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Tuesday 22nd January 2013

PH Blog: you bend you mend

Chris Harris explores the issues raised after Mark Hales is sued for blowing up David Piper's 917



As many of you will know, David Piper has successfully sued journalist and racing driver Mark Hales for mechanical damage that occurred to his Porsche 917 at Cadwell Park in April 2009.

Blowing up a 917 could cost Hales his house
Blowing up a 917 could cost Hales his house
I cannot say that this is written without prejudice - because I consider Mark a friend and as such I find the predicament he now faces plain harrowing.

The first point of importance in this whole sorry saga - what happened, or what didn't happen before Hales climbed aboard Mr Piper's 917 - is perhaps the area people like myself should concentrate on. After all, once you resort to legal counsel it's all a mess anyway.

Many commenting on the story suggest that Hales was negligent in not formalising a contract with Piper detailing what should occur should the unthinkable happen. There's also the question of insurance - people are wondering why Hales didn't have suitable cover and also why the magazine publishers he was working with have ended up shouldering none of the liability.

I'll deal with those one at a time.

First, the formal agreement. These rarely, if ever, happen. It sounds like madness for multi-million dollar assets to be willingly placed in danger but, as the owner of such a car, the moment you have to sign bits of paper the exercise takes on another meaning. Also, you'd have to assume that the driver selection process was pretty rigorous; a trusted hand with no formal contract is infinitely preferable to some bod with zero experience but a hefty insurance policy behind him.

For decades these 'deals' have been the type of gentlemen's agreements that reflected the gentler era in which the machines themselves were raced. Hales claims he and Piper had such a verbal agreement, and that Piper chose to forget it in court.

This brings us to insurance.

It is possible to insure yourself to drive a Porsche 917 at Cadwell Park. Agree a sum, prove it's insured, go and skid the 917 around Cadwell for the day. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

Noble was insured to the hilt
Noble was insured to the hilt
It isn't. Firstly, the cost of this type of insurance is astronomical relative to the financial reward for a freelance journalist or publication.

Here's an example. Last year I drove a NobleM600 and an Ariel Atom at the Nurburgring. Covering the Noble alone cost £1,500, and that was with a generous discount. That covered £150K, with a maximum payout of £130K and a £20K excess. The Atom was insured for less, but still carried a £7.5K excess and a £540 premium.

I control my video budget and I thought it worth investing in, partly because I felt I was doing something a magazine publisher would never have the conkers to attempt.

But the cars were not adequately covered, were they? It's pretty easy to do £20K of damage to a Noble M600, and that was the excess, so what would have happened if I had ended up owing either Noble or the insurance company that sum of money? I'd have had to pay it. As you pile down the main straight at 200mph, that thought crystalises your resolve for the kink. Would Noble pursue me for that money? I hope not, but I'd be mad to assume that they wouldn't.

And of course none of this underwrites the mechanical health of either car. If an engine had detonated that wouldn't have been my problem. Both have modern engine management systems and both are tended to by professionals who ensure they're operating correctly before someone like me climbs aboard.

Insurance costs are already pretty high
Insurance costs are already pretty high
There is no established method of insuring the mechanical components of an old racing car - a key element in this case. In modern racing cars things sometimes let go without warning or reason. I remember testing a Porsche Cup car and having the 'box go bang on the third lap. It was a brand new gearbox, there was a faulty batch of cogs, so it expired. If that can happen on a modern racer, how the hell can anyone warrant what might happen when driving one of the most extreme prototypes ever devised, which also happens to be 40 years old with no guarantees for the age or health of any of the internal components?

So why the hell do owners ever bother starting these beasts, let alone letting others drive them? And why do journalists with a net worth of fractions of the car they're about to drive ever dare climb behind the wheel?

Because we do. Because we're all car mad and money's a pretty crude thing at the best of times. Like anything that's fun, if you stop and ponder the consequences for too long, you'll never know how life-affirming it might have been.

But a 917 is a ticking bomb. Both Hales and Piper knew that, but both chose to proceed with this test. This was perhaps Hales's biggest mistake in the process, and yet I can completely sympathise, having also experienced the sense of pride and satisfaction that comes from seeing a pair of cars that you, and only you, have managed to bring to the same race track and use to make memorable journalism.

