When we first hear about Jalopnik’s Patrick George taking the new 6th Gen 2016 Camaro into a wall while testing it at the launch at Belle Island Grand Prix Circuit outside of Detroit, MI (and confirmed that he and his passenger were fine) we admit, we smelled blood in the water. A journalist taking out a car is both every auto writer’s worst nightmare, and dream come true (assuming no one is hurt). There’s a vicious instinct to laugh, to taunt, to lay blame on poor skills, poor performance, or on the car itself. To decry the crash as an act of hubris. That it could never happen to me! I declared, in fact, my willingness to feel bad for him and still throw him to the wolves. But then I watched the video.
Here’s the thing – yes, it seems like George took the car out of the corner too hot and hit the wall. He admits his mistake, immediately. You can see him walking back in his head, reviewing the speed of the corner, his familiarity with the vehicle, the millisecond decision that made the difference between cornering effectively and crashing. He is genuinely, deeply contrite. He’s horrified, and he’s sorry, and he knows that there are likely repercussions coming from GM. They asked him to leave the test. His professional life is probably going to suck for awhile.
But I need to reiterate that all of the above really is an auto journalist’s nightmare. Because crashing and walking away humiliated is one thing, but every crash carries a bigger risk. Not walking away. We all know, or know of, journalists killed during tests or out on the road. They’re usually great drivers, even former racers. And they are generally doing things they’ve done hundreds of times, driving aggressively, but safely. Making small mistakes with big consequences. The job is a legitimate thrill, a lifelong dream for many auto writers, but the risk is part of the reward. You push the car to see how it functions, to see if its fun, if it’s stable, if you’re going to love it, hate it, find it dull, and you do so in order to report back to consumers, fans, enthusiasts. The people you represent. No one wants to risk life or or limb to talk about a sweet V8 (or in this case V6), no matter the thrill. Finding the line between pushing and crashing is a very real part of the job.
George learned a valuable lesson that is more relevant to the daily driver than the power of that V6 engine, and while GM is undoubtedly unhappy, no one was hurt. Many drivers learn similar lessons every day. A car is a machine, an unpredictable, multi-ton machine that is dependent not only on driver skill and accountability to function well, but also on engineering, weather conditions, road conditions, tire conditions, and unseen hazards. There are so many things that can go wrong in a given moment.
So, let’s give George a little bit of a break. He made a small mistake, with big consequences for the vehicle. And he’s a good reminder that even the best drivers among us are at the mercy of physics, mechanics, and walls that come out of nowhere.