Call it voyeurism or schadenfreude, but there’s something about a car crash that just tends to grab our attention. It can be hard to tear your eyes away from the real-life drama of an accident, so much so that we’ve even coined a term for the phenomenon: rubbernecking. Known to snarl traffic and delay commutes, the act of rubbernecking is a big risk factor, with one study estimating that nearly one-fifth of all car accidents are caused by this vehicular voyeurism. So, if a little fender-bender between two midsize sedans is worth backing up traffic for three exits, just imagine how captivating a crash must be when some of the world’s most expensive — and fastest — vehicles are involved.
In the world of high-speed, high-performance auto racing, accidents are bound to happen, and the price tag can be staggering. From one-of-one bespoke rides to legendary supercars, no model is safe from the wrath of physics. In a bid to satisfy the rubbernecking urge in a slightly less disruptive way, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most expensive race car crashes of 2023. We’ll skip over any accidents involving legitimate tragedy or bodily harm, leaving you with the finest automotive casualties the year had to offer. From the street racing scene of Portland, Oregon, to the literal Land of Fire that is Azerbaijan, let’s buckle up and dive right in.
The Hyundai RN22e Concept Car
Cost: $300,000 (estimate)
Imagine if your boss trusted you with a priceless new prototype, only for you to go bury it in some hay bales. That’s exactly what happened to one unfortunate Hyundai employee at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July. The RN22e — a concept EV model based on Hyundai’s Ioniq6 — was supposed to have its coming-out party at the Goodwood Hillclimb event, but things quickly went south. When attempting to take a corner about 30 seconds into the run, the driver lost control, hurtling into a barrier of hay bales and plowing through at least three layers of cow food before coming to a stop. The driver and passenger emerged unscathed, but the same can’t be said for the car.
Since the R22e is a concept model, there’s no telling how much this missed turn will end up costing, but these prototypes don’t tend to come cheap. The R22e looks like it might be the high-performance variant of the Ioniq5 (which won Car and Driver’s 2022 EV of the Year Award), crafted by Hyundai’s N performance division. Early indications would suggest that the Ioniq5 N will cost upwards of $100,000, but given the manpower, research, and development that go into creating a concept vehicle, we’d guess the Goodwood crash set Hyundai back at least two or three times that amount if the car was totaled.
Mercedes-AMG GT S Edition One
It might not be a legally sanctioned race car, but the story of this Mercedes-AMG GT S Edition One provides an important lesson in steering clear of luxury car rental apps. Buoyed by stories from friends who had rented out their own performance and luxury vehicles through the Turo app, James Sands thought it would be a good way to make a little extra cash. Then came his first renter.
While she passed all the prerequisites for renting — over 30, valid driver’s license and insurance, acknowledging mileage limits — the screening process missed one key question: do you have a 21-year-old son who is an active part of Portland, Oregon’s street racing culture? Turns out the answer would be a big yes, which is what Sands discovered when he received a call from the police about his Mercedes-AMG GT S Edition One being involved in an accident near the Portland airport.
The $90,000 grand tourer had crashed into a Jeep parked on the side of the road and was soon in the midst of what appeared to be an illegal street race, an issue that’s plagued the Northwestern city in recent years. “I never really put it together that people would be renting other people’s cars and being that reckless with them; that’s not even something that really crossed my mind,” says James Sands, who, it would seem, has not met many people.
The aftermath is hard to parse with some conflicting reports from Sands and Turo reps, but Sands did waive his right to sue the renter when he initially signed up for the app, which potentially puts him on the hook for the damages. Turo said the renter was banned from the app and will cover costs related to the crash, but Sands remains unimpressed. “It just is laughable, there’s no repercussions, and the part that really got me is when I was asking [Turo] about my options they’re like, ‘if you go after them, we’ll fine you,” said Sands in an interview with Portland’s KGW8 News.
The 1996 McLaren F1 GTR
Cost: $19.8 million
We return to July’s Goodwood Festival of Speed for what has to be the most expensive crash on record in 2023. The same left turn that claimed the R22e — as well as a Judd CG901 F1 car and the $900,000-plus BMW M1 Procar — worked its magic once again, this time with an ultra-rare 1996 McLaren F1 GTR. Known for its 1995 victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, the racing version of the McLaren F1 sports car was raced on various circuits like the FIA GT Championship and British GT Championship up until 2005, when it was finally put out to pasture.
