Macau Grand Prix: Daniel Hegarty death looms one year on as motorcycle safety concerns persist

  • Sunday is one-year anniversary of Daniel Hegarty’s death
  • Three riders taken to hospital after crashes this week
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 8:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 November, 2018, 8:00am

Daniel Hegarty should have been lining up on the grid for Saturday’s Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix at the Guia Circuit.

But he was not in Macau. Instead, family, friends and loved ones have been leaving messages on his Facebook page all week.

“A year today since I last seen you,” wrote his brother Joe Hegarty earlier this week.

It was Joe who had to set up a page for Daniel’s children, because a life insurance company initially refused to pay out.

Macau Grand Prix 2018: Ben Wylie in hospital as motorcycle crash ends race early with Peter Hickman declared winner

Tragedy struck a year ago today when 31-year-old Hegarty hit a barrier at the notorious Fishermen’s Bend during the sixth of 12 scheduled laps.

Replayed footage showed the British rider laying motionless on the track, with debris around him. He died from his injuries en route to Conde S. Januario General Hospital.

Three other riders were taken to the same hospital this week after coming off their bikes – two in Thursday’s first practice session, and one after two riders crashed in Saturday’s race at the same section of the track as Hegarty.

Macau Grand Prix 2018: Andrew Dudgeon fractures spine and Raul Torras suffers head injury in motorcycle practice crashes

Peter Hickman was declared the race winner after just eight of 12 scheduled laps, with Ben Wylie transferred to the emergency room after injuring his shoulder, while Philip Crowe got away with just a check-up.

“Fingers crossed the riders involved are all OK,” Hickman said on the podium. “That’s the main thing to be honest.”

The scheduled one-hour practice session on Thursday had to be called off after just 15 minutes, with Britain’s Andrew Dudgeon fracturing his spine and Raul Torras of Spain temporarily losing consciousness after flying into the Amco barrier at the Mandarin Bend.

Torras’ BMW S1000RR bike burst into flames for good measure.

Both were treated at the track and transferred to Conde S. Januario General Hospital, where they are stable but remain under observation, with Dudgeon undergoing an operation on his L2 vertebra.

Thankfully there were no deaths. But this week was a reminder, if one was needed, of just how dangerous the sport of road racing is.

And what is the reward for the massive risk? In the case of the Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix, roughly 20 riders blitz around the street course at up to 200 kilometres per hour to try and win just HK$32,000 (US$4,080) in prize money.

You’ll hear almost every rider in the six events at Macau call the event “special” or something similar. For fans it is a rush too – spectators come from around the world to see motorcycles and cars hurtling around the 6.2 kilometre track and darting between barriers.

“You know around here, it’s just so easy, you misjudge one breaking, one small thing and you end up in the barriers,” Norbert Michelisz said after finishing third in Friday’s qualifying for the World Touring Car Cup Race of Macau.

Thankfully the racers in that category have got a giant roll cage to protect them if they smash into a barrier at frightening speed.

But when it’s just you on a bike, one slip can cost you your life, even more so if it has been raining, like it had the day Hegarty took to the track in the final moments of his life.

The Guia Circuit is notorious for motorcycle crashes – eight motorcycle riders have died there in the last 46 years.

All motorbike racers are thrill-seeking daredevils by nature. You have to be, or you won’t make it very far in the sport.

Formula One star Max Verstappen revealed last month his Red Bull team banned him from trying out a MotoGP bike because it was too “dangerous”.

“MotoGP is a different world but I like the feeling of getting close to the ground with your knees in the corners,” the 21-year-old Dutchman said.

Marco Simoncelli was just 24 when he died at MotoGP’s Malaysian Grand Prix in 2011. A 2015 documentary, Hitting the Apex, shows the Italian brushing off fellow rider Jorge Lorenzo’s complaints about a dangerous incident on the track, which gets the gathered media chuckling.

“This question has everybody laughing but it’s not funny as we are playing with our lives,” Lorenzo says.

Portuguese rider Luis Filipe de Sousa Carreira was the last to die before Hegarty, in 2012 when he crashed into a wall in qualifying

Macau Grand Prix race coordinator Joao Manuel Costa Antunes said a year later that “safety is always our priority” and that “accidents could happen in Macau or anywhere in the world”.

Maybe there is just nothing that can be done – before Hegarty’s death last year, safety improvements were made to several kerbs and debris fences, with newly formatted TECPRO barriers.

And earlier this summer, Macau Grand Prix organising committee coordinator Pun Weng-kun said the International Motorcycling Federation Asia gave “very positive feedback” after inspecting the track and described it as a “very good circuit”.

But Glenn Irwin, who was declared the winner at the 2017 Macau Motorcycle Grand Prix having been leading when it was called off after Hegarty’s crash, refused to come back this year.

“Last year’s incident is very, very fresh in my memory and I won’t be returning to race there, certainly not,” he said. “I may go back if I could be involved in some way to maybe improve safety.”

Irwin was watching again on Thursday when Dudgeon and Torras crashed in practice.

“Glad to see whoever that was crashing at T1 in Macau crawling off the track,” he said. “I pray the rider involved in the crash is OK.”

Sometimes it is hard to understand this sport. But in a city synonymous with casinos, the Macau Grand Prix is the ultimate high-stakes gamble – not for riches, but an unrivalled buzz.