What we all want to see: cars being used properly
What we all want to see: cars being used properly
And we mustn't forget that was the aim of this event: not the creation of vast wealth for Hales, but good old-fashioned story telling for various magazines. It's worth exploring that we're talking about features in the plural - it would appear that in wanting to 'own' the story as a freelancer and therefore generate multiple sales, Hales inadvertently exposed himself to a personal claim. I do this the whole time because it allows me to scale the editorial spend accordingly. Get the right cars together and, if your standing in the industry is good enough, you will be able to sell that story dozens of times internationally. You will not make a five-figure sum, but it can be lucrative work in the context of the pitiful sums many staffers are paid. As a freelancer, the incentive is there to own the process. Or at least, it was.

It has also been suggested by a few people that we shouldn't step into cars if we don't have the financial means to meet any potential repair. This strikes me as a singularly mean-spirited view of the world. I don't have a 917, but I always lend my cars to people I know because I greatly enjoy watching them having fun. If the motor goes pop and the bloke driving it can't afford to pay a bean, then I ask for whatever he might be able to contribute and get on with my life.

No contract was signed on this 962
No contract was signed on this 962
None of this matters if a car company owns the car in question. The Porsche 962 I drove at Weissach last year was owned by Porsche and there was no contract to sign, just an open track and lots of smiling faces. Every time I asked if I should stop, they just told me to go back out and drive faster. You like to think that they do this because they trust you as an individual, but most car companies like using their rolling heritage and accept the associated costs.

I cannot comment on what Hales did or didn't do inside the 917. There's no onboard footage, but then knowing how strangely GoPros can behave with high levels of vibration, I'm not sure I'd want my driving judged in that way. Even as the bloke's friend I can dispassionately state he's one of the best at what he does - Nick Mason doesn't repeatedly invite you to slither about in his 250 GTO unless you're known to be a bit useful in old cars. He drives fast and is competitive, but that's because he's as much a racing driver as a journalist - a distinction many people fail to make.

What responsibility lies with Piper? This was a magazine shoot, for which Piper was allegedly paid the nominal sum of £2,000. He has subsequently sold the car, so we can probably hypothesise that he might have been engaged in some useful pre-sale publicity but I don't really think that an article in Octane has any great effect on the value of something as significant as a 917, even one that wasn't a 'proper' 917. An Integrale, perhaps, but not a 917.

But if Piper wasn't doing it for money, and if the car didn't require a dusting of media gold-dust to inflate its price, then why bother for two measly grand when you've got a 250 LM back at home?

I genuinely have no idea.

Classic racers often generate huge bills
Classic racers often generate huge bills
Also, is it reasonable to occasionally run a 917 and not have it generate large remedial costs? They were notoriously keen to ingest themselves in the early 70s, that doesn't seem to have changed 40 years later. You look at the number of times Piper has had his cars featured in magazines and videos over the years and you do wonder if it's reasonable to expect a 'big one' during the process. It's inevitable, isn't it?

Again, the claims and counter-claims of the case itself aren't for me to comment on. Piper is victorious; Hales maintains his innocence and stands to lose his house paying for a mechanical failure. The case rouses complicated, conflicting emotions in me because I sincerely believe that Hales didn't set out to cause any damage to the 917, but reading the judgment it's hard to see how the judge could have reached a different conclusion.

Does this mean people like Hales, myself and the dozens of other lucky sods who do this for a living will no longer drive these spectacular cars? I don't think so. Like so many things in life, it comes down to the quality of the individual you are dealing with and the level of trust that exists between both parties. Gentlemen, and ladies, who can afford to run these cars and are passionate about seeing them driven properly know the risks and underwrite them accordingly. I think they will continue to do so - in fact this ruling might actually make them more trenchant. Should there be a standardised contract between both parties that details who is responsible for what? In light of this judgment, absolutely. But I think it will only confirm what the wider classic community still thinks, and has always thought, that the responsibility lies with the owner, because any other arrangement is unworkable.

