Every journalist dreads crashing a manufacturer-owned test car. Chance, lack of skill, someone running a red light—it always looms as a possibility. And in my 26 years working for car magazines, crashes had always happened to someone else. I'd started to think that I would be skilled enough, careful enough, and lucky enough to make it through my career unscathed. How presumptuous.
When we left the parking lot of Berea College's Boone Tavern Hotel at the beginning of Performance Car of the Year testing, our fleet contained not one, but two bright-orange mid-engine British cars: a Lotus Evora and a McLaren 570S. After a glorious morning on some of Kentucky's finest two-lanes, we executed a driver change at a gas station.
I was in the McLaren when we got back on the road, leading our group on the day's seventh leg—two days on the track and another day on public roads ahead of us. The pavement was clear and dry, the September sky that wonderful Southern blue.
About a quarter mile after an intersection, the route veered to the left. Decreasing-radius corner, downhill and blind. The road looked painted on the hill, twisted and liquid, but also like any one of a hundred other corners we'd navigated that day. I didn't see the loose gravel on the edge of the asphalt, and I dropped the McLaren's right front wheel. There wasn't time or space for stability control to fix it, and the car shot onto the grass.
In that millisecond, I thought, "I can handle this." And then I clearly couldn't.
I was obviously going too fast. I flew up a ditch and plowed down three sections of farm fence—posts like tree trunks, none piercing the windshield by luck. And then the McLaren stopped, its nose lodged against a tall cedar.
I was unhurt, a testament to the crash-worthiness of the modern supercar and this one's rigid carbon-fiber tub. I was grateful, of course. But mostly, I was relieved that no other cars or people were involved.
How does it feel to crash your first car on the job, after decades of safety? Any intelligent person could guess. Despondent and embarrassed doesn't begin.
For predictable reasons, car magazines don't usually announce when they crash a test vehicle. But we felt it was important to publicly confirm why the 570S was absent. McLaren chose not to participate in PCOTY competition in 2015, but this year, partly at my urging, they sent their entry model.
We had high hopes for the machine, which won a recent comparison test with the Audi R8. It had a very real shot at the PCOTY title, right up there with the car that won, and in the first day, I took it out of the competition.