Take a stately home, a dedicated team and add the finest seledion of historic racing cars ever assembled, and you have the ingredients for an unforgettable motorsport weekend.
Only one thing could have made the second Goodwood Festival of Speed better for me and that would have been the presence of Daniel Sexton Gurney at the wheel of one of his fabulous Eagle Weslakes now owned by Miles Collier.
In the end Dan couldn’t make it, but perhaps it was just as well. Richard Attwood deputised instead, and the car performed perfectly.
If Dan had driven it, the Eagle would almost inevitably have broken a driveshaft or its fuel metering unit… Just like the old days.
That, of course, was the key to the Earl of March’s laudable concept in once again throwing open the grounds of his country house and employing the best minds in the business to attract a panoply of exciting racing cars. Last year’s event was adjudged a complete success, but even those who had attended it went into complete sensory overload this year.
His Lordship took the Centenary of Motorsport as its ‘theme’ this year, and an 1894 Peugeot Vis-a-Vis (representing the Heroic Age) and a 1994 McLaren MP4/9 Peugeot (representing High-Tech Formula One) were the bookends of a mouthwatering selection of machinery, shortlisted by historian Doug Nye and auctioneer/racer Robert Brooks, that reflected every possible facet of the sport. Consider the following: 1925 Sunbeam ‘Tiger’: Mercedes-Benz SSK, Bugatti Type 53 4WD; Alfa Romeo Bimotore; Le Mans-winning Lagonda LG45; works 1939 Le Mans Lagonda V12; Alfa Romeo 8C-2300 Monza; Mercedes-Benz W125 (driven by John Surtees); Alfa Romeo 158 Alfetta: BRM V16 MkI and II; Le Mans Bristol 450SS; Lancia D24; Mercedes-Benz W196 (driven by Stirling Moss); a selection of Formula 500 racers (with Moss driving a Cooper, too); Ecurie Ecosse D-Type Jaguar; Vanwall; BRM P25; Aston Martin Project 215, Maserati 151, Shelby-American Cobra Daytona; Cooper Climax T54 Indianapolis; Lotus Climax 25; BRM P261 : McLaren M8F; BRM P115: Eagle Weslake V12 TIG; Repco Brabham BT24; Ferrari 13; Ferrari 156 V6 Turbo; Footwork FA15…
And that, as they say, is really only scratching the surface.
It’s been a hard year in international motorsport, but somehow Goodwood seemed just the sort of antidote to the depression that has settled over F1 in recent months. Here, for those of us who were only around as schoolboys in the Sixties, were the delights we had only previously seen on the printed page, or in museums. My wife kept looking at me askance as I drooled over the Eagle and the H16 BRM, and then came close to apoplexy at the sight of the Maserati 151 in its Cunningham colours. Perhaps the fact that I’d just paid a significant sum of money in the memorabilia section for four Shell booklets on the Tasman series of the late Sixties/early Seventies had already confirmed her long-held opinions of my sanity, but her eyes glazed over as I prattled on about Le Mans 1962…
Here, on a glorious weekend, was the chance for everyone to mingle and to get close to the cars and the stars. I’d swear Ron Dennis’ smile never faded once.
In the end Marc Surer came mighty close to upstaging everyone with a superb performance in a March 792 BMW F2 car brought over from the BMW museum in Munich, the likeable Swiss driver equalling Martin Brundle’s speed through the trap but losing out further up the hill to the power of the Peugeot V10.
“I didn’t know exactly what this event was, because I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of it before,” Marc admitted. “I was surprised to find I needed a licence! A medical! When I saw the track I realised you’d have to be quite brave to race up it. I was very impressed with the organisation, and especially with the ambiance. It was all very professional, and very friendly. Nobody told you where to go, nobody was pushed away. It was very good pr for motorsport.”
Sadly, three accidents marred the proceedings. Andy Wallace stuffed a Jaguar XJ220 trying to match the McLaren F1’s time, Rick Hall did a power of no good to poor old Ced Selzer’s beautiful ex-Clark Lotus 25, and Mike Wilds did himself and Nick Mason’s ex-Villeneuve Ferrari 312T3 harm which left him with a broken leg and a crushed foot, and the Ferrari in pieces.
“What happened to Mike Wilds was very easy to happen,” thought Surer. “Maybe they need to put barriers up or to change the way the event is organised. Perhaps they could just check the speeds in a couple of corners with no spectators, so the cars really only speed through there but go reasonably quickly up the rest of the hill where people can watch. You have to push, but…
“As it is, some of the corners there are flat in an F2 car. I’m retired as a racer, but in the car with the helmet on the old driver is back. You know you shouldn’t do it, but… It was very competitive at the end, you know!