917 has always had a tricky reputation
917 has always had a tricky reputation
Perhaps I'm just lucky, but the many fantastic racing cars I've been privileged to drive and race have all been owned by people who expected nothing but a great story, video pictures or a fun weekend's competing.

There's an unspoken reciprocal situation too. What happens if a car suffers a mechanical failure and the journalist testing it is injured? If the driver is now responsible for the mechanical health of the car whilst he is driving it, surely the owner is now open to a claim if it can be proven that the car failed somehow?

Now we need to support Mark through this episode and remind the wider car community why he remains one of the best motoring journalists of the modern era. He's admitted here that made mistakes after the event, but what began as a benign test that was supposed to entertain us all has ended in him facing financial ruin. The lack of proportionality is alarming and frightening. I'm off to listen to that tape of him from Fast Lane, driving the F40 around Donington in the wet.

Chris

Chris Harris
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Author Discussion

drakart

Original Poster:

1,411 posts

98 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Well put Chris. I imagine this thread will quickly become an uncontrolled argument fest, but we should all help Mark to get through this.

Life Saab Itch

37,056 posts

76 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Well said.

It throws up a multitude of complicated issues.


The trouble with gentlemen's agreements, is that both parties have to act like gentlemen, even if the.st hits the.fan.

jeffw

630 posts

116 months

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Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Well said Chris.

SimonRS

6,792 posts

120 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Is there a fund anyone can contribute to set up to help Mark through this financially?

nickz32

86 posts

78 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
I had no idea that this had happened, and it appears to be a bit of a travesty to say the least.

If your going to pay for a magazine to do a feature on something that is as rare and fickle as a 917, then surely as the owner, you have brought this on yourself. Surely its down to you as the owner to swallow the costs of a mechanical failure. How could you reasonably expect the journo or driver of the car to know the a component is going to fail on a car youve never driven before??? Last time is checked, people dont come with crystal balls!

Ok, so if he crashed the car, then thats a very different situation and something that im sure he would accept the consequences of.

But again, it just shows how the world is nowadays, litigation galore...... such a shame


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nicfaz

100 posts

118 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
It's a harsh lesson for many, but once you get into a court of law it doesn't matter whether you are telling the truth or not. As others have said in the related posts, it often boils down to who has the best lawyers. That is unlikely to be the journalist when it's journalist vs wealthy owner.

Edited by nicfaz on Tuesday 22 January 13:41

IDrinkPetrol

123 posts

46 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all


So, what did David Piper have to pay when he did this?

Genuine question, his 917, that he scuffed a little while filming Le Mans... (polished out though)





Edited by IDrinkPetrol on Tuesday 22 January 13:40

Embali

3 posts

23 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Well said Chris. As a freelance myself in France, i always think about what would / will happen to me when i crash a press car or, worse, a classic lent by someone. I guess i also adapt the way i drive according to the conditions (some car companies are more tolerant than others) and the car (no, i won't try and drift a daytona).
This story scares the hell out of me. I've never been in a situation where i would drive these kind of high level classic racing cars (someday i hope), but if i did i would assume that a blowing engine wouldn't be something i have to pay for if i didn't mess up. thinking that your friend has had his financial life ruined because of this is kind of petrifying.
What i also see from this is that we won't be seing any of Piper's cars in the press for some time...
Anyway, my thoughts go to your pal.

Ali_T

1,812 posts

145 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Very well put. I always assumed the publications stumped up the insurance for these drives but it seems that is not the case. And surely, when you hand over the keys to someone to drive your car in the full knowledge that there is no legal agreement or insurance, you're accepting that there is the chance of mechanical failure or physical damage? Why didn't Mr. Piper just add Mark to his own insurance for the day? It all sounds rather two faced. Happy to accept publicity to glorify his collection, right up until something goes awry.


pmannion

2 posts

23 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Chris, you said: "I was doing something a magazine publisher would never have the conkers to attempt"...

I think the reason you have written this article is the reason why they wouldn't!

