The racing world has paid tribute to a young motorbike racing star killed in a crash.
Malachi Mitchell-Thomas, of Chorley, died when he crashed his Burrows Engineering Kawasaki during the third lap of the Supertwins race at the Vauxhall International North West 200 in Portrush, Northern Ireland, on Saturday.
No other competitors were involved.
Malachi had been touted just last week as “road racing’s bright new star” and was drawing comparisons to biking personality, Guy Martin.
On his first taste of Ulster road racing, Malachi posted three wins at the Mid Antrim 150, one at Cookstown, and on Thursday night, he came home 11th in the Supersport race.
On the day he died, he had finished fourth the Supersport race at the North West 200.
His devastated father Kevin Thomas, who visited the scene yesterday, wrote on Facebook that he had lost his “bestest mate”.
He later told BBC Northern Ireland: “I have lost my son, but he died doing what he wanted to do. He did not have a bad bone in his body and nobody had a bad word to say about him.
“We came here through hard grit, determination and mostly a desire to win races. I have never seen desire like he had.”
Mr Thomas added he wanted to scatter Malachi’s ashes at the Isle of Man TT races in June.
Blackburn’s former Superbike World Champion Carl Fogarty also tweeted a tribute. He said: “So sad to lose a young star of the future, Malachi Mitchell Thomas. #RIP. Thoughts with family and friends.”
Irish professional motorcycle road racer Eugene Laverty added: “Really sad news about Malachi Mitchell-Thomas. I’d just been saying how great a character he was and a real asset to road racing.”
When the crash happened, the street race was immediately red-flagged and Malachi was treated by medical staff from the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland (MCUI) medical team. However, he died from his injuries at the scene.
Race organisers, the Coleraine and District Motor Club, said the event, which is one of the world’s fastest road races and watched by two million people online, was subsequently abandoned.
North West 200 event director Mervyn Whyte said “a massive effort” had been made to familiarise all debutants with the course before races and that risk assessments for the course were ongoing.
But after two crashes in the same area, he said: “I will look at it to see if there’s any work to be done at that section of the course.”
He added that Malachi was “a funny guy, full of life” and an “experienced rider”.
Malachi’s dad introduced him to motocross when he was just four. He was riding in Supermoto at 13 and had success at European level at 16.
The former Rivington and Blackrod High School pupil said he was first taken by the road racing bug on his first visit to the Isle of Man. Last year, he won a Senior Manx GP last year aged 19, and set a new lap record.
In an interview with a Northern Irish newspaper shortly before his death, Malachi described the sacrifices he had made to get his racing career on the road.
Staying in a tent on the course, he said it reminded him of the small, two-bed flat with he shared with his dad in Adlington.
Mr Thomas had accompanied his son to the event and yesterday morning he was taken to view the crash site by racing manager John Burrows. Dozens of floral tributes had been left by fans.
Mr Burrows posted on Facebook: “Totally gutted to have lost such a talented, friendly and lovely young lad.
“Malachi Mitchell-Thomas was like a son to us in the short time we knew him, only yesterday I told him that.”
Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness have also expressed their condolences to Malachi’s family.
Two others riders were injured in two separate incidents on Thursday at the North West 200.