Trackday Release...Not so FAST! - Mercedes-Benz Forum

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post #1 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 02:44 PM Thread Starter
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Trackday Release...Not so FAST!

Last year a Porsche CarreraGT dodged a Ferrari at California Speedway, smacked a wall, killed the occupants and started a tsunami of discussion of liability and responsibility and safety of trackdays throughout the country. It seems to have been resolved. Thoughts?

-----------------------~~~~~~X

Last summer, "Legal Files" reported about a lawsuit resulting from the fatal crash of a Porsche Carrera GT at a club track day at the California Speedway (June 2006, p. 30). The lawsuit was recently settled for a reported total of approximately $4.5 million. The contributions to the settlement were about 49% from the estate of the driver, 41% from the track owners and the event organizers, 8% from Porsche, and 2% from the driver of the Ferrari that was claimed to have triggered the crash.

"Legal Files" received numerous comments from SCM readers, all of which were critical of the lawsuit, plaintiff, and attorney. No doubt, many readers may have the same reaction to the settlement. But let’s take a closer look at the facts.

To refresh our memory, Tracy Rudl filed the lawsuit alleging the wrongful death of her husband, Corey Rudl, who was a passenger in the CGT owned and driven by Ben Keaton at the Ferrari Owners Club track day. Rudl was represented by attorney Craig McClellan, a former racer and a successful plaintiffs’ attorney from San Diego. As the CGT was traveling at about 130 mph on the straightaway, a Ferrari entered the track at a relatively slow speed. Keaton swerved to avoid it and the Porsche skidded into a concrete barrier wall, killing both men. The wall had been placed closer to the track than its original position, in order to enlarge the area behind it for use as a children’s play area during an earlier NASCAR race.

Discovery creates clearer picture

Extensive investigation, interviewing of witnesses, and other forms of legal discovery brought out more facts. Here is the bigger picture, according to McClellan.

The Track. The track suffered from two major design defects—the pit-out (exit onto the track) design and the concrete wall along the straightaway that was moved to accommodate the NASCAR race. The problem with the pit-out design was that it brought the drivers onto the track in the middle of the straightaway and the pit-out driver’s view of the straightaway was completely blocked by a guardrail, so the driver had to rely entirely on the flagger when entering.

The aerial view of the track shows how the concrete wall that normally ran parallel to the track was moved to enlarge the area behind it. A second photo shows the Carrera GT crashed in the worst possible place—right where the wall protruded. It looks as the CGT would normally have hit the wall and bounced back toward the track. Whatever happened then would have been better than a 130-mile near head-on crash.

The Organizers. The Ferrari Owners Club requires that all cars pass a technical inspection by an approved repair facility. At a previous event, the FOC President and organizer had been warned by one of their vehicle certifiers that he believed that something was wrong with the handling of Keaton’s car and it should not be allowed to run. They let it into that event anyway, and it spun out three to four times—one time the event organizer was even on board and became nauseous. But he didn’t tell anyone about the warnings and did not exclude Keaton from that event. (As you will see below, it appears the concerns the mechanic had were related to the oversteer inherent in the design of the car, not to any particular mechanical defect.)

Keaton did not have the CGT inspected before this event, but was allowed to sign his own tech inspection form stating that the car was fine. Investigation revealed the FOC had never denied a participant access to a track day on account of a failure to pass tech.

The organizers also failed to enforce the track safety rule about cars entering the track. Pit-out was in the middle of the straightaway, with entry on the left side. But cars on the straightaway tended to stay to the left to set up for the right-hander at the end. To avoid collisions, cars entering the track were required to move to the right side as soon as possible. However, at this event, cars were entering the track and staying on the left side.

The Driver. Keaton was warned about the handling problems with the CGT, ignored his mechanic’s advice, and invited Rudl for a ride without mentioning the problems. And, when the Ferrari came onto the track slowly, he overreacted and spun.

The Ferrari Driver. The Ferrari driver and the flagger blamed each other for what happened, but it was concluded that the Ferrari entered the track too slowly, forcing Keaton to evade him.

Porsche. The sole claim against Porsche was that the CGT was defective because it was designed without electronic stability control, which Porsche calls PSM. McClellan deposed two German engineers on the subject, and their answers were inconsistent. One testified that Porsche did not think that its PSM system would work on the CGT because the car’s frame structure and suspension mountings would create strong vibrations that would interfere with its operation. The other engineer testified that PSM was not offered because the customers didn’t want it.

