Japan's Sakai dies in high-speed crash

Japan's Sakai dies in high-speed crash

Published Jan. 15, 2012 12:00 a.m. ET

A Japanese female speedway rider whose glamorous presence in the pit lane revitalized the sport has been killed in a high-speed accident just months after her debut, Auto Race's official website said.

Hiromi Sakai, 27, only took part in her first full 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.

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.

Gambling is allowed and top riders can make millions.


Sakai was training with other racers Sunday at a circuit in Funabashi, east of Tokyo, when the accident happened. She was traveling at up to 93 mph, said Auto Race's organizing body JKA.

The exact cause was not clear, but Sakai flew off her bike and slammed into fencing. No other riders were involved.

"A medical team was brought in immediately, but despite the treatment she died due to a skull fracture," JKA said on its website.

JKA chairman Katsumi Ishiguro said in a statement, "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 won her first victory a month after her debut.