Goodwill Festival of Speed Preview

Every year it becomes more difficult to improve on the standards of the previous festival of speed. But this year it looks like they've donated it once again. Marcus Pye has all the details.

Phineas T Barnum have sold it as the Greatest Motorsport Show On Earth and, for once, he'd have been telling the truth. Goodwood's Festival of Speed, established in 1993, proudly wears that mantle and its fame now truly embraces the globe. Almost impossibly, as the trawl for fresh vehicles becomes ever more difficult, this annual slice of paradise, on June 23-25, has all the hallmarks of being the best yet.

Champions and Challengers is the focus, and the theme's enormous scope has tapped virtually every stratum of the sport, from the dawn of the 20th century to the present day. Pairs or groups of cars, many reunited with original drivers, will evoke memories of classic battles or bitter rivalries in Grand< Prix, Indycar, sports and saloon car racing. This sheer variety of machinery, from race and rally disciplines, is what makes this essential viewing.

Formula One cars inevitably grab the headlines, for the sight of these carbon-fibre missiles on the 1.16-mile course is unbelievable. This year the field is stronger than ever. McLaren will defend Nick Heidfeld's awesome outright record of 41.6sec (an average speed of 100.38mph), although it has yet to nominate a driver. Johnny Herbert returns to take up the cudgels for feature marque Jaguar, while BMW-Williams and Jordan have confirmed their intention to compete.

Warring veterans range from the Renault brothers' first GP car of 1902, which takes on Johnny Thomas's 6.1/2-litre Napier of the same year, through Fiat and Bugatti leviathans of the Edwardian age to Bentley and Chrysler endurance racers. Bugatti vs Delage, Napier-Railton vs Birkin Bentley and Mercedes-Benz W165 vs Alfa Romeo Alfetta (with an ERA E-type representing Britain for good measure) head the Pre-WWII line-up.

Strenuous efforts are being made to match a Lancia D50 with Mercedes' W196, thus recreating the dream GP pairing of 1955. If it happens, the wail of V8 against straight-8 will be arguably the weekend's aural highlight. Aston Martin, Ferrari, Jaguar and Maserati will again define the golden age of sportscar racing, while the Mercedes 300S Ls will take on the legendary El Cabollo de Hierro (Iron Horse) to which, in Alcton `Ak' Miller's hands, terrorised works opposition on the 1953-4 Carrera PanAmericanas.

Honda is bringing back its GP challengers of the '60s, with John Surtees in the 1968 RA301 ranged once more against McLaren's first GP winner and a Lotus 49B. One of two technically intriguing Lotus 63 four-wheel-drive cars of 1969 may face a Matra MS80 from Jackie Stewart's first Championship year. The charismatic Watson-Offy in which AJ Foyt won the '61 Indy 500 is twinned with Jack Brabham's new-fangled rear-engined Cooper T54, while a sister car to Jim Clark's '65-winning Lotus 38 is matched with Mario Andretti's Brawner Hawk.

It's Ford versus Ferrari among the sportscars, with the GT40 and MkIV from the Blue Oval and the Prancing Horse's P4. A brawny Filipinetti Chevrolet Corvette will try to outgrunt a sublime Ferrari Daytona among Le Mans GT contenders. Porsche's days at La Sarthe will be echoed by 917, 956 and 962 winners. Alfa Romeo and Ferrari will challenge the early 917s, while the ultimate turbopanzer 917/10 (set to make its Goodwood debut) and 917/30, have been invited to succeed a clutch of McLarens in a retelling of the Can-Am story.

Renault entered the F1 World Championship with its whistling 1.5-litre RS01 turbocar in 1977, and it is coming, with a contemporary six-wheeled Tyrrell (watch Martin Stretton go in the ex-Ronnie Peterson car!) for company. A `ground-effectIPS Lotus 79 and a Brabham-Alfa provide the whole gamut of technologies in vogue. European F2 champions Marc Surer and Bruno Giacomelli have been invited, and will fly in March-BMWs.

