Tragedy struck on the first day of racing at the Macau Grand Prix yesterday when Portuguese motorbike rider Luis Carreira died during qualifying.
The 35-year-old came off his Suzuki at Fisherman's Bend, one of the razor-sharp corners along the Guia circuit through the streets of Macau. His bike burst into flames and though Carreira was thrown clear, he lay motionless at the side of the track.
He was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead 20 minutes after arrival.
It was the second death of a motorbike rider in seven years at the track. It was also the second serious bike accident of the day, with Italian rider Stefano Bonetti in hospital last night after suffering multiple fractures when he crashed during qualifying.
Defending the safety record, Joao Manuel Costa Antunes, co-ordinator of the Macau Grand Prix committee, said: "In over 60 years of the Grand Prix, the record can be considered acceptable."
He added that compared to other sports, motorcycle racing was dangerous. "Those involved in motorsport and motorbikes know exactly what I'm saying," he said.
Carreira's accident immediately looked serious and observers feared the worst. The session was immediately halted and abandoned shortly afterwards.
Three hours later, after efforts to contact Carreira's family in Portugal and Africa, organisers confirmed the rumours that had spread around the track were true: Carreira was dead.
"No other rider was involved in the incident, which occurred at Fisherman's Bend," organisers said in a statement.
"The medical services, a fast-intervention vehicle, fully equipped, and an ambulance with two doctors in attendance, which had been located at the side of the accident, immediately went to the rider's aid, and as a result of the doctors' diagnosis, Mr Carreira was immediately evacuated by ambulance to the hospital.
"Continuous CPR was performed, however he succumbed to his injuries. The Macau Grand Prix committee has contacted the family and the members of the team, and the committee expresses its sincere condolences."
Organisers added that Carreira had died from the impact of his landing and that the Macau government would provide support for his family and pay for any costs involved.
Carreira, who raced for the Bennimoto Raider-Cetelem team, had been competing in motorbike racing since 1998 and was a multiple Portuguese championship winner and competitor in the Isle of Man TT. He was single and not believed to have had children.
He was an experienced Macau competitor, having taken part on six previous occasions.
The previous fatality at the track was French rider Bruno Bonhuil, who was killed during the motorbike race warm-up session in 2005. He was the first competitor to die since 1994 - although in 2000, a mainland tourist was killed when a car went off the track.
Road motorbike racing is perhaps the most dangerous motorsport there is. Macau's street track features extremely long straights, tight bends and narrow roads with few escape routes.
The tragedy overshadowed the rest of the day's racing, in which Carreira's compatriot Antonia Da Costa finished top of qualifying in the Formula 3 race to take provisional pole, setting a time of two minutes and 13.400 seconds with just 90 seconds of the session remaining. Felix Rosenqvist (2:13.420) was second and Da Costa's Carlin and Red Bull Junior Team teammate Carlos Sainz Jnr third (2:13.421).