Safety funding for road racing is ‘testament to Malachi’s legacy’

Malachi Mitchell-Thomas in action in the Supertwins race at the North West 200.

Malachi Mitchell-Thomas in action in the Supertwins race at the North West 200.

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Malachi Mitchell-Thomas’s father Kevin says government funding of £500,000 made available for motorsport safety improvements in 2017 is a testament to his son’s legacy.

The up and coming 20-year-old was tragically killed in a crash at the North West 200 last year, which led to the abandonment of the event on a desperately sad day for motorcycle racing.

Mitchell-Thomas had taken the road racing scene by storm after clinching a treble on his debut between the hedges at the Mid Antrim 150.

He showed it was no flash in the pan with a brilliant ride to fourth place in the opening Supersport race at the North West on John Burrows’ Honda, but just when it seemed a star had been born, the bubbly young-gun from Chorley in Lancashire saw his life cruelly cut short after he came off in the main Supertwins race.

In October, it was revealed that the North West would benefit to the tune of £124,000 from the Northern Ireland Executive to enhance safety.

In total, half-a-million pounds has been earmarked for events including the Ulster Grand Prix and Armoy road races, plus short circuit tracks at Bishopscourt and Nutt’s Corner as well as the Motor Racing Association and the NI Karting Association. The Department is also providing £40,000 to improve disabled access at the Ulster GP this year.

In an exclusive interview with the News Letter, Malachi’s father Kevin said the investment was a small crumb of comfort following his son’s fatal accident last May.

“Regarding the legacy Malachi has left, there’s an obvious one in the half million pounds apparently made available from government, triggered by his passing – according to the press – but more than that I hope he’s remembered for being a properly decent, polite young man,” he said.

“It would be irresponsible of me to comment on how best to spend the money made available to the North West 200 to increase safety. Road racing is inherently dangerous – the riders and teams and organisers all know this – but it’s also the aspect that makes it so compelling to watch, and thrilling to be a part of.

“Straw-baling the ‘furniture’ and correct placement of safety airbags is the most advanced method I know of that is being used for safety, and having more of this method of protection can never be a bad thing.

“But I assume they are already in use in areas of tracks deemed to be accident black spots, so I really don’t know how best to send the money. But I am glad it’s there to hopefully increase the safety, no matter how slight.”

Malachi crashed at the fast right-hander on the exit of Dhu Varren, where Ryan Farquhar was seriously injured in a crash during the first Supertwins race on the Thursday night of race week, with Dan Cooper also caught up in the incident.

However, Mr Thomas said his son never reported any issues at that particular section of the 8.9-mile Triangle course.

“Dhu Varren saw a big crash with Ryan and ‘Coops’ two days before Mal’s crash, but Malachi never came back in complaining about that part of the track – it hadn’t spooked him.

“The only thing he said to me was that when the sun was low later in the day, it was difficult to pick up the correct racing line as he was trying to thread a needle between a grid and a kerb which were very close together, but it’s my understanding that’s not exactly where the crash happened and it wasn’t late in the day anyway.

“You can’t blame camber or surface and assume it’s the fault of the track because it’s the same for everyone. And surely the art of road racing is riding to the conditions: if you improve the surface or camber of a corner you also increase the speed riders will attack it with.

“Does that increase safety? I think it probably evens itself out.”

Mr Thomas is due to remain involved in the sport this season with the Halsall Racing Team.

Ballymoney’s William Dunlop has joined Martin Halsall’s team for the major road races in 2017 plus selected Irish national events.