As the Goodwood Festival of Speed slowly expanded in size, so did the number of rally cars taking part. Until 2004 they had to be content with running up the famous tarmac hillclimb with everyone else, but for the past 9 years the rally cars have had their own special home in the Goodwood forest.
The Forest Rally Stage started as a one off but it proved so popular that it is now a permanent fixture, running every day of the Festival of Speed. The course was designed by none other than Hannu Mikkola, and for 2013 has been expanded with longer sections before and after the forest.
… before delving deep into a tight and technical course through the forest. The rally stage is quite close to the hillclimb, and in some places it is almost possible to see both at the same time. It’s quite an odd sensation to be standing in the middle of a forest watching rally cars, and then have a Formula 1 car roar past at full throttle just behind you.
… for a last few technical turns and then a sprint to the finish line which is conveniently located at the opposite end of the service park from the start line, after an impressive 2.86km of special stage rallying.
Perhaps the best thing about the Forest Rally Stage, I thought, is that it really feels like you’re at a club rally. The atmosphere is relaxed and everyone is friendly. Except for the hoards of priceless rally cars everywhere you look, you really could be at the Robertstown Rally.
It didn’t matter if you were a local club driver with an old replica Corolla or Mikko Hirvonen in the current Citroen DS3 WRC, all cars and drivers were treated as equal. In fact, the field was specially hand selected to give this diversity.
By the end of the day I was feeling pretty uncomfortable, coated in that special paste that is formed when dust mixes with sweat. It just felt like I’d come from a rally back in Australia, so in that respect the Forest Rally Stage was extremely realistic.
This Peugeot 405 T16 raced in the 1988 Dakar Rally, with Juha Kankkunen behind the wheel. Interestingly, this is the actual car that was stolen overnight from the service bivouac by African militants. They simply walked in and drove the car out; the officials thought it was the mechanics going for a post service test drive.
The Peugeot team bosses met the militants in the wee hours of the morning and paid a large ransom to get the car back so that Kankkunen could continue in the rally. Just think of the stories this steering wheel could tell!
One of the more ‘interesting’ cars was this 1972 Lotus Esprit fitted with a Rover 3.5 litre V8, long before Lotus offered a V8 Esprit from the factory. It was built by Cypriot fruit exporter Dimi Mavropoulos for Rallycross racing in the 70’s.
‘P12 WRC’ is a license plate well known to hardened Subaru fans, and P12 WRC was rallied in anger at Goodwood. It was driven by Pierro Liatti in the 1998 Spain and Argentina WRC rounds, and by Colin McRae in the Finland 1000 Lakes and Australian rounds that same year. After the Australian round it was sold to Possum Bourne, and this is the very car he used to win the 1999 and 2000 Australian Rally Championship, and the 2000 Asia Pacific Rally Championship. It was quite special to see this car at Goodwood, remembering the times I’ve seen it competing with Possum behind the wheel back at home in Adelaide, Australia.
Despite all of the rarities competing the standout car for me was one that caught me completely by surprise; the Overdrive Toyota Hilux driven by Giniel de Villiers to a fabulous and somewhat unlikely second place in this year’s Dakar Rally.
Just a few months ago I sat at home cheering de Villiers on through the dunes and boulders and rain storms of Peru, Argentina and Chile for over two weeks as he tackled the works Mini’s in this Hilux, so it was quite something to see it up close in person. And de Villiers wasn’t cruising through the rally stage either – he was 100% committed every time he went out.
The Goodwood Forest Rally Stage offers the chance to not just see the best rally cars in the world, but to witness them being put through their paces as they were designed, and to make comparisons about different eras and types of car as they race by in front of you.
The Forest Rally Stage is promoted as a sideline event to the main hillclimb; something to go and have a quick look at before retreating away from the dust, back to the cheese and champagne and jazz music found lower down the hill. It certainly lacks the glamor of the hillclimb, but if you’re even the slightest bit interested in rallying it’s worth going to the Festival of Speed for the Forest Stage alone. I spent an entire day there and could have easily spent the three, were it not for the allure of retreating back down the hill to the cheese and champagne and jazz music.