BMW's 3-litre CSL Satmobiles' and Broadspeed's Jaguar XJC V12s were the great European Touring Cars of the period. They will be out with their 635CSi and XIS successors of the '80s. Thunderous NASCAR 'tin tops' are coming too, with Bobby Allison invited to pilot his '83 championship-winning Buick Regal, and triple title-holders David Pearson and Cale Yarborough on the organisers' wish list. Alan Jones will drive his 1980 tide-winning Williams FVVO7B on his Goodwood debut A Ligier J S11 and Christian Glasel's Brabham BT49 await as the opposition. Renault's RE60 heads the turbo the high-winged M8B, in which Bruce and fellow Kiwi Denny Huhne steamrollered all 11 Can-Am races in 1969, will be one of the meeting's most photographed cars.

With John Surtees in charge, two-wheeled action will be world-class, as ever. So much did Honda enjoy last year's involvement the Japanese giant decided to bring forward its return with the groundbreaking motorcycles of yesteryear. The Motegi Museum provides raucous bikes for Luigi Taveri and Jim Redman, while Barry Sheene and Giacomo Agostini ride Sukuld and Yamaha 500s respectively. Many more will come, including several from Sammy Miller's Hampshire collection.

New this year, in marked contrast to the uphill struggle against the clock, is the Soap Box Challenge, in which riders will plunge down the course from Came's Seat to the great house at speeds of up to 50mph... Inspired by McLaren designer Gordon Murray, it has captured the imagination of some of the world's finest engineers, from Ilmor and Prodrive to Renault and Rolls-Royce. Machines must weigh at least 165kgs, including driver, and use no more than £1000 of raw materials. Many are innovative, yet event host Lord March 'won' the press preview run on a humble special brewed on the Estate. Heats on Saturday sort out Sunday's finalists.

Extraordinary road cars are part of the Festival tradition, and the fifth Cartier Style et Luxe competition has attracted everything from spindly cyclecars to a magnificent short-chassis Duesenberg and preposterously extravagant 'Grand Routiers' by master coachbuilders such as Figoni et Falaschi. The class for Alternative Power includes steam, aero-engined and jet-propelled vehicles from 1900-39. General Motors is bringing all three Firebird concept cars from the '50s for the 'Brilliant Gas Turbines' section, which also features Renault's Etoile Filante streamliner.

The creation of a Junior Festival of Speed for this season emphasises the family nature of the event over all three days. A super traditional fun fair, Noddy and his car, and story-telling (three sessions on Sunday only) with Gumdrop author Val Biro will appeal to the younger generation. The more adventurous will relish tank rides, a mini-assault course, racing car and jet fighter simulators, motorcycle riding tuition and a rare chance to watch a motorcycle 'Wall of Death.'

Admission costs £9 (Friday), £16 (Saturday) and £27 (Sunday) or £42 for a three-day pass if you book in advance — call the Ticket Hotline on 0870 442 0822, fax 01243 775078 or do it on-line at www.goodwood.co.uk. Children under 12 go free. Pay at the gates on Friday and Saturday (£12 and £24) if you wish, but remember that due to the huge crowds expected, Sunday entry must be prebooked. Grandstand seats cost £6, £12 and 1,17 for the respective days, or £30 for all three booked in advance, as opposed to £10, £15 and 1,25 on the day. Enthusiasts going to the Revival Race Meeting on September 15-17, and who don't want to miss a second, can pre-order a super ticket covering both events for £75 (grandstand seats £60). Bargains by any standards.

Our advice for those planning to attend the Festival of Speed for the first time, perhaps for just one day, is plan your visit now. Friday is the quietest day, a relaxed dress rehearsal for competitors, but you will only see the cars run once. If that's not an issue, it's your best opportunity to photograph drivers and machines in the paddock, and chat with the stars. Don't forget your camera, films and your autograph book! Access to the greatest drivers of all time is rarely any easier than at Goodwood.

It gets far busier on Saturday, when practice gets serious, but with a bit of patience, you'll still win your prized autographs. The soapboxes looked hairy on press day, so don't miss the madmen on their first descent. Sunday is full-blown competition time, and crowds may be intimidating for small children. Arrive early — gates open at 06.30 each day; we suggest you're safely in by 08.30— and choose your vantage point or pack a picnic and splash out on a grandstand seat for a bit of comfort.

However you do it, the Festival of Speed is one of the most glittering sporting and social occasions on the calendar. As you marvel at 200mph Grand Prix cars hurtling up Lord March's garden path, and rub shoulders with heroes of yesteryear and today, remember that it could only happen in Britain.