Event of the month -- Goodwood Festival of Speed

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It’s become as much a part of the British summer as Wimbledon and school holidays — and as usual Lord March’s team delivered an event to savour…

The six Formula One cars perched high on Honda’s claw-like structure nod gently, towering over the heads of those milling about on the circle of grass in front of the house. The familiar strip of asphalt that runs past this stunning backdrop is lined by a crowd, four-deep, every neck straining to the right, every face peering over the straw bales to spot what is approaching: the greatest collection of racing cars to be seen anywhere in the world.

The 13th Goodwood Festival of Speed, themed this year as ‘Racing Colours, National Pride and Culture’, delivered its usual blend of nostalgia and excitement. A Friday downpour threatened a wash-out, but the curse of Glastonbury didn’t reach the Sussex Downs. A capacity weekend crowd of 150,000 stayed dry the rest of the time.

So what was your favourite car? A straw poll in the Motor Sport office threw up gems such as the 1905 Darracq V8 recreation, the neat streamlined 1926 Itala single-seater, the Holman & Moody Honker II Can-Am flop, Chris Amon’s Matra MS120 grand prix car and the curvy 1980 Chaparral ‘Pennzoil Special’ Indycar, made all the sweeter by its reunion with Johnny Rutherford.

All subjective, of course. But a major highlight had to be Stirling Moss back behind the wheel of the Ferguson-Climax P99, in which he won the 1961 Oulton Park Gold Cup to claim the only four-wheel-drive Formula One victory.

Understandably, the sight of contemporary grand prix cars and stars draws a lot of attention. Goodwood remains the best place for the public to witness the marvel of the modern F1 car without the hindrance of a chain-link fence, and the likes of Jenson Button, Olivier Panis and Vitantonio Liuzzi delivered the goods. But the biggest coup this year was the appearance of World Championship leader Fernando Alonso, who was suitably impressed by the scale of the Festival.

A walk (or tractor ride) up the hill was rewarded by the sight of the superb rally stage, new for this year. It’s typical of Lord March that he should be willing and able to cut an authentic forest stage out of his own land. Hannu Mikkola in an Audi Quattro and Sandro Munari in the stunning Stratos were just two highlights of this welcome addition.

Fastest times up the hill are not the point of this event. But these are racing drivers: for some the temptation is too much. For the second year in succession Justin Law took the honour of fastest man up the drive, climbing his Jaguar XJR-12 in just 47.96sec, over three seconds faster than best-of-the-rest man Anthony Reid, in a 1999 Nissan Primera BTCC racer. Reid was so keen to go for a time he even resorted to tyre warmers before his run. But equally spectacular were those who were just happy to put on a show, like Darren Turner in the Aston Martin DBR9 Le Mans car, a week after the marque’s return to the 24 Hours. His burn-outs and showmanship got a deserved cheer from the partisan crowd.

Every year at this time Lord March’s team faces the same problem: how to top what they have just achieved. The truth is they don’t have to — just matching it will be more than enough for 2006.

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