back".

"The overwhelming conclusion therefore is that he lost his front braking power as a consequence of a loose banjo bolt on the braking system," she said.

"Unfortunately this was the only area of the course with no run-off to provide an escape route for Martin, despite being the fastest section of the course, further exacerbated by the fact that there were no safety measures in place such as airbags, which it is clear from the evidence would have afforded Martin a good chance of survival.

"Rerouting the course or providing airbags would have afforded an effective safety provision."

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