You know you’re at some place special when you are breathing the same air (and tyre smoke) as legends like John Surtees, Stirling Moss and Alain Prost. When minutes after an Audi Sport Quattro tears past you comes the Rothmans-liveried Porsche 956 that dominated Le Mans from 1982-84. And where a Mercedes-Benz W125 from 1937 shares the limelight with Sebastian Vettel’s 2011 championship-winning Red Bull RB7.
The place is Goodwood in West Sussex, England, home to the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Envisioned to celebrate motorsport and all things automotive, this is a festival of speed in the truest sense. What you’ll see here is an array of the most evocative race cars, bikes and even the odd truck, spanning over a 100 years of motorsport. And by ‘see’, I mean see and hear them in all their glory, original liveries intact, as they make their way up a short hill course. While this is more of an exhibition run rather than a flat-out race to the top of the hill, save for modern F1 cars, all four-wheeled entrants are timed. So if there’s a place where you could compare a Group C Le Mans car with a Pikes Peak winner, this is it.
Back in 2012, Lotus, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary, was the marque in focus at Goodwood. But more than the Evoras and the Exiges, it was the line-up of Lotus’ race cars and their drivers that left the crowd in awe. Among the many stars of the line-up was the Lotus Climax 18 piloted by Sir Stirling Moss, who drove a similar car to the team’s first victory at Monaco in 1960. The cavalcade also included Emerson Fittipaldi in his 1970 Lotus Cosworth 49C, who was tailed by the 1974 Lotus Cosworth 72E of Belgian driver Jacky Ickx. Interestingly, the 72 marked the debut of the iconic black-and-gold John Players Special livery on Lotus’ race cars back in 1972. In case you’re wondering, Senna’s cars were there too. Enough said.
There was a whole battery of non-Lotus F1 cars as well, but some stood out more than the others, at least to me. I don’t think I can ever forget the sound or sheer volume of the Mercedes V10 on Mika Häkkinen’s 1998 championship-winning McLaren MP4-13. Coincidentally, the car was being driven by Nick Heidfeld (now pilot at Mahindra’s Formula E team) who also steered this very car to the Goodwood Hill record back in 1999 when F1 cars were part of the competition. Then there was the green Jordan Ford 191 from 1991. Doesn’t ring a bell? It’s the car a certain Michael Schumacher made his debut in. He may be Ferrari’s most successful driver to date, but when you see Niki Lauda, Gilles Villeneuve and Jody Scheckter’s scarlet racers lined up side by side, that fact becomes inconsequential.
The achingly beautiful Lancia Stratos that won titles from 1974-76 was among the few other rally cars that did the road course. Sadly, I missed the Ford Cortinas, Lancia Integrales, Toyota Celicas and their star drivers going about their business (sideways, of course) on the specially prepared Forest Rally Stage a tractor ride away. I’m still kicking myself for that.
But firmly camped by the bales of hay that separated the spectator’s area and track, I did get to see Ari Vatanen’s mad, mad, mad Peugeot 405 T16 that he raced and set a record in at the 1988 Pikes Peak Hill Climb. If you haven’t already, you must watch the video ‘Climb Dance’ to see why the man and the machine are the legends they are.
Le Mans was fairly well represented too with the 2012 race-winning Audi R18 E-Tron hybrid among the cars in attendance. But the highlights for me were the Porsche 956s and 962s that ruled the early years of Group C racing. The gorgeous 1989 race-winning Sauber-Mercedes C9 was there too as was the McLaren F1 GTR from 1995.
The sensory overload was far from over. A NASCAR Toyota Camry in perpetual tyre-smoking mode, a loud Shadow Chevrolet Mark 3 from the Canadian American Challenge Cup (or CanAm) with a massive 8.1-litre engine and an absolutely bonkers Baja-conquering Trophy Truck were some of the other crazy entries. The bikes were there in full force too. My personal favourites included the manic-sounding Honda RC162 in traditional silver, red and green livery and Phil Read’s sleek MV Agusta 500 from 1974. But for most bike enthusiasts, the sight of seeing ‘King Kenny’ Roberts astride his Yamaha YZR750 is sure to have been etched in their memory forever.
Over the three days at Goodwood, I saw a lifetime worth of race machines, experienced how thunderously loud a Pagani Zonda can be, talked to fellow car nuts (Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason included) and even witnessed a brilliant aeronautics display by the RAF Red Arrows. Being wide-eyed has taken on a whole new meaning for me.
The 2016 edition of the Goodwood Festival of Speed commences today and is on until Sunday, June 26. If you happen to be in the UK at the time, please work your schedule around to include the event. You will be blown away!