McClellan suspects it was a marketing decision, as the CGT was marketed as a "race car for the streets," and race cars don’t have electronic stability control. He notes that during its development, the CGT had exhibited a tendency to oversteer during high lateral acceleration. Porsche made some adjustments, but did not fully correct the problem, which explained why the mechanic who drove Keaton’s car reported “handling problems.” PSM would have corrected the “tail happy” oversteer response to Keaton’s steering input to avoid the Ferrari.

What about the releases?

One of the primary matters addressed in the settlement negotiations was the release signed by Rudl. As all of us who have participated in a track day know, the release contained language that waived any claims against the organizers and participants, with Rudl assuming full risk of injury or death. Many SCM readers pointed out that the release should end the matter.

While the settlement was being negotiated, the California Supreme Court was considering a broadly similar case. The Court of Appeal had ruled that releases were effective as to negligence claims, but not as to claims of gross negligence. There was uncertainty about the outcome because this case was the first time this issue had been addressed by a California court. McClellan insisted that the Supreme Court would agree with the Court of Appeal, and that he could prove gross negligence against the various defendants. He also insisted that the release would not be effective against the driver, as Keaton had been warned about the car’s handling problems before the event and did not disclose them. Either way, the release had nothing to do with the claim against Porsche, as it was not a participant at the track day.

-more-

The Court noted that most of the handful of decisions that enforced releases in cases of gross negligence involved auto racing incidents, but also noted that several states had ruled that releases are ineffective against claims for ordinary negligence, even in auto racing situations.

Was anything accomplished?

A lot of money changed hands in this settlement, but did anything of lasting societal value get accomplished here? McClellan thinks a lot of good may have been accomplished. He points out that the California Speedway is now safer. The guardrail blocking the view from pit-out has been moved, and the track may move pit-out to the end of the straightaway. He is confident that the Ferrari Owners Club will institute better safety procedures at track days, and he is hopeful that Porsche and other manufacturers will never again build a supercar without electronic stability control. McClellan thinks that the manufacturers’ greatest exposure in this regard may not be crashes on racetracks, but what might happen on the street. Imagine a CGT driver who gets in over his head on a public road, the rear end comes around, and he spins into an oncoming car, killing its occupant. Faced with expert testimony that electronic stability control could have prevented the spin, what will the jury think?

McClellan points out that the typical SCM subscriber, a car enthusiast who holds fast cars and racetracks dear, will never make it onto this jury. The jurors will be more ordinary citizens. "Most people, especially those with children on the streets and highways, would fear a vehicle like the Carrera GT, with its tricky handling characteristics, 600-plus horsepower, and unskilled, unqualified drivers. When a 'race car for the streets' is sold to anyone with enough money, regardless of his ability to drive it, and it doesn’t even incorporate modern electronic safety devices that correct driver errors, then maybe the manufacturer should accept some responsibility for the foreseeable deaths that will result."

Tracy Rudl also believes that the lawsuit will benefit others. "My loving husband was an innocent passenger in an expensive sports car that inexplicably failed to incorporate a modern, life-saving safety feature. He was a passenger on a racetrack that was dangerously designed. While driving on racetracks always involves risks, the result of this case and the redesign of the track will help eliminate unnecessary risks and make the sport of high speed driving safer."

Sports Car Market Magazine

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post #2 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 02:49 PM Thread Starter
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I placed this in OT instead of Motorsports because I figure if it gets legs it will be due to Tort Reform instead of whether or not I can flog my 500E around Mid-Ohio at stupid speeds with impunity.

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post #3 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 02:57 PM Thread Starter
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The one thing that I noted throughout the article was that everyone blamed the car, the track, the organizers and everything else but did not question the driving ability of Keaton. It is possible the man just did not know how to drive well.

I had an opportunity to drive a few laps in a CGT and the first couple were twitchy. It took a bit to get used to but I did not go balls out until I felt comfortable with the car, nor did I have a passenger with me. Also, wifie rode with Hurley Haywood for 10 very quick laps at IRP last year in a CGT and I did not see any indication of problems with the car nor any fear or worry when she got out, just a shit eating grin from the experience.

Don't tell her I posted a picture of her with helmet head or she will kick my ass.

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post #4 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 03:01 PM
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It's too bad I can't race my RX7 because I tuned it down to be a commuter after we lost the van. I am going to miss racing

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post #5 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 03:34 PM
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I think it's irrational to expect any driver to be in complete control of any car on a racetrack at all times. Shit happens, even when you're the only person on the course.

