£50k bill for journalist after ex-F1 driver’s £1.25m Porsche blew up at Cadwell

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A motoring journalist who was at the wheel of an iconic car when it blew up at Cadwell Park has been ordered to pay nearly £50,000 to its owner.

Mark Hales, 62, from Conisholme, was humiliated after taking ex-Formula One driver, David Piper’s Porsche 917, worth £1.25m, for a spin in preparation for an article.

Mr Piper, 82, sued Mr Hales and was awarded £47,961.86 following an embittered hearing at London’s High Court.

Judge Simon Brown QC said the evidence ‘overwhelmingly’ pointed to engine damage being caused by the over-revving of the engine following Mr Hales’ failure to properly engage gear.

The judge found Mr Hales did admit his error caused the engine to blow, but later tried to back-track in a ‘self-interested and cynical attempt’ to avoid paying for damage.

Mr Hales was ordered to pay Mr Piper’s legal costs, around £76,000.

The Porsche 917, produced in 1969, gave the German car firm wins at the renowned endurance race, Le Mans, in 1970 and 1971 and featured in the 1971 Steve McQueen film, Le Mans, in which Mr Piper was injured while driving a 917 during filming.

Judge Brown said Mr Piper had been a driver for Porsche, had raced 917s and, despite giving up racing years ago, was an ‘acknowledged authority’ on the cars and continued to run his own in historic events.

Mr Piper sold the 917 in July 2012.

In early 2009, he was approached by Mr Hales, of Fen Lane, Conisholme, who had come up with the idea of comparing the 917 with a Ferrari.

Mr Hales tested the 917 at Cadwell Park, in April 2009, and was told to ensure the car was not over-revved beyond 7,000rpm by missing a gear, or the engine would break.

He took it around the course several times without incident but, as he completed a lap, the revs reached 8,200rpm and the engine blew up - causing damage which cost nearly £40,000 to repair.

Mr Hales accepted over-revving, but said he was not at fault as the car ‘jumped’ out of gear while he was driving it.

Ordering Mr Hales to pay Mr Piper’s costs, the judge said the case was about more than money and was a ‘matter of honour’ for all involved.

He added the court ‘must show its displeasure’ with Mr Hales’ conduct of the litigation, which he said was ‘not to be tolerated’.