My biggest occupational hazard: Crashing | Thank Frankel it's Friday

29th July 2022
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

Do this job for long enough and, sooner or later, you’re going to crash something. I know, it shouldn’t happen, but it does. But there are crashes and there are crashes. My most recent was around 12 years ago on a private airforce base in Germany where I was trying to make a then new Porsche 911 GT2 RS perform for the camera.


Unlike the more recent GT2 RS which is admirably well behaved on the limit for a car directing 700PS (515kW) through its rear wheels with its engine slung out the back, its forebear was far less accommodating. Indeed I don’t think I’d be over-egging it if I described it as downright spiky. So I was keen to keep the drift angle at a containable level as I slithered past the camera time after time, especially as I could see a concrete bunker the size of a small cottage at the trackside which looked none too inviting to me.

The problem with this approach is that if you’re happy with it, your photographer, almost by definition, is not. He (and in this business I’m afraid they are almost all ‘he’s) will want more smoke, more drama, more oversteer. Sooner or later they’ll ask you to give in one more run and really try to light it up. Which is code for ‘we’re going to keep shooting until you give me what I want’. Which is very easy to say when you’re the one with a camera rather than a steering wheel in your hands. We duly reached this point and, by now thoroughly sick of the entire affair, I decided to give him what he was asking for and quite a lot more besides.


And I so nearly got away with it, indeed I thought I had until I essentially ran out of opposite lock and it got away from me. Now entirely in damage mitigation mode I eyed said concrete block through the side window, realised I was about to write off the car and possibly do no small amount of damage to myself and released the brakes. And I nearly got away with that too. Indeed the Porsche just grazed the corner of the block before spinning otherwise unharmed onto waste ground beyond.

It was one of those tricky accidents where it’s hard to know what to feel: cursed because you’ve crashed and damaged a rare and expensive car (though it was repaired and back at work the same day) when if it had gone a couple of feet to the left it would have been unscratched, or blessed because if it had gone a couple of feet to the right it would have been a one-way trip to the hospital pausing only to drop the 911 off at the scrapper on the way.


That, to me and in this line of business, is a forgivable crash. An unforgivable crash is where you write off a car on a public road for the one and only reason that you were going too fast for the prevailing conditions. And I’ve had one those too.

This one was fully 30 years back, which is perhaps why I’m recalling it today. The car was the first Lancia Integrale Evo into the country, the conditions that January day decidedly snowy. Perfect, thought I, for such a car with all-wheel-drive and a reputation for being a rally legend. So off I went, haring down a snow-covered road, round a corner and across a bridge. What no one had told me is that if the temperature is below zero and there is water flowing under a bridge, that is usually all the excuse that is required for ice to form on top of it.


The car had done 180 degrees before I could even think opposite lock let alone apply it. I clearly remember seeing my pretty tyre tracks criss-crossing in the snow before the car flew off the road and down a ditch, its left-hand side hitting the far bank quite hard, which, this being a left-hand drive car, was where I was sitting. Anyway, it continued to rotate down the ditch, wiping corners off itself as it went until it was spat back onto the road, a smoking, ruined wreck.

Somewhat dazed by this unexpected turn of events and lacking a mobile telephone, I stumbled off to a nearby house and called my editor who instead of asking if I was ok, told me I was not. Apparently, I could scarcely string a coherent sentence together. Further professional investigation later that day revealed three broken ribs and a not inconsequential concussion, the latter concealing entirely the existence of the former, both caused by the stoved in B-pillar banging the sides of my body and head.


So when I say there are crashes and there are crashes, that’s what I mean. There are those that are almost an occupational hazard in this game, caused by trying to do something very difficult in the hope that a better result will be achieved; and these always take place in private with no chance of damaging the person or property of anyone else. And that was the Porsche crash.

And then there’s just being bloody stupid, thinking you’re better than you are, failing to read the road and putting yourself on a ward and the car in a dustbin without advancing your knowledge of anything save your own mortality. And that was the Lancia crash. I still find it curious to consider that if said editor had done what he should have done and, instead of taking pity on me, sacked me on the spot, you’d almost certainly not be reading these words now. So thank you Shaun Campbell, it was appreciated, probably more so than I said at the time.

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