The Goodwood Festival of Speed Forest Rally Stage

DSC_0103As 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.

DSC_0504The 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.

DSC_0532The stage starts in an open field right next to the holding paddock at the end of the tarmac hillclimb…

DSC_0537…where it snakes around the field for a few hundred meters…

DSC_0414… 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.

DSC_0280The longest straight is punctuated by a midpoint yump added at the special request of Mikko Hirvonen (yes, that is a genuine Stratos, too)…

DSC_0435…before popping back out of the forest…

DSC_0436… 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.

DSC_0531Perhaps 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.

DSC_0526There are no fences or barriers as the cars are lining up for the stage, and you are free to walk up and talk to the drivers and co-drivers and check the cars out in detail.

DSC_0529The Halda Twinmaster and a pair of Heuer Chronographs. Is there a more iconic pair in the world of rallying?

DSC_0539It 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.

DSC_0578Although, there were plenty of signs everywhere that we were in the presence of rallying royalty.

DSC_0070But standing in the forest, we could have been at any rally. In an unusual turn for English weather it was unseasonably hot (even for summer) and we were showered with dust by every passing car.

DSC_0475By 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.

DSC_0611And the cars. Oh my, the cars. Where do you even begin? Almost every car on the diverse entry list has some kind of incredible history.

DSC_0484This 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.

DSC_0572The 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!

DSC_0389This is Carlos Sainz’s 1998 WRC Corolla…

DSC_0500…which was accompanied by its forbearers – ST165, ST185 and ST205 WRC Celica’s.

DSC_0150The Group B era was well represented. This Martini Lancia 037 was used by Vic Preston Jr to win the African rally series, and was present in full works safari specification.

DSC_0138This was one of two Ford RS200’s tackling the gravel stage.

DSC_0608This 1985 Audi Sport Quattro won the 1986 Welsh International and National Breakdown rallies with Hannu Mikkola the driver.

DSC_0118The Renault 5 Maxi Turbo that won the 1985 British Tarmac Rally Championship…

DSC_0108…and this Mini Cooper S with works history, driven at Goodwood by none other than Rauno Aaltonen himself.

DSC_0087One 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.

DSC_0599Quality workmanship is not a high point of this car. Tip – don’t try to make your own gated gearshift at home using hand tools. It was an interesting addition to the start list, though.

DSC_0317‘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.

DSC_0508While we’re on the subject of works Subaru’s, this 1994 555 GC8 was driven to 10th in Monte Carlo by Didier Auriol and was also driven in Australia, San Remo and Catalunya by Pierro Liatti.

DSC_0346Despite 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.

DSC_0397Just 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.

DSC_0515The 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.

DSC_0582The 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.

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