Discovering the Goodwood Revival3rd October 2013
For the last few years I've been a regular at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and have absolutely loved it. I'm a huge fan of any race cars from the mid-1970s onwards and so the FOS for me is like going to Disneyland for the weekend. My girlfriend tells me that I am uncontrollable for those two days as I literally turn into a child running around trying to have my picture taken with all sorts of stars and cars that are there for the festival.
Every year, however, people ask me the same question – “Have you ever been to the Revival?” For some reason, the Revival's never on my radar because to be honest, I didn't know a huge amount about racing pre-1970 and knew less about the cars that raced there. More than anything, I thought it was a bunch of elderly gentleman drivers out for a bit of a track day which really didn't interest me. This year however, I decided that I've heard enough about the Revival to come down and have a look at what the fuss was all about - it was one of the best decisions I've made all year!
There's no question that Lord March is one of the best event organisers in the world of motor sport. His attention to detail supported by a superb team of perfection seekers means that the Goodwood events have become one of the key dates in any motor sport diary. That attention to detail that I thought I saw at the Festival was just multiplied over the Revival weekend. From the moment you say yes to an invite the information that comes through on what to wear and where to go at what time is just fantastic. In the build up to the event, I kept thinking that very few people are going to be dressed up and really who cares what I wear – thankfully I spoke to a couple of regulars like Darren Turner and Gary Pearson who gave me a heads up! It was fantastic to see at least 90 per cent of the people who came for the weekend make an effort and get dressed in period outfits. It was actually very funny to see the odd ones who showed up in their Sebastian Vettel or Lewis Hamilton t-shirts get heckled by the crowds!
The atmosphere was just tremendous and you really felt like everyone there was at Goodwood for the right reasons – to watch good motor racing and catch up with friends. Nobody was there to do deals, nobody was there to have their picture taken for the newspapers or tabloids or to go back and tell their friends that they had special £4000 paddock club passes and that was really refreshing for me. The public areas with the 1960s high street and shops were fantastic and the Spitfires and war planes flying overhead really added to the show.
One of the best parts about Goodwood for me as a driver is a chance to socialise and catch up with other friends and acquaintances from the world of motor sport. It's so unique to be sitting down for breakfast with people like Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart or catch up over cream tea with Jochen Mass, Derek Bell, Tiff Needell and Jean Alesi as well as just have a fun time at the ball with contemporary friends like Tom Kristensen, Dario Franchitti, Emanuele Pirro, Rob Huff and Kenny Bräck who are all regulars.
As for the racing itself, well, that was a whole new ball game! As I said before, I had no idea how seriously everyone takes the racing over the weekend but fortunately Darren Turner and Olly Gavin gave me a bit of a warning on the Friday when I saw them in the paddock. Historic racing ace Gary Pearson had very kindly invited me to share his lightweight 1961 Jaguar E-type. Gary is a real star at the Revival and has won a lot of races in a lot of very different cars. I, on the other hand, had never raced at Goodwood before and more importantly had never driven any car built before 2000 in anger on a race track before! Fortunately Gary organised a little test session a week before the Revival and I had a chance to follow Jackie Oliver around to learn the lines for a couple hours but with the noise restrictions, it meant that we weren't really able to go flat out.
In typical Indian fashion, I showed up late on Friday and made it to the paddock when everyone was already in the collection area for qualifying! A quick change into race kit and scrutineering later I jumped in to qualify just as the pit lane opened. Driving the E-type on tyres replicating the 1960s was the most alien experience I have ever had on a race track. All my points of reference of how to attack a corner, where to brake, how much speed to carry through the apex, how to attack the throttle all went out the window. I kept thinking back to Jackie Oliver's words of advice as I got in the car – forget everything to do with downforce and remember to be gentle with everything. Once I relaxed a bit and realised I wasn't going to climb a grass bank at every corner, I started to really enjoy driving the car. All those words of Moss and Surtees talking about how you keep the car alive, just dancing along on the edge of grip started to make sense and by end of the session, I just wanted to keep driving and driving. You felt in control of every movement and unlike a modern car, you felt like you weren't relying in downforce to generate a lap time. Yes, the engine and car needed to work but you genuinely felt as a driver that you could make a big difference to the lap time - much more than in the modern era where you feel on top of the car and you can hustle a lap time out of it.
Unfortunately we had a misfire which meant that we only qualified ninth for the main TT race but we were pretty confident. Gary was superb in the opening laps and got us up to second place. The battle for the lead was fraught and more aggressive than I ever imagined, although the sight of Jean Alesi in a Ferrari 250 GTO trying to pass Gary on the grass for second place wasn't wholly unexpected for anyone who has ever seen Jean race! At one stage the safety car came out and we pitted for a driver change at that point, which seemed like brilliant strategy, but unfortunately I got held by the marshals at the end of the pitlane to let the whole queue past and dropped all the way to the back of the crocodile.
About five minutes later, frustration from being at the back turned to pure fear as the rain came bucketing down. I swear to God I have never been so afraid of driving a race car in my life! For the last 15 minutes of the race, I don't think I ever got to full throttle down the straights. The rear end was just snapping and sliding all over the place and it became a real battle to hang on. Somewhat worryingly the misfire came back and at one point the engine cut out and sparked back into life just as I was trying to turn in to the left handed at St. Mary’s which sent me off into the grass. I was really relieved and pleased to keep it on track for the rest of the race and pass a bunch of cars to climb back up to eighth place at the end.
Overall, I have to say that the Revival was a fantastic experience for me as a driver to go completely out of my comfort zone and experience racing a great car around a great track from an era very different to mine. As a racing fan, it was brilliant to watch the non-stop pure wheel to wheel action for two days and I'm 100 per cent signed up for life now!