Test match special

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After the racing action stopped, Goodwood lived on as a test track. Peter Robinson recalls a memorable day of star drivers and cars in 1968

Racing at Goodwood came to an end after the Members’ Meeting in July 1966, but as one key chapter closed for the Sussex circuit another began. Goodwood’s qualities as an ideal venue for testing would be recognised for years to come and often, on a calm mid-week day when the wind was blowing from the north-east, the unmistakable sound of growling racing engines would drift over Chichester town centre.

These test days were often full of surprises for the casual spectator, perhaps none more so than one day in early 1968 when I knew local man Derek Bell was to try out his new Brabham Formula Two car. Teams would pay £25 per car, with a fee of £100 ensuring exclusive use of the track. But Bell wasn’t alone that day.

Alan Mann wheeled out his new Ford F3L sportscar to test ahead of the Brands Hatch BOAC 500. Most of the running that day was carried out by Frank Gardner, but Graham Hill was also in attendance. Colin Chapman had agreed to allow Hill and Jim Clark to race the F3L at Brands, so Graham was there to learn what he could and report to Jimmy, who was by then living in Switzerland and could only spend a limited amount of time in the UK. Chapman would of course subsequently change his mind and Clark would go to Hockenheim instead of Brands for that fateful F2 race…

Brian Redman was an interested onlooker as the F3L sat in the Goodwood pits. He was there with Cooper to sample the new front suspension on the team’s Formula One car. A few months later in June a suspension failure would pitch him into a dreadful arm-breaking accident at Spa-Francorchamps.

Safety at Goodwood had always been rudimentary during test days, a converted Land Rover the only vehicle on hand to perform basic rescue duties. But the crusade for safety, led by Jackie Stewart, was already underway: on this day he was trying out an early fire-resistant race suit and had insisted on the attendance of an ambulance and a doctor for the test. Other drivers such as reigning champion Denny Hulme were sceptical. When he spotted a St John’s Brigade ambulance and Dr Sheila Aldersmith in attendance, Denny suggested that if Jackie could tell him where he thought he was going to have his accident he would stand at the spot to take a photo! But with hindsight Stewart had a point: two years later Hulme’s friend and boss Bruce McLaren would die on the Lavant Straight testing a Can-Am car.

Goodwood was the best place for enthusiasts to watch the top drivers of the day at work away from the races. During the subsequent 1968 season Jackie would notch up three grand prix wins in his Matra-Ford, Denny and Bruce a trio between them for McLaren and Graham the World title for Lotus. Meanwhile, Bell would impress in his Brabham and sign for Ferrari mid-season.

It was all before them on that remarkable test day in Sussex.