Before a huge crowd, Goodwood’s Revival racers delivered another superb weekend’s entertainment. With single-seaters from ERA to BRM P261 via Ferrari 246 Dino; stirring saloons From Alfa GTA to Ford Galaxie and Plymouth Barracuda; and svelte sportscars from Aston Martin DBR2 to Jaguar E-type and Lotus 15 married to drivers of the quality of Richard Attwood, Arturo Merzario, Jackie Oliver and Jean-Marc Gounon, the racing was hard and fast, and it was a meeting which sparkled with nostalgic fun
Wheel-to-wheel with Moss
Most amateur racers have a rich fantasy life, but this far-fetched dream of a race-long duel with Sir Stirling Moss actually came true at Goodwood
A few months ago fate struck a cruel blow. An opportunity was presented to Motor Sport to put a journalist in the passenger seat of an historic racing car while Stirling Moss put it through its paces on the track. The track was booked, the date was set, the car was fine and Moss more than happy to help. And then, for reasons altogether too boring to go into here, our chance to see the master at work from such close quarters was taken away, possibly never to return.
And then came the call that all of us who race old cars pray for but rarely receive. For the first time since 1990, I was going to race at the Revival. Not only that, I was in part one of the St Mary’s Trophy for 1960s production saloon cars with one of the greatest collections of veteran drivers ever to appear on the same grid together. Derek Bell, Richard Attwood, Jackie Oliver, Sir John Whitmore, Henri Pescarolo, Desiré Wilson, John Fitzpatrick, Hurley Haywood, Marc Surer and Arturo Merzario not to mention Tony Dron, Barrie Williams, Rauno Aaltonen, Andy Rouse, Rupert Keegan, Tiff Needell, David Leslie, Tony Jardine, Rowan Atkinson, and, of course, Sir Stirling Moss.
Stirling would be driving a Lotus Cortina, a pleasure that would have been denied him in period because his career ended before its started, while I would be in an Alfa GTA, the car that effectively ended the career of the Cortina as a front-running European saloon car. In the weeks before the race I occasionally let my mind drift off into a fantasy land where the light weight and power of my Alfa offset exactly the talent behind the wheel of the Lotus and we spent the entire race fighting for position around the swooping curves and corners of the fabulous Goodwood track. It would never happen, of course, but there seemed to be no harm imagining.
Then we’re in the collecting area before the race and I’m next to the Moss Cortina because we’d qualified next to each other, Stirling’s best lap 0.6sec better than mine. There’s a tap at the door, Lady Susie Moss leans in and says, “He’s sent me over to stick a banana up your exhaust pipe.”
But although we lined up next to each other on the grid, I got a ridiculously good start while Stirling was hemmed in, and when I looked for him in the mirror he was barely visible at the back. And I thought no more about it for a couple of laps as I kept busy trying and failing to fend off all those faster cars with their faster drivers that I’d muscled by at the beginning. But once they’d gone and I looked up again the mirror was full of Lotus with, framed by its windscreen, a Herbert Johnson helmet and a very familiar face beneath it. Dream had become reality.
And with it came a terrible quandary. In my idle moments, I’d always imagined myself chasing Moss, learning from his lines and techniques so it never occurred to me that at the moment of engagement, I might be leading him. Should I bust every gut to keep ahead, so I was satisfied that, come what may, we’d have had a proper race, or should I step aside and watch a master class play out in front of me? A peculiar sense that it would be somehow disrespectful to gift my place to Moss meant I decided to tough it out, pushing the Alfa seconds a lap faster than in qualifying. But every time I looked up, he was looking right back at me. And I knew I couldn’t keep the pace up for much longer.
And had Anthony Reid’s Jaguar MkII not been good enough to distribute its coolant all over Lavant, Moss would have been past and gone. But it did and the race was stopped with me still in front. But at the restart it was Moss who got the better getaway and me left trying to cling to his fast moving shirt-tails. Nothing was going to deny me this moment and by pushing the GTA harder than I thought it or I could go, I kept up.
What I saw will never leave me. I will be personally very happy simply to make it to my 78th birthday but this 78-year-old was deliberately provoking tail slides in 100mph corners, drifting the Cortina around the track as if he’d been driving it all his life. In fact he’d never even sat in it before qualifying. Once I saw the back of the Cortina step out in the middle of the Fordwater kink, one of the most terrifying curves of any track on earth and the place where, for reasons still unexplained, the series of events that led to his near-fatal accident a couple of hundred yards down the track in 1962, started to unroll. He made no attempt to recover the slide, but merely held it there, completely at home in an environment most of us would associate with very great peril.
But as I started blatantly to copy those techniques I could replicate – his surprisingly tight entry into Woodcote, his generally early apexes and his inch-perfect braking points – keeping up became easier, and with the benefit of an inherently quicker car I wondered if I actually had the front to try and slide past. Once again I thought it would be an insult if I did not. As the laps counted down I couldn’t find a way. He was driving as his reputation promised: no quarter was given but he remained scrupulously safe and fair. I did get past in the end, slithering by on a few extra inches of tarmac he provided at the right-hand curve before St Mary’s. To be honest I thought he’d gifted the place to me, but whatever the case, I finished just ahead, our fastest laps separated by 0.123sec.
He was even good enough to pull alongside on the slowing down lap, grinning for Britain with a thumb hoist aloft. I was just glad to be able keep my feelings behind a balaclava and helmet. He was still smiling when I went up to see him in parc fermé. All he said was, “That, boy, was bloody good fun.” It was all I wanted to hear.
And that was that. Or so I thought. On the day this page was due to go to press, the phone rang. “Andrew? Stirling. You know there was a yellow flag at that corner? You don’t think I’d have let you through that easily do you? This is unfinished business. Going to Angoulême? Damn. How about Spa? Good. We’ll take it up there.” The tone is light-hearted to a fault, but reveals the competitive fire that still burns within this extraordinary man. But whatever happens, I’d gone to Goodwood, chased and been chased by Sir Stirling Moss. It’s all downhill from here.