January 22, 2013

Who pays for damage to a race car?

Over the week end an article popped up on Twitter telling the story of the dispute between 1960's race driver David Piper and motoring journalist/author/classic car racer Mark Hales.  

Piper has sued and won judgement against Hales for the cost of an engine rebuild on a replica Porsche 917 he had lent the journalist for a magazine article in 2009.    Boiled down to Hales maintaining there was a problem with the gearbox,  Piper saying Hales "money shifted" the air cooled 12 blowing it up.

If you follow classic car racing you will have seen Hales drive some of the world's rarest and most precious cars.   If you have ever seen a Goodwood Revival, it's pretty clear many owners of these rolling treasures appreciate the very real risk that they will get bent.  Certainly they understand, as anyone who has run cars on track, that every part of a car is a consumable destined for replacement or rebuild.  But mistakes can an do happen.

In a modern race car this would not have been an issue,  a perfect example at last year's 24 Hour of Daytona our friend Spencer Cox had the engine let go in practice on a TRG Porsche GT3.   Porsche engineers plugged in a computer and in less than an hour determined it was their fault and rolled in a crate with a new lump.    Montreal GP this past year, CG was racing Ferrari Challenge, tearing through the field when he lost 3rd gear.   Later that day data was sent to Maranello and Ferrari covered the gearbox under warranty (much to CG's relief, I'm sure).  

The issue with older cars is murkier.  I was surprised to read a complete engine rebuild for a Porsche 917 is "only" $58000 and considering Mr. Piper owns the cars in the clip below amongst other things,  it seems bad sport to go after Hales like that.  One wonders if there was more to it and in fact, if you read the judgment motivations,  it does not look so good for Hales who was less than clear in giving evidence and seems to have made some ill advised statements.

This morning reading Pistonheads I saw Chris Harris has written about the case, exploring it from the working journalist angle.  Not surprisingly he's very much in Mr. Hales' camp.

This particular case did not involve racing, just a photo shoot apparently but I'm curious about how you approach the subject of lending yours or driving someone else's car in a track situation.  
What about endurance racing, if you are part of a team and one of the drivers has a problem,  how have you dealt with a mechanical issue?   How about if the car gets hit though no fault of the driver, or if a driver goes off in the rain for example?   Discuss!


  1. Good question for Henri Pescarolo, he got stuck with a €300,000 bill from Peugeot when Treluyer binned the 908 in 2009.

    1. I guess the answer to the question in the title will always be "it depends"

  2. It does, indeed, seem to "depend".

    And this case brushes up against other sad incidents in racing history.

    I remember reading about Mark Donohue's widow suing Bell Helmets, Goodyear and Penske after his fatal accident in Austria. There was supposedly a lot of bad murmurings in the paddock that suing in the racing business "simply wasn't done."

    There were the same sorts of murmurings about a supposed suit from Greg Moore's family in the wake of his fatal accident in 1999.

    Ironically, the Moore lawsuit also involved Penske, since it was brought against the track at Fontana (a fault in the infield design) and as I recall, Penske was still one of the track owners at the time, and also, sadly, had Moore under contract for the following year.

    The case involving Hales is, of course, different, since we're talking about journalists tooling around in cars versus wheels turning in anger, but still ...

    As was brought up in the past cases, almost as a peripheral issue, was the fear of more and more litigation involved in the day to day running of professional motorsports.

    Fans in the stands bringing suits for flying debris and race cars are one thing, so the theory goes, but racers, team and track owners going after one another because of "defective" cars, competitors' actions or track preparations always seemed like a bad idea.

    Look at how bad high level racing can get with protests, counter-protests and battles waged in the allied media outlets ... imagine what it would be like if lawyers were to get involved?

  3. I was talking to a Grand-am / AMLS driver last year and this subject came up. He had said, in his case, because he was paying for the drive his deal was as follows. The team would pay for all consumables, maintenance and anything else required to run the race. He'd be responsible for any damage to the car, his fault or not.

    Obviously that was a racing situation with a clearly defined contract.

    This really is a bit of "you broke my toy!", "Nuh uh!".

  4. I'm sure this lawsuit was an escalation of a much larger and longer set of conversations. Sometimes folks disagree and can't resolve differences like gentlemen, it's just the way it is.

  5. If he was driving this car as part of a journalism job wouldn't there be some for of insurance? All these owners of these cars have to have very specific insurance on them and I would think it would cover drivers driving the car as long as they have certain licenses. Seems very petty.

  6. I read the English court's judgment and the biggest piece of evidence it discussed seems to be that Hales admitted to the insurance company that the car was running fine. This was presumably Hales trying to help make sure the insurance company paid out because normally they do not cover mechanical failures.

    I do not know the facts of the case, but that stood out to me, and probably made it an uphill battle for him in court. Hard to back away from that statement without saying you tried to deceive the insurance company.

    Again, I don't know all the facts...


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