I was a regional journalist and was unable to travel with the local regiment to Afghanistan for insurance reasons, if I was a freelance I would have done it but it would be my livelyhood at risk, so I suppose it's swings and roundabouts.

clubracing

228 posts

94 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
As Chris didn't provide the link and many won't have seen it. Here is the judgement from the court case.

http://www.leeds-solicitors.com/news.html

Embali

3 posts

23 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
  1. likeaboss

sisu

355 posts

61 months

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Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Is there a paypal or event to help Hales out rather than lose his house?

poprock

1,940 posts

89 months

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Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
SimonRS said:
Is there a fund anyone can contribute to set up to help Mark through this financially?
sisu said:
Is there a paypal or event to help Hales out rather than lose his house?
Not as yet, but many people seem to be having similar thoughts so there is a fundraising event being tentatively discussed. Keep an eye out for the Mark Hales Invitational Trophy. (If you are a Twitter user, the hashtag #MarkHalesInvitationalTrophy should be a good way to keep updated.)

dandarez

5,916 posts

171 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
And all the roads jam up with credit
And there's nothing you can do
It's all just bits of paper
Flying away from you
Look out world take a good look
What comes down here
You must learn this lesson fast
And learn it well
This ain't no upwardly mobile Freeway
Oh no, LITIGATION is the Road to Hell.

JulianCharity

47 posts

62 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Surely if David Piper can afford a 917 he can afford the associated costs and risks that go with running it - he must surely be a millionaire to own something like that?

Your run of the the mill journo on the other hand is nothing like a millionaire, so it seems very, very unfair to ruin someone in that way. Mark must be absolutely gutted - it's not like he did it on purpose, old cars break easily and that could have happened to anyone.

Esseesse

3,974 posts

96 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Whether I was loaning an expensive car to a magazine, or my every day car to a friend, I would expect them to put things right if the car ended up in a ditch whilst they were using it. I would not expect them to repair the car if the cambelt went or gearbox ate itself whilst in their possession as these are things that were surely waiting to happen anyway.

monthefish

18,172 posts

119 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
Intersting piece.

In a similar vein, I've always been quite happy to lend my car (911 turbo) to close friends and family, even though in most cases they only have 3rd party cover and, if they did cause some damage, be unlikely to foot the repair bill.
It's just one of these chances you take.

The easy way to avoid these sitations is not to lend the car out at all.

V12 Migaloo

485 posts

34 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
I dont see why piper shouldn't make his car available? Are you saying that if he had charged more then £2'000 for it then it would've been more acceptable, or reading between the lines (and Without Prejudice) are you saying that this well healed chap actually knew that his engine was not quite right and all along wanted some unfourtunate sod to break it and then pay for it? I feel sorry for Hales, I can only imagine the turmoil going through his head at how he is going to pay for it. But if my mate chucks me the keys to his 911 and says if you break it you pay for it, then at that point I dont have a leg to stand on if something happens. Surely the sensible thing to do at that stage is to throw the keys back and say, thanks, but no thanks. Perhaps Hales should have paid the AA to give it the once over. But ultimately Hales can't hide from the responsibilty that the damage was caused whilst under his control.... Very sad though. Perhaps you should organise a whip round. I know I'd contribute a fiver!

Edited by V12 Migaloo on Tuesday 22 January 13:47

gowmonster

1,660 posts

55 months

[news] 
Tuesday 22nd January 2013 quote quote all
nickz32 said:
I had no idea that this had happened, and it appears to be a bit of a travesty to say the least.

If your going to pay for a magazine to do a feature on something that is as rare and fickle as a 917, then surely as the owner, you have brought this on yourself. Surely its down to you as the owner to swallow the costs of a mechanical failure. How could you reasonably expect the journo or driver of the car to know the a component is going to fail on a car youve never driven before??? Last time is checked, people dont come with crystal balls!

Ok, so if he crashed the car, then thats a very different situation and something that im sure he would accept the consequences of.

But again, it just shows how the world is nowadays, litigation galore...... such a shame

i dont think he paid for the mag to do a feature, it was the other way round

thearticle said:
Piper was allegedly paid the nominal sum of £2,000
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