Low Flying Helicopters Don't Belong In Pit Lane

Holden Racing Team’s James Courtney was sidelined from this weekend’s activities at Sydney Motorsports Park from being hit in the ribs with a metal wall before the second practice session. Air from the blades of a low flying Navy helicopter picked up the garage dividers and tossed them like toys in the pits.

You can see the shadow of the helicopter as it hovers over pit lane, tossing equipment around below with its downdraft. The Royal Australian Navy helicopter was part of a military display at the track.

Speedcafe reports that Courtney was taken to the track’s medical center immediately after being struck in the ribs. Later, an ambulance (not a helicopter, but a road ambulance) transferred Courtney to nearby Westmead Hospital.

Driver Jack Perkins was chosen to fill in for Courtney in the #22 Holden this weekend. This will be Perkins’ debut for the team. HRT could not use their pit boom for the following practice session, as it was also torn down by the helicopter’s downdraft.


Walkinshaw Racing managing director Adrian Burgess accompanied Courtney to the hospital and described the pit lane snafu to Speedcafe following the incident:

The Navy helicopter was hovering over pitlane and he has probably come too close and created a draft and a bit of a swell and everything.

A piece of debris has come across at him and [Courtney] put his arm up to cover his face as a natural reaction and it’s hit his rib cage quite hard.

His ribs are fine but his lungs are, we are not quite sure about the condition of his lungs.

He’s stable, he’s not going to die on us but there is a bit of damage there. Obviously we need to make sure we do the right thing by him.

A later statement released by the V8 Supercars series confirms that Courtney fractured two lungs and developed a pneumothorax from the hit. A pneumothorax is a pocket of air between the ribs and lungs that puts pressure on the lungs, making it hard to breathe. Courtney will remain in the hospital for the next couple days.

As much as I’m a fan of the daredevil antics of broadcast helicopters on race weekends, there ought to be a clear no-fly zone under a certain height, particularly over somewhere as busy as pit lane. Buzz empty pastures full of wascally wabbits, not busy team and spectator areas.


What was this pilot thinking? Was he thinking? Either way, I think it may be time to ground this helicopter for a while—at least until the pilot in question gets finished cleaning every nook and cranny of his aircraft with a toothbrush.

Either way, V8 Supercars confirmed that the series and the Royal Australian Navy are both investigating the event.


Courtney has three weeks to recover before his next race weekend, the Sandown 500. He currently sits in fifth place in the V8 Supercars season championship standings.

[H/T The_Rusty_Hub!]

Contact the author of stef.schrader@jalopnik.com.

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In my firefighting days, I was on a rope halfway down a cliff on a rescue when Austin’s very first news helicopter (THANKS, KEYE) began buzzing the mesquite tree tops trying to get a good shot. Dirt, tree limbs, and small rocks flew everywhere; all we could do was cover our faces and wait. Thirty seconds (and a good shot) later, they flew off.

Moral of the story: helicopters are cool, but their pilots can be mindless dicks.