Michael Schumacher was notable not only for his tremendous skill, but for his efforts in forcing Formula 1 become the remarkably safe sport it is today. Notably, he advocated pavement instead of gravel or kitty-litter for run off areas on high speed portions of tracks, because at high speed, gravel doesn't do anything good to a race car. When there's acres of asphalt, at least the brakes have a chance, and you're unlikely to flip about.

It should be assumed that, on any given track day, someone will experience some kind of failure resulting in the loss of control of their vehicle, and a heavy impact (either with that vehicle, or with another one crashing into the affected vehicle).

The question is, has the facility done everything reasonable to ensure the risk of such incidents are minimized; or worse, have they done things that (intentionally or otherwise) exacerbate those risks - e.g. Gross Negligence. In this case, it sounds like, the track and organizers made changes that exacerbated the risks of serious injury at this portion of tarmac.

If one takes a deep breath and thinks through what happened, and the results described above exiting the legal process, I think you'll find that justice was served and fairness prevailed.
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post #6 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 03:59 PM
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The huge variable here is setup. Sounds like the car was set up horribly, and the owner couldn't tell the difference. What a shame, on so many levels.

The PCA track days I go to have an instructor in every vehicle, and you don't lose the instructor until you prove you and the car aren't going to hurt anyone. You also cannot take any passengers around except for the lunchtime parade laps.

Unfortunately, the payout was probably 40% to the slip and fall, egg sucking sister f***ing attorneys.
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post #7 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 05:11 PM
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The CGT sounds like a repeat of the early 2.7's and 917's tail happy infamously , I would pursue the customers not wanting the PSM to indulge in this basic is best ideology with buff car's would be the most plausible excuse from Porsche , basic works with my lotus , but on a brute like the CGT?
I'm a full endorser of any improvement to track and safety there of , having spent so many years on bikes the state of the track and your run off areas has a more endangering sting to a mistake .
That having been said if I wanted to be rapped up in cotton wool I wouldn't be down the track in the first place, but good sense should be acted upon when it comes to safety, more often than not only after death , but I have lost good friends on the Isle of Man that last bastion of mad bastards ramming it at 180 inch's away from rock walls and we wonder every year will this be the last time the race will be allowed. Nanny's breathing down our necks , we are facing a new age that's for sure.
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post #8 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 05:24 PM Thread Starter
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The thing with traction control is that, IF you know what you are doing, it can be more of a problem that good. The traction control on the 500E is much more dangerous on a track than without it.

And the only time I have had a problem with a car in the past decade was with the 500s TC in a light rain on a major intersection where it flipped me around at 35 mph as I ended up in oil. Driving through would have been simple but TC put the car out of balance. Fortunately I stayed in lane and didn't hit anything, including the cop right behind me.

The CGT is only a problem when driven on the VERY EDGE, and the driver of the crash was nowhere near that edge, he was on a straight and went into an avoidance maneuver at 130. That car should have been golden at those speeds.

BILL, does your GT[2 or 3?] have traction control that you can cut out at PCA events?

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post #9 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 05:33 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by QBNCGAR View Post
I think it's irrational to expect any driver to be in complete control of any car on a racetrack at all times. Shit happens, even when you're the only person on the course.

If one takes a deep breath and thinks through what happened, and the results described above exiting the legal process, I think you'll find that justice was served and fairness prevailed.
I think the only problem that comes from this will be a tightening of trackdays to the point that many clubs will not be able to afford insurance to even have them. Now that a release has been shown to have no real protection I can't imagine an insurance company being particularly excited about writing 1 day policies for events like FOCA or PCA trackdays. And tracks like Mid Ohio or Road Atlanta would have to look twice at having organizations that do not have deep pockets putting on events on premises. While SCCA would be in a better position to hold events [and secure insurance] due to its size, my bet is fees might go up.

As Jonathan mentioned in another thread it costs between $500-1000 to enjoy a track day now, depending on wear and tear and fees and other costs. At some point it will become an over the top cost. I only do two or so a year any more [except autoX] and they get expensive.

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post #10 of 17 (permalink) Old 10-23-2007, 05:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mcbear View Post
BILL, does your GT[2 or 3?] have traction control that you can cut out at PCA events?
Yes. It's a GT3 RS and you can turn off the traction control in sport mode. To be honest, I don't turn it off until the afternoon sessions, especially at new tracks. Even though I've done a ton of SCCA Formula Ford and Formula Mazda racing (or maybe because I have), I don't let the red mist get me. You've got to be patient and respect the machine.
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