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Deadly corner to remain

By Don Farmer

[email protected]

Shortening a motorcycle hill climb course in rural Wairarapa to cut out a corner that has claimed two lives has been ruled out by coroner Peter Ryan.

In findings just released into the deaths of Malcolm Foster and Kevin Waugh, who died in 2012 and 2014 respectively during the Cliffhanger Hill Climb at Gladstone, Mr Ryan said the dangers of the event course were known to all motorcyclists taking part, and the challenge of overcoming them was an “inherent attraction”.

For that reason he would not consider making a recommendation to shorten the course to cut out “corner 13” where both men had died.

Both riders had failed to negotiate the same moderate right hand bend on the hill climb and had run off the road colliding with a fence and hitting a strainer post.

From evidence given to inquests held into the death of the men it was estimated Mr Foster, of Tawa, Wellington, had been travelling at at least 178kmh on his Ducati 999cc motorcycle when he crashed in March 2012.

Two years later almost to the day, Mr Waugh, of Newlands, Wellington, crashed his Triumph while travelling at a speed somewhere between 188kmh and 218kmh.

Expert evidence was heard from Jim Tuckerman, who has been involved with motor racing for over 40 years and has officiated at road races and world championship speedway.

Mr Tuckerman believed both riders were “slightly out of line” when they came through corner 12 and into corner 13.

“If you come through that corner slightly out of line the outcome is you are going to hit the fence,” he said.

The coroner’s report concluded that even if the strainer post had been removed after the 2012 crash, it was unlikely that would have saved the life of Mr Waugh two years later.

That was because the fence itself posed “multiple hazards” to any rider failing to negotiate the corner.

After the 2014 crash the fence to the left of the corner was realigned further away from the road surface.

The strainer had been dislodged by the impact with Mr Waugh’s motorcycle and had not been replaced.

Peter Thompson had written a report for the coronial inquest into the death of Mr Foster on behalf of the event organisers, Cliffhanger Promotions.

This contained two scenarios, one being the mistake of entering the corner on an incorrect line, and the other being a second event which may have forced Mr Foster into taking the wrong line.

This could have been a bird strike or a rabbit running onto the road forcing the rider to take evasive action.

The coroner said there was a “remote possibility” a bird may have flown into Mr Foster’s motorcycle “at a critical moment”.

Mr Thompson had told the inquest the hill climb was a “very unique event”.

“It’s a great piece of road, if you get it right it’s very satisfying.”

There were a lot of challenging areas throughout the course “and that’s why we do it I think”.

After the 2012 crash the organisers had put some changes into place including specifically referring to the dangers of corner 13 in the familiarisation run and pre-race briefing.

Orange cones had also been installed at the entrance to the corner to remind riders of the dangers.

The hill climb, which has been run on the same 6140m stretch of Te Wharau Road since 2001, is due to be raced again later this month.

Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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