Girl racer dies in speedway crash

A Japanese woman speedway rider whose glamourous presence in the pit lane revitalised the sport has been killed in a high-speed accident just months after her debut.

Hiromi Sakai, 27, only took part in her first Auto Race in July, when she and her 19-year-old colleague Maya Sato became the first women to compete in the sport for more than 40 years.

Hiromi Sakai, left, and Maya Sato were the first women to enter Auto Racing in more than four decades.

Auto Race, or Oto Resu, is a Japanese version of speedway, raced on tarmac rather than dirt, using powerful, stripped-down machines with no brakes and handlebars specially modified to make cornering easier.

Auto Race's organising body JKA said Sakai was practicing with other racers on Sunday at a circuit in Funabashi, east of Tokyo, when she flew off her bike and slammed into fencing at about 150km/h.

No other riders were involved, it said, and the exact cause of the accident was not clear.

“A medical team was brought in immediately, but despite the treatment she died due to a skull fracture,” JKA said

Chairman Katsumi Ishiguro said: “I cannot express my sorrow enough that the accident occurred so soon after her debut, the first woman to take part in 44 years, and with a bright future ahead of her.”

Auto Race recently re-opened its doors to women for the first time since the 1960s, and Sakai quit her job at a tourist agency to join a riders' boot camp which takes only about one in every 50 applicants.

She took her first race win only a month after her debut.