Wonder wood

The depth and variety of machinery and action at the Goodwood Festival of Speed astonished yet again
Words: Robert Stride. Photography: LAT, James Mann, Steve Havelock

At Indianapolis they get the proceedings underway with “Gentlemen, start your engines.”

Early on Friday morning at Goodwood a French engineer plugged his laptop into an R25, fired up the engine and let loose a 10-cylinder rendition of the national anthem.

A few feet away a Renault AK90CV, older by a century, was still dreaming of the day it took Ferenc Szisz to victory in the first ever grand prix as the festival celebrated the centenary of grand prix racing as well as the centenary of the Targa Florio.

Late the night before, Lord March, outside whose front door the R25 was parked, had suggested that La Marseillaise was perhaps inappropriate for this most English of occasions. The French went into a huddle and by dawn had produced a new map for the V10. They plugged in the laptop and the engine’s throttle system did the rest.

On the far side of the park, under the shade of the beech trees, the Targa Florio cars are getting ready to perform. The Alfas, Ferraris and Porsches are warming up. Close your eyes and you could be in Sicily. So many red and silver cars with all those names on their flanks – Moss, Fangio, Hill, Vaccarella, Merzario and Munari. The Cobra and the GT40 add some bass to the alto of the Italians. The bumpy, narrow Goodwood hill will suit these cars just fine.

At the core of the Festival is the hillclimb track that snakes and