Sometimes in life we are blessed by experiencing something truly incredible. Be it driving a particularly fast or rare car, making no mistakes on the perfect rally stage, finally hearing a favorite song live or witnessing the sun rise over a remote mountain range, these are the rare moments that are remembered vividly, never forgotten and used as comparison for everything that comes after.
Sitting back now and writing this post about the Goodwood Festival of Speed, I’m coming to terms with the fact that there’s probably not a lot out there that can compare to the magic of Goodwood. The sheer quantity and quality of cars, the peaceful forest surroundings, the relaxed and open atmosphere and the diversity is something impossible to replicate.
Goodwood is so unique because the organizers have stayed true to the Earl of March’s founding vision and have had the money to prevent the event from being ‘bought’. And now, after some twenty Festival of Speed’s since 1993, the event is still run the same way. The manufactures, the sponsors, the Formula 1 teams, the famous drivers and celebrities, they all flock to the Festival of Speed. But they all very much do it on Goodwood’s terms.
The first of these terms is accessibility and a complete lack of pretension. It doesn’t matter what car you bring to the event, you park it in the pit area where the fans can get up close to it. The Steve McQueen Porsche 917…
What inspired Jaguar to fit a Ford Transit body onto their XJ220 test mule in 1993, nobody knows. But thank God they did. They left the interior completely stock, so you could actually park this van in the street and most people would have no idea.
This is the Hilux that Giniel De Villiers drove to a magnificent second place finish in this year’s Dakar Rally. And the list goes on, almost every car in the paddock has a fascinating history. To be honest, it almost does these cars a disservice. You could spend hours delving into the history of any of them, but Goodwood is so big that you’re forced to gloss over most.
What makes Goodwood so special is that it really lives up to its moniker as The World’s Largest Automotive Garden Party and you really do feel like somewhat of an invited guest to this magnificent party. Here you are, in a lovely forest in the south of England, enjoying a sunny day out with some incredible machinery. It’s the little details that enhance this – all the security guards and ticket staff are friendly and are dressed in white coats, and the organizers provide free drinking water taps. It might not sound like a big deal, but it goes a long way to making your experience a special one.
But even if your budget, like mine, doesn’t stretch to smoked salmon and fine champagnes, the event was awash with food vans selling good value, organic, healthy food; and usually the vehicles themselves were of interest as well.
The trade and sponsor stands aren’t just selling cheap rubbish, it seems as if they too have been selected so that they add something of value to the event. You could get your watch serviced at the TAG Heuer stand…
My lack of space to take anything home (and bigger problem, lack of money) meant I couldn’t really purchase anything but it was fun to look around, and I ended up blowing five hours just looking at the trade stalls. I’ve never seen a McLaren TAG Turbo Formula 1 engine driven by Alain Prost and Niki Lauda for sale on a table at a race meeting before, but this indicates the sorts of things you could easily waste your pounds on if you wanted.
The course itself isn’t really anything particularly spectacular – it’s just the driveway to Goodwood House, and it is the event that makes it special. The most interesting part of the course is probably the line of bricks on the start line, which come directly from the Indianapolis Brickyard 500 oval track in America.
As a result, most of the drivers aren’t properly ‘on it’. It’s more like a motor museum where the exhibits are healthily exercised – you still get to hear them revved out to redline and that wonderful snarl on heel-toe downshift, but the cars aren’t at any huge risk.
Entrants can elect to be timed, and of these the quickest twenty cars are run in a shoot-out on Sunday afternoon to determine the winner. The Loeb 208 T16 earned second place with a time of 47.32 sec, French GT racer Gregory Guilvert behind the wheel.
Instead, it was Justin Law in the Group C Jaguar XJR8/9 who took the victory with a time of 45.95sec. He was properly moving, driving this rare piece of heritage right on the edge up the tight and twisty course. It’s worth pointing out that modern F1 cars are now ineligible for timed runs, though.
