Glorious Goodwood

Last July saw the 19th edition of what has become a sort of case study for motoring event organisers the world over: The Goodwood Festival of Speed. Attendance is capped to prevent overcrowding, admission is by advance-purchased ticket only, and the list of prestigious sponsors and partners looking to get their name associated with the event grows longer by the year. And it’s all down to the festival’s unique formula. Superstar cars and drivers, past and present, in an unusual but very appealing setting, all combined with the sort of relaxed and friendly atmosphere that’s not always found at a racetrack during a high-profile event.


Goodwood Estate, the seat of the Earl of March and Kinrara, has long been associated with motoring and motor racing in the UK. The Goodwood Circuit in its grounds, like so many UK tracks, came into being in the postwar years as a disused former airfield repurposed for motor racing. But it closed in 1966 after the decision was taken not to modify its layout with chicanes, as was happening at many other venues. When the Earl looked to bring motor racing back to his estate in the early ’90s, permit issues initially meant that the old circuit could not be re-used. So the inaugural Festival of Speed resurrected another Goodwood motorsport tradition: hillclimb runs up the drive of Goodwood House. This narrow and challenging, hay bale-lined run today forms the centrepiece of the Festival of Speed, but with each year new additional attractions are added, meaning that the cars ascending the hill course are only one element of a very busy and varied event.


It’s not uncommon for things to feel slightly surreal in your first few minutes of walking around the Festival of Speed. Within a short time of coming in the gate, I was already watching Red Bull Racing F1 boss Christian Horner being interviewed in the Stableyard, and once he had done his piece, none other than Jay Leno emerged to wax lyrical about the event, where he would be taking both a 1933 Napier Railton Special and 1975 Group 44 Jaguar E-Type up the hill.


The E-Type was the featured car at this year’s event, something which was plain to see from the spectacular Gerry Judah sculpture on the house’s front lawn, consisting of large tubular structures arranged in the shape of the timeless coupé’s classic lines. Every year, Judah is commissioned to produce a new installation inspired the festival’s featured marque, and his creations always dwarf the impressive Palladian facade of Goodwood House to provide an arresting centrepiece and focal point for the event.


Alongside Jaguar, another key theme of the 2011 Festival was the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500, and a recreated Gasoline Alley played host to everything from a 1911 Marmon Wasp to a 1931 Cummins diesel-engined Duesenberg, a clutch of classic Roadsters and a 2010 Dallara-Honda. Despite the enormous breadth and depth of British racing history on its doorstrep, the Festival has always reserved a special place for American cars and drivers, and this year was no different, with the mould-breaking Chapparal 2E and 2J and the glorious primeval noise made by 1983 Buick Regal and 2007 Toyota Camry NASCAR machinery also adding to the spectacle.


For a signifcant proportion of those attending, the key appeal of the Festival is the opportunity to get much closer to contemporary Formula 1 cars and drivers than is possible at a modern Grand Prix. But these cars, crowd-pleasing as they are, are only the tip of the iceberg. For the sportscar fan, 2011 was a vintage year. It can take or second or two to process that you’re seeing a 1966 McLaren 1B, a 1970 Porsche 917, a 1982 Porsche 956, a 1984 Lancia LC2, a 1991 Mazda 787B, a 1992 Peugeot 905, a 1997 McLaren F1 GTR, a 1998 Toyota GT-One and a full spread of Jaguar Group C machinery all in the same place at the same time. And it was particularly special seeing Audi’s Le Mans-winning no.2 R18 TDI, alongside an R10 and two of the storied Auto Union Grand Prix cars of the 1930s.


I’ve never been to an event where you can simply disregard maps, timetables and planning and just wander about, safe in the knowledge that something interesting, fascinating and most likely completely unexpected will turn up around the next corner or within the next five minutes. The Festival appeals to a broad church of motorsport fans, and in addition to the aformentioned categories, racing motorbikes, production-based saloons and rally cars and road-going supercars and concept vehicles were there, both to view up close and to witness tackling the hill.


I was fortunate enough to secure a run in the passenger seat of one of these – the one-off Volvo C30 Polestar concept. This car initially appears little different from the Swedish manufacturer’s tame, mass-produced, three-door hatchback, but it has been worked on extensively by Polestar, an independent subcontractor that develops racing versions of Volvo’s cars for the Scandinavian and World Touring Car Championships. It now pushes out just shy of 400bhp, and the drivetrain has been switched from two to four wheels.


Former British Touring Car Champion and current works Volvo driver James Thompson was my pilot for the very short but very spectacular run up the hill, which includes a hair-raising flash past a very solid-looking flint wall, as well as the much-talked-about blind crest leading into Molecomb corner, which has claimed more than its fair share of big names over the years. The C30 Polestar is neck-snappingly quick, with acceleration comparable to a Ferrari 360 I rode in several months previously. With the imminent demise of the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, the world definitely needs another unhinged, turbocharged four-wheel-drive performance car. Let’s hope Volvo decide to step up to the plate.


The Goodwood Festival of Speed is an undisputed must-do on the motorsport  calendar, but you don’t have to wait a full year to be touched by the location’s magic again. With the correct permits secured, racing has once again been taking place on the classic Goodwood Circuit since 1998, in the shape of an annual Revival meeting. Taking place in September, this event is open solely to cars from the circuit’s original era (1948-66), and now rivals the Festival in popularity and acclaim, while adding the extra novelty of period-correct costume to proceedings. Reports from this event tend to be just as glowing as those from the Festival, so next year’s edition can’t come quickly enough…

All images: Stephen Errity
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