A temporary front-brake failure is likely to blame for the death of an experienced teenage motorcycle enthusiast who slammed head-first into a raceway tyre wall barrier at high speed.
Experienced motorcycle rider Cameron Peter Jones, 19, was completing a warmup lap of the Timaru International Motor Raceway, often referred to as Levels Raceway, on January 15, 2012. He lost control of his bike, left the track and hit a tyre barrier.
Jones suffered a severe traumatic brain injury on impact, and did not regain consciousness before he died in the intensive care unit of Christchurch Hospital on February 10.
In a decision released today, Coroner Richard McElrea said it was likely Jones experienced an initial front-brake failure at the relevant point of approach to the corner. Jones then applied his rear brake - resulting in instability and "fishtailing".
Travelling between 230kmh and 250kmh, Jones failed to control the motorcycle as it entered a left-hand bend.
Jones slid over a wet grass surface with little or no frictional resistance after leaving the track, which would have increased his speed, the coroner found.
Jones appeared to have become separated from the motorcycle at a distance of at least 35 metres from the tyre barrier, the coroner said.
"The bike and the rider separately hit the tyre wall at a distance of some 73 metres from the point the motorcycle left the track.
"The likely cause of the loss of control of the motorcycle was a temporary front-brake failure," the coroner said.
An experienced rider who was following Jones said he did not appear to slow down fast enough to turn the corner. He saw Jones use his rear brake to slow the bike, which resulted in the rear wheel locking.
Another attempt to slow the bike using the rear brake whilst on the grass resulted in the rear wheel skidding out and Jones being thrown from the bike violently. The bike cleared the gravel trap which was in place to slow vehicles before the tyre wall on the outside of the track.
"I believe he was still travelling at approximately 70kmh when he hit the tyre wall," the rider, who is also an airline pilot, said.
"Cameron was travelling with enough force to hit and bounce back from the tyre wall."
The motorcycle was held and inspected after the crash, but the vehicle inspector was not able to fully test the brakes due to damage sustained in the crash.
The coroner said there were lessons to be learnt from the young man's tragic death.
Improved technology resulting in greater motorcycle speeds had not been matched by improved safety features at the corner of the raceway in question, he found.
The relevant gravel bed at the raceway has since been extended in length and width by an additional 50 per cent, and has also been made deeper.
Large bags of empty plastic containers would be placed in front of the barrier in addition to a new tyre wall to absorb impact injury.
The provision of air fences - which would cost more than $10,000 per event for placement of a section of 100m to 200m of temporary air fence - was raised in the decision.
Cameron's father, Peter Jones, said at a pre-inquest meeting that the cost of keeping his son in hospital for 26 days after the crash "would have brought all the [temporary air] fences ... for that circuit, forever."
The coroner recommended consideration and possible implementation of fundraising to provide an air fence for use at the corner in question when the track is being used for motorcycle racing.
Further safety measures, adequate maintenance of the gravel bed, and policies for maximising frictional resistance of any grass surface were also recommended.