With a naturally aspirated V-12 that packs some 618 hp under the hood, it’s no wonder the driver had a tough time keeping the McLaren F1 GTR on the track. Entering the turn with a little too much speed, the driver locked the brakes, hit the grass perimeter of the track, and quickly found itself headfirst in some hay bales. Luckily, the damage seems relatively minor, which is good for all involved, considering that the last McLaren F1 GTR to trade hands on the open market went for some $19.8 million.
Pierre Gasley’s Alpine F1 Car
The Constructors Championship is one of the prominent competitions in all of motorsport, pitting some of the world’s finest automotive engineers and strategists against one another in a bid to land the vaunted title, but there’s another competition going on during the F1 season (and we don’t mean the Drivers Championship). The Destructors Championship is a fun, if unsanctioned, ranking of the most vehicular damage incurred during the F1 season, and if the current standings are any indication, Pierre Gasly has had an expensive year.
As of June, the Frenchman has racked up some $1.38 million in damages, owing largely to a messy restart at the Australian Grand Prix. After Kevin Magnussen crashed on lap 54 of the race, red flags were shown, leading to a late restart. While leaders Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton quickly sped away from the pack, but the rest of the field wasn’t so lucky. After a collision between Spaniards Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz threw debris across the track, Gasly, along with fellow Alpine driver Esteban Ocon, wound up colliding with the barriers. Officials threw the second flag in four laps, and the race was paused, with Verstappen eventually taking the top spot.
It’s tough to estimate the exact damage to Gasly’s F1 car, but given that the average model costs between $12 and $16 million to build, it couldn’t have been cheap. The crash follows another unfortunate accident for Gasly earlier in the season when his car caught fire during a Saturday training lap at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. It’s been a rough season for Gasly, who sits outside the top 10 in points as of this writing, and it’s not going to get any better if he keeps crashing the company car.
Blaine Perkin’s No. 02 Chevrolet Camaro
We head back stateside for a little NASCAR action. The racing series might not have the same tight twists and turns as F1, but what it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in pure chaos. Unlike F1, trading paint is a regular part of the proceedings at the average NASCAR race as drivers jockey for position around the banked track. Paint was certainly making the round in April during the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the Talladega Superspeedway, with Dexter Stacey tagging Blaine Perkins’ No. 02 Chevrolet Camaro on Lap 47.
A little love tap might not amount to much at lower speeds, but when you’re tearing through Talladega at upwards of 200 mph, it’s a whole different story. The tap sent Perkins’ Camaro airborne, with the No. 02 car flipping six times and flinging components across the track before coming to a stop. Both Perkins and Stacey excited their vehicles without assistance and cleared medical protocols soon after.
It was a scary moment, to be sure, but how expensive was it? While NASCAR teams don’t make a habit of displaying their repair bills to the general public, a recent podcast interview with NASCAR veteran Tony Stewart shed a little light on the potential cost. Stewart, a semi-retired driver who is also co-owner of the Stewart–Haas racing team, told the host that the average NASCAR stock car costs anywhere between $250,000 and $400,000.
That figure is even crazier when you learn that, according to Stewart, most NASCAR drivers have a stable of around 17 cars catering to different tracks. Stewart went on to estimate potential repair costs, with engines unsurprisingly ranking first at up to $150,000. The chassis itself can run anywhere from $70,000 to $120,000, and the hard-working rotors and brakes can set a team back as much as $200,000. Given the tornado of parts thrown from Perkins’ Camaro, we would estimate that the damage would be on the higher end of the scale.
In the World of Racing, One Mistake Can Cost You Millions
No one likes being involved in a car crash, but watching them is a whole different story. Whether it be the dusty tracks of your local raceway or some of the world’s most famous circuits, there’s just something about watching a driver try — and fail — to keep control of a pricey race car that’s just too engrossing to ignore.
2023 has been a banner year for crashes so far, with the wrecks in this list alone totaling an estimated 22.3 million, thanks in large part to the 1996 McLaren F1 GTR. Something like the Destructors Championship might seem a little macabre to outsiders, but for hardened fans of the sport, it’s all part of the fun. As we said before, the horror-to-fun equation changes a little bit when actual bodily injury is involved, but for those lucky wrecks that only involve a little vehicular carnage, a little rubbernecking is fine by us.