THE MANNIN MORA
THE MANNIN MOAR HIGH SPEEDS TAKE TOLL OF GRAND PRIX CARS DIXON AGAIN FIGURES PROMINENTLY…
Motor Sport writers choose some favourite Goodwood moments
I had been to Goodwood before, because it a) had a nice café and b) was a convenient meeting point ahead of road car photo shoots within the surrounding hills. Time without number I’d stand and watch cars peeling in and out of pits that looked largely unchanged from period photos, but since 1966 the circuit had been mostly a test venue, albeit licensed to host the occasional sprint. The idea that I might ever watch any racing here seemed impossible rather than fanciful. And yet…
In September 1998 I was close to the chicane exit, on the infield, a vantage point that offered a clear view of the start. The image of a Union Flag dropping and then vanishing in a spume of haze remains etched in my mind’s eye: if they’d called the whole thing off there and then, I had at least witnessed a competitive spark at a circuit I’d assumed forever consigned to history.
Notionally the Woodcote Cup was for front-engined F1 or F2 cars from 1948-1953, but Willie Green’s pole-sitting Alfa Romeo 158 failed to start and the BRM V16s of Peter Gethin and Rick Hall ground to a swift halt – who said Goodwood isn’t realistic? That left Ludovic Lindsay clear in ERA R5B ‘Remus’, but the result was secondary to a singular, important truth.
Racing was back.
It’s the one moment no member of the public gets to see. And for most people in the room it was the boring bit, important of course, but dull all the same. For me, however, it was, is and will remain one of my greatest memories, not just of Goodwood but nearly 25 years of racing historic cars.
Because for that one moment before we took our places behind the wheel for the TT Celebration, we were equals. Just a bunch of Nomex-clad blokes in a Portakabin being told to behave ourselves when our turn to race came. All that was different were the names. There were Sir Jack Brabham, John Surtees and Hills Phil and Damon – and that was just the world champions. Sitting like schoolboys on folding chairs were also the not yet knighted Stirling Moss, Derek Bell, Jackie Oliver, Bobby Rahal, Patrick Tambay, Jochen Mass and Richard Attwood. And those are the ones I can recall from a near 20-year distance.
For some reason I thought it would be different to all the other briefings I’d attended over the years, that there would be some recognition of the fact the room was full of racing royalty. But no: it could have been a 10-lap clubbie at any UK circuit for all the difference their presence made, and probably rightly so. There we sat, meek and quiet, while we were reminded of our responsibilities to those with whom we were sharing the track. And in that moment, and that moment alone, I was one of them, indivisible from the greatest number of true racing legends I’d ever seen under one small roof.
Then came the race. From memory I don’t think the car made it beyond the first corner. Reality had returned.
If there are pearly gates and I’m allowed to carry one racing memory through to the other side, it will be this. At the 2007 Revival Sir Stirling Moss was on the eve of his 78th birthday and had agreed to drive a Lotus Cortina in part one of the St Mary’s Trophy – and there I was in an Alfa Romeo GTA, right next to the great man.
I made the better start, but soon had my mirrors full of the Herbert Johnson-helmeted Moss and my only hope of keeping him at bay was the fact I had a quicker car. But even that advantage seemed insufficient. Just as he was about to pass, someone had a huge accident and the race was stopped. At the restart it was Stirling’s turn to get ahead and I knew there’d never be a better chance to watch the master at work. I simply had to hang onto him. I did it by driving like I’d never done at Goodwood before, carving three seconds off my qualifying pace in my efforts to keep up. I was rewarded with a masterclass – the memory of his Lotus ever so slightly sideways, inside wheels just kissing the kerb at more than 100mph through Fordwater, will remain always.
And then at St Mary’s he left just a little room. I knew then as I know now he was letting me past, maybe concerned by the extravagant angles at which the GTA presented itself in his mirrors, but he was far too much of a gentleman to say so. After the flag we drove side by side, thumbs up, grinning like idiots. He even came to find me later and said, “That, boy, was bloody good fun.” More than a decade later, it still seems like a dream.
I think the words ‘quietly proud’ cover it. One of our finest Grand Prix drivers sitting in his Vanwall on the Goodwood grid ahead of a phalanx of cars that featured in his career – Frazer Nash Sebring, Healey, Cooper T51, BRM P25, Ferrari 246 Dino…
Tony Brooks, never one to seek the limelight, yet leading a parade entirely in his honour around the Sussex track, lifting a polite, gloved hand here and there to the huge crowd. It was the 2008 Revival Meeting, and while there were sons asking their fathers who the man at the front was, there were far more applauding one of the unsung greats, a man who in a short career came within an ace of being world champion. Twice.
