Karun Chandhok's Ferrari 250 GTO: What really happened?

09th September 2023
Ethan Jupp

No Goodwood Revival is ever short of a spot of drama here and there but when an example of the world’s most famous blue chip Ferrari spontaneously spins out with a bang and a flurry of flame – with a well-known, well-loved former Formula 1 driver at the wheel, no less – there’s not much else people want to talk or hear about. 


The footage, the story, the hear-say he-said-she-said, have spread, ahem, like wildfire. Given it happened on our turf, we agreed with the driver and the owner, it was best for Goodwood to clear things up. To tell the story – the real story. 

So here it is, with comments from the man himself, as well as a few words from a representative of the owner. What exactly happened to Karun Chandhok’s Ferrari 250 GTO?

The race of course was the Lavant Cup presented by Sky Cinema, dedicated to Ferrari GTs from 1960-1966; a 16-car celebration of the 60th anniversary of Graham Hill’s famous 1963 Goodwood TT win at the wheel of – appropriately – a 250 GTO. 

In terms of raw value, it’s by far the most expensive grid of cars we’ve featured this weekend. Not a single one would cross an auction block for any less than £2million. Many would easily clear £30million. So while it wasn’t the quickest race of the weekend – or even of Saturday – all eyes were on track for the spectacle of the sights and sounds of 16 Colombo V12s singing in concert.

The battle for the lead was immediately hard-fought, between Rob Hall in a 1964 250 LM and Emanuele Pirro in a 1961 250 SWB/C. Just behind, lunging up from sixth on the grid, Karun Chandhok in the silver 250 GTO, while the famous Breadvan began its climb up the order that would continue throughout the race. 

Hall had his own drama, spinning the LM and bumping the wall, giving Pirro the lead temporarily. Ordinarily, that would have been the story of the race but of course, it wasn’t. 


“I was pinching myself. The 250 GTO is one of my absolute dream cars”

In the closing half of his tenth lap, emerging from Lavant onto the straight, Karun Chandhok opened up the throttle of his Ferrari 250 GTO. You know the rest.

“The 250 GTO is one of my absolute dream cars”, Chandhok told us on a call the following morning.

“I was pinching myself. The owner was lovely and so happy for me to go out and enjoy it. The race was fun but I wasn’t really going to be catching the front runners.

“So part-way around, I was just thinking to myself, ‘how cool is this? I’m in a GTO at Goodwood!’. Then coming out of Lavant onto the straight – I was in second and cruising – I heard a bang and the back wheels locked up. As I turned I saw flames, so I got right off the track safely, to minimise oil going down and get out of the way.”

It was a frightening experience for Karun – his dream car that also happens to be an example of the most valuable Ferrari model on Earth. But he was nothing but complimentary of Goodwood’s team and grateful for the owner’s concern.

“Obviously I was shaken but the Marshals, the owner, were all great,” he continued. “The owner’s absolute first priority was that I was okay. He was extremely understanding.

“The owners deserve so much credit. They send these cars that were designed 60 years ago out racing, that are worth so much, understanding that things can go wrong and that these things happen. He told me, he wants to get the car fixed and get it back on track at Goodwood soon.”

It’s nothing unusual. No one bats an eyelid when a Formula One engine blows up. The onboard fire extinguisher did its job. Karun is fine, which was our first concern.


“We race knowing they break”

A representative of the owner clarified to us what is known so far about what happened, that all safety systems worked as they should and that Karun's wellbeing was absolutely of the utmost priority:

"The internet will love it," he said to us. "It's to be expected. I can see it now – 'at least it's raced', 'that'll be expensive', 'too dangerous', 'that nearly blew up and destroyed Goodwood'.

"It didn't. It has a hole in the engine and the onboard fire extinguisher did its job. Karun is fine, which was our first concern, let's be clear. We race knowing they break.

“In basic terms, it was engine failure, as does happen in racing, as these engines are ‘highly strung’. We don’t know the actual cause internally until it’s taken back and checked, but there was some internal failure, which caused a hole in the side of the sump, that let the oil out towards the exhaust which was the spectacular ‘explosion’ you saw. 

“The engine locking and dropping oil is what span Karun, who was uber skilled getting it off the track, as we saw, minimising the effect on the other competitors.

“It’s nothing unusual. No one bats an eyelid when a Formula 1 engine blows up. These cars are 50-year-old technology and occasionally one will blow up no matter how well-prepared."

The long and the short of it is, mechanical missteps like these are relatively commonplace, not just in historic motorsport, but motorsport in general. They’re par for the course – an occupational hazard for complex – and in this case aged – pieces of engineering being used hard.

Occasionally, only occasionally, the stars align into pure headline fodder. You get a GTO almost perfectly central in the frame, pirouetting out from under an ex-F1 driver on a blanket of flames and smoke. ’£75million 250 GTO with F1 driver at the wheel explodes at Goodwood’ is gold, right? But as those closest to the incident have said above – it’s nothing unusual. It happens, in all motorsport, from grassroots autotesting, to modern-day F1. 

All involved are happy, healthy and looking forward to their Sunday at the 2023 Goodwood Revival. How it was handled was a testament to the skills of all involved, from Karun’s driving and crisis management putting the car in a safe spot, to the marshals expediency in getting the car safely off-track.

As ever, we are all as fans and as the team that brings these events to you, so grateful to the owners – the caretakers of these pieces of history – for letting them off the leash so that more people can experience them in person, learn about their histories and learn what makes them special. We look forward to seeing that GTO and Karun back at Goodwood before too long.

Photography by Jordan Butters and Dominic James.

  • Ferrari

  • 250 GTO

  • Karun Chandhok

  • Revival 2023

  • Goodwood Revival

  • lavant-cup-full-race.jpg

    Goodwood Revival

    Video: 2023 Lavant Cup full race | Goodwood Revival

  • ferrari-250-gt-lusso.jpg

    Goodwood Revival

    Video: The story of the only existing racing Ferrari 250 GT Lusso

  • saturday-highlights.jpg

    Goodwood Revival

    Video: Revival 2023 full highlights | Day 2