A magazine journalist was facing financial ruin today after he blew up the engine of a £1.3 million Porsche during a road test.
Mark Hales, 62, was pitting David Piper’s cherished Porsche 917 replica against a classic Ferrari belonging to Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason.
Disaster struck during the track test when he over-revved the Porsche and caused its engine to blow up.
Mr Hales, an experienced race driver and journalist, claimed he entered a gentleman’s agreement with Mr Piper so any mechanical damage was covered by the owner.
But the former F1 racer, 82, denied any conversation existed and took Hales to the High Court last week seeking £48,000 in damages.
Piper, a racing legend with a multi-million pound classic car collection, told the court he loaned the Porsche on the understanding “you bend it, you mend it”.
Judge Simon Brown QC sided with Mr Piper and awarded full damages along with £63,000 costs – leaving Mr Hales with a total bill of £111,000.
Yesterday Mr Hales said he was “devastated” by the findings and now faces bankruptcy.
The incident took place at Cadwell Park, near Louth, Lincolnshire, in April 2009 when Mr Hales was writing a freelance feature for the Octane and Auto Italia magazines.
Hales was comparing the Porsche 917 to the Ferrari 512S for a glossy feature in the classic car mags.
He is adamant the pair had an agreement and that, as a rule, owners deal with mechanical problems while crashes are covered by the driver.
Mr Piper’s lawyers told Judge Brown it was agreed the damage was caused by the over-revving of the engine to 8,200rpm after telling Hales he should not exceed 7,000rpm.
Mr Hales claims he had been having difficulties with the Porsche 917 and was changing from second to third gear when it ‘popped out’, causing the car to over-rev and the engine blow up.
Blaming the car, he said: “The Porsche 917 is a tough car to drive and it is a matter of fact that the engines blow up. Everyone has done it and I knew this was the case.
“I had a conversation with David Piper and he asked me what happens if the engine blows up.
“I told him I couldn’t be responsible and he said ‘okay’ but then chose to forget the conversation.
“If you crash the car you repair it but if it is mechanical you don’t. It was a gentleman’s agreement and I didn’t write it down.
“I had a similar agreement with Nick Mason for the Ferrari of his which I was driving.
“I’ve sold everything to pay my lawyers and if he chooses to enforce the findings it is bankruptcy for me.”
Mr Piper had the Porsche repaired by a German specialist at a cost of #37,000 before selling the replica race car last year for #1.3 million. He also owns an original 917, which is valued at #5 million.
In his findings, Judge Brown blamed Mr Hales for failing to “properly engage gear having been expressly told to do so and specifically warned about the risk of serious damage to the car if this was not done”.
He added: “His level of driving – on this particular occasion – fell below the standard of care, albeit high, required of him.”
Mr Piper’s lawyers, Gloucestershire-based Wilmots Litigation, yesterday said their client was “pleased” with the findings and revealed he would be recouping the costs and damages.
Phillip Sharpe, a partner at the law firm, said: “Mr Hales missed a gear and blew the engine which led to Mr Piper issuing the claim.
“Our case was that he knew it was his responsibility. He told us he missed third gear and we’re pleased the judge upheld the decision.”
But Mr Hales is furious at the findings – which he described as an “absolute disgrace” – and is adamant the car was at fault and not his driving.
He said: “It was clear he wanted his day in court and the judgement was an absolute disgrace.
“The judge has given his verdict and I feel it is unfair. I had a conversation which wasn’t in writing and the judge believed Piper.
“There was too much information which was too technical. This isn’t what happens when you lend your race car to someone with no money but the judge didn’t accept it.”
Kindhearted readers of the PistonHeads motoring website are now discussing ways they can support Mr Hales and are planning to set up a fund to help pay the costs.
Mr Hales added: “I have been left overwhelmed with the kindness from people planning on setting up a fund.
“I am very grateful and I may have to use it. If he drops the judgement then any money would go back to the people who donated or given to charity.”