“I was flat, but after the wall section Martin had some more power left. But an F2 car suits hills better. The tyre patches are smaller and it’s narrower.” The March, incidentally, was still the same as when he raced it last year at Thruxton, even down to the high-speed rear wing…
Arrows boss Jack Oliver took a leaf from Ron Dennis’ book by entering not only a Footwork FA15 for Christian Fittipaldi, but also an Arrows A3 for himself. He found the same thing that Surer did. “I hadn’t raced a car since the Swedish GP in 1977. I got into this one for the first time, revved the engine, and it felt like riding a bike. It all came back. Absolutely no problem.
“Then I went off the line, with loads of wheelspin, and grabbed second gear. It went sideways when I planted the throttle at the apex of the first corner, and suddenly I was thinking, ‘What am I doing?’ After that I took it sensibly.”
Christian rolled his eyes when he explained how the front wheels of the FA15 stopped rotating whenever the crown of the road came into contact with the car’s undertray, even when set up to the limits of its ride height. He looked like a man who wondered how he had got into the situation in which he found himself.
Jonathan Palmer, predictably, loved every minute in the Williams FW08 six-wheeler. “I’d love to see this an annual event. I did the first one in the McLaren F1, and the six-wheeler was terrific. I really enjoyed driving it. It had no skirts and very stiff springs, and it was a handful, but very enjoyable. The traction is very impressive. The mechanic I had working with me on it, John Cadd, was the mechanic I had at a test with Williams back in 1982. The six-wheeler had been in the Donington museum until Patrick agreed in March that it could run, and John had done an immaculate preparation job on it. It was just as if we were back at that test session 12 years earlier.
The traction was unbelievable. I put it on the rev limiter to try to break the grip off the line, and it just flew. And of course the transmission was designed with big gears in it to avoid failures.
“When we shook down the FW08 and the FW15 that Adrian Newey drove at Abingdon I had a go in both of them. And I have to say that I enjoyed FW08 more. Obviously FW15 was mighty quick, but it wasn’t as rewarding. 08 has a mechanical gearbox, you can sit it on the rev limiter. You have to think about what you’re doing. You’ve got to drive it properly. You are more a passenger in FW15. But both were a great privilege.”
During the course of the weekend more than 50,000 spectators are estimated to have graced Goodwood, proof that such events have their place alongside contemporary racing.
“What really impressed me about the event is that not only could you take it as read that it would be a great success, but the combination of interesting cars and drivers that the public had access to,” enthused JP. “It proves that there is so much pent-up demand for this kind of motorsport.”
He did express reservations about the safety aspects, however. “Clearly there are areas where they need to improve what they do. Safety changes must be made to a level that is really appropriate. It’s great to have Grand Prix cars there but they need to look at another way to evolve it commensurate to anything else. It’s early in the learning curve.”
There have been suggestions that the Festival of Speed should just be a demonstration, devoid of competition element, but Palmer spoke for many when he disagreed strongly. “People talk of policing driving, but you can’t do it. And l don’t think that the drivers or the spectators want that. People want to see speed. I wouldn’t want to go just as a chauffeur. And I really don’t think the spectators want that. The whole event would lose its appeal if that were to happen.
It’s clear that some rethinking needs to be done before the 1995 event, and that is already in hand.
The 1994 Festival of Speed was a stunning event, a trumpet call from a bygone age, a celebration of a sport with a glittering history. That so many owners should make the effort to appear and be prepared to run their priceless possessions, and so many people attended, was a testament to the lure of motorsport. And for once somebody has been prepared to bypass that awful British trait, wherein we only tend to appreciate what we have when we no longer have it; thanks to the Earl of March and his team, everyone who was lucky enough to venture to Goodwood came away with a fresh perspective on the country’s role in the sport in which it now leads the world, and a heightened awareness of our heritage. Such things are not won lightly. This was the perfect way to supercharge batteries run down by the endless politics of modern F1.
“A lot of people don’t appreciate the important values of motor racing,” said Ron Dennis. “To have fun, be competitive and have a real love of motorsport. Charles March’s love of this sport is phenomenal.” Amen to that. This was a hedonistic weekend, refreshingly devoid of hypocrisy, cant and cynicism. Gentlemen, you excelled yourselves. D.J.T.
Charles March is fighting to get a limited programme of motor races back to the Goodwood circuit. If you wish to assist his efforts, please send a letter outlining your support to The Chairman of Planning & Environmental Control Committee, Chichester District Council, East Pallant House, Chichester, West Sussex P019 1 TY.