A motorcyclist was killed during a road race after misjudging a corner by inches while travelling at 140mph, an inquest heard today.
Lee Vernon, 24, from Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, clipped a verge and was catapulted head-first 12ft in the air. He landed in a field and died later in hospital.
The experienced sportsman was competing in the Ulster Grand Prix 150 Superbike race at Dundrod, Co Antrim, in August last year.
Senior coroner John Leckey said: “It seems to me that this was just a misjudgment involving inches.”
He told Belfast Coroner’s Court: “Because of the racing line he went into the corner on, he clipped the back of the bank and that was the sole reason for the loss of control.”
The mechanic was from Sherwood Road in the English West Midlands town.
His father Robert said: “Lee was a lovely lad, everyone who knew him loved him. He was a thoughtful, thinking rider who would not push beyond his capability, he would never make a dangerous move.”
His son had been racing since 2006, competing at the Dundrod road race several times. He was on lap four of the event at the Ulster Grand Prix meeting when he came off at a corner known as Rock Bends near Lisburn. No other rider was involved.
Race marshal Jimmy McKeown said Mr Vernon’s foot rest struck the bank.
“I saw him rise into the air, fly from the vehicle on to the opposite side of the road,” he recalled.
“He did not get a chance to correct himself, he was completely free from the bike and flew through the air.”
Another marshal, Stephen Blair, said he leaned over too far and it would have been very difficult to correct. He observed him somersaulting at up to 12ft high before landing in a field of reeds beside and below the track.
By the time a doctor reached him, seconds after the accident, he was deeply unconscious and lying face down. The sportsman was treated at the Royal Victoria Hospital in West Belfast but was brain dead and doctors had to turn off the life support machine, an intensive care medic said.
Mr Leckey said: “Whilst all the stops were pulled out, the severity of the injuries, particularly to the head, were not survivable.”
His organs were donated, potentially saving four people’s lives.
Rival Daniel Cooper, who said he reached speeds of almost 190mph during parts of races, was on the bike behind Mr Vernon.
“When you are racing nose-to-tail, you can be a matter of a foot off line and that is enough to get it wrong... you can get it wrong by a split-second and that is enough,” he said.
He added the fastest sections of tracks were often the hardest and because of the bank on the inside bend where the accident happened, the visibility was not very good.
Work had been carried out by event organisers to make the corner safer, including removing a bank on the opposite side.
Racing expert James Courtney said many bales had been placed along the course to try to protect riders. The inquest heard that Mr Vernon appeared to clip a bale but it did not prevent him from flying into the air.
Mr Courtney said the rate at which bikes accelerate had increased in recent years.
“There is no rider that has not misjudged a corner or a line slightly at any stage of their careers,” he added.
“It is just unfortunately one of those things, in racing that happens.”
The coroner said Mr Vernon died from multiple injuries sustained while competing in the Dundrod 150 Superbike race.