Yet after he retired he didn’t capitalise on his fame; there were no ‘Brooks-tuned’ Fords or ‘Tony Brooks only uses…’ oil adverts. Instead he quietly and steadily built his car business, interrupted from time to time by journalists like me asking for memories. Over the years we became friendly, yet often if I mention his name to non-racing people they say “Who?” – of a man his some-time team-mate Stirling Moss rated as a formidable rival. It has never seemed right, so watching this tribute gave me a satisfying feeling. And at this moment Moss was happy to take a back seat.
We spoke before the parade, his wife Pina smiling by his side, and there was no doubt Tony felt highly honoured; yet this sort of exposure wasn’t his comfort zone. “To be honest, I’ll be glad when it’s over,” he confided.
There had been but two Jaguar E-types in the field at Oulton Park on April 15, 1961, when the model made its competitive debut. More than half a century later there were 29 of them on the grid at Goodwood, in a race that formed part of a long summer of 50th anniversary festivities.
It was perhaps the ultimate E-type cocktail: lightweights, low-drag coupés, roadsters, fixed-head coupés… and Red Bull technical linchpin Adrian Newey’s car, well developed beneath the surface but still wearing an identifiably Malcolm Sayer cloak. It did look different on the track, mind. I was watching from the bank above Lavant, where most cars twitched and wriggled their way through the turn, inside-front wheels pawing at the air. Shared with Gerhard Berger, the Newey car looked stable, balanced, neutral and its lap times reflected as much: pole position by 2.347sec, a gap that covered approximately the next 12 cars on the grid. The 45-minute race appeared a foregone conclusion, but…
The cars of Emanuele Pirro/Desiré Wilson and Martin Stretton/Jon Minshaw made better starts, but Minshaw and Pirro ran wide at Woodcote before the opening lap was complete and Berger sailed through to build a lead. He wasn’t so much in a class of his own as in a separate county.
Soon after the driver changes, however, a misunderstanding with a backmarker put Wilson off the road. The safety car was deployed and Newey was left with but a fraction of Berger’s once-huge lead. Not long after the restart he made a mistake at Woodcote – and Stretton pounced. There were by now little more than 10 minutes remaining, ample time to reverse the balance of power, but the recovering Wilson then slid off at the chicane, the safety car was summoned once again… and there was time only for one more racing lap when finally the track was clear – insufficient to derail a driver of Stretton’s guile.
Despite having lapped 1.173sec more quickly than any of their rivals during the afternoon’s course, Berger and Newey were thus narrowly vanquished.
It was the hardest race to lose, not least because I didn’t let the fact I wasn’t in the race stop me from losing it. I’ll explain…
Back then the unique Lister Costin Coupé was in the family. It had already been my immense privilege to share it in the TT with Richard Attwood, but an old engine (with an aversion to Goodwood’s fuel) and a troublesome gearbox comprehensively stymied our weekend even before we went the wrong way with set-up and ended up with dry settings for a largely wet race. We slithered around to 11th in the end, but the car was viewed as a potential race winner. All it needed was a clear run, a brand-new engine and a TT specialist at the wheel.
So Anthony Reid replaced Richard, while I stepped aside for Chris Harris (who was making a film about the event and likely to go quicker than me in any case).
And it all went wonderfully well. They qualified fourth, Chris started, drove superbly and was leading when he handed over to Anthony. It was a lightning stop taken under a safety car and, when everyone else had pitted, the lead looked secure. Except then it rained. And rained. The Coupé is extremely set-up sensitive and Anthony was finding out the hard way. Still, the chasing pack was miles behind so he would be fine if he just nursed it around. Wouldn’t he? What no one noticed was Simon Hadfield in Aston Project 212 back in fourth place. Who should have noticed? Well me, because I was in charge of timing. But I didn’t. Softer and heavier by far, the Aston was perfectly adapted to the conditions and, by the time Anthony realised, it was too late. The Aston swept past to win. Had I seen the threat earlier would the result have been different? There are opposing views on that subject, but the truth is we’ll never know. All we knew was that despite everyone’s best efforts, the Lister didn’t win. And despite owners past and present trying every single year, it still hasn’t.
Decided over two heats, the St Mary’s is one of the most hotly contested Revival races. Thanks to the generosity of Geoff Gordon, I was to share his Alfa Romeo Giulietta Ti with one of my all-time heroes, Steve Soper
I had a great qualifying battle with Mike Jordan. We both went off on our final laps, and I was amused to see footage of him on a big screen, shaking a fist in frustration as he crossed the line. It was then I knew I’d pipped him to pole.
The race was dry and I got a good start, only to miss a gear and get mugged by Jordan and Richard Shaw in his BMW. I quickly got back on terms, but then the race was neutralised by a nasty shunt.
Once action resumed it was full on. Mike drove brilliantly, while I explored areas of the infield (and outfield) normally reserved for the Duke’s tractors. We traded places many times and raced with total commitment (and trust) until the flag fell with me just ahead. So far it’s the race of my life – a vivid memory from a unique event.
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