The outright course record was set in 1999 at 41.6sec by Nick Heidfeld in a then current McLaren Formula 1 car. But the track, with its hay bales and no catch fencing, simply isn’t safe enough for people pushing the envelope at those speeds – in the video above, just look at the way the car is bouncing around over the bumps. Rather than ruin the spirit and atmosphere of the event, modern F1 cars are banned from timed runs. However, rumor has it that in 2006 Heikki Kovalainen set an unofficial sub 40 second pass in a Renault F1 car.
An annual fixture of the Festival of Speed is the sculpture that sits on the lawns outside Goodwood House. Designed each year by Gerry Judah, the sculpture raises rare cars high into the sky, this year celebrating 50 years of the Porsche 911.
Goodwood is a dream event for the manufactures, and there’s no denying that their gigantic constructions now make up a major part of the event. In fact Goodwood has really become the new British motor show because it allows brands to be linked with an aspirational event that’s promoted all over the world.
… and Peugeot built a tenuous link between the fun loving attitude of its new 208 GTI and wake boarding. The unexpected British ‘heat wave’ that weekend meant this stand was always busy, but I think it was a risky move given the usual English weather.
… and the new P1. These stands were often used to entertain current customers, with a set of keys allowing you access to a coffee lounge or bar. Annoyingly one of the few manufacturers not offering this was Volkswagen, and given my rental car was a Golf I was hoping to flash the keys for a free coffee.
Product demonstration is always popular and several manufacturers had testing areas set up. Audi and Range Rover would take you for a slow ride around a 4WD course if you were prepared to wait in line long enough, and several also had paying rides. Bowler would strap you in for a flat out, air-born blast around a dirt track in their latest off road racer, and Caterham would take you along for some donuts in a new Seven.
… or for a little more money, Bjorn Waldegaard’s Safari Rally winning 911. I didn’t even enquire as to how much this cost, because I just new I’d end up handing them my credit card if I went anywhere near that ticket box. Better to stay far away.
Appreciating 50 years of the 911 was almost as satisfying and a far more financially sound decision. Well, financially sound in the short term. It only strengthened my resolve to one day own a 911, ensuring financial ruin in the long term.
Like the Toyota 86, the 4C just highlights to me that sports cars are finally heading in the right direction. A direct challenger to the Porsche Cayman, the 4C still uses a 1750cc four, but fights instead with light weight and features a proper carbon fiber tub, with aluminum subframes bolted at either end. The final interior trimmings don’t hide the tub, which is barely covered by some floor mats and is exposed in the door jambs and centre console. Excellent. The 4C is the only thing short of a McLaren MP4 12-C to offer the consumer a carbon tub.
4And with a mid mounted 240hp pushing around just 895kg, it should be fairly rapid and nicely nimble, too. And yes, those headlights do grow on you; the car looks far more impressive in person.
There’s so much going on here and so many little details that it’s simply impossible for any media outlet (professional or otherwise) to cover everything. You could read volumes on Goodwood before you come and still get that excited, giddy feeling when you see something unexpected that holds special meaning to you.
Probably the coolest thing I saw all weekend was happening to walk past the red carpet at the famous Saturday night dinner to see one Gentleman arriving in his caged Ferrari 250 SWB amongst a sea of chauffeur driven BMW’s and Audi’s. The roar of the rough idling, hotly prepared V12 really highlighted that this guy would rather be reaching redline on the surrounding country lanes, which I’m reasonably sure is what happened later that night. I can’t be certain, but something that sounded a lot like this 250 blasted past our campsite at around midnight.
The Goodwood Festival of Speed is full of millions of these special moments that cannot be expected nor conveyed. It’s for that reason that Goodwood is the ultimate event, and is something that simply must be experienced in person. The event is capped at 150,000 tickets over the four days and sells out quickly, and I’ll bet that each of 2013’s 150,000 people came away on Sunday evening with their own special Goodwood experience, something completely unique to them.
You need to do whatever is necessary to come here and make your own special Goodwood experience. Sell your car, sell a kidney, sell a child. If you consider yourself any sort of an enthusiast, it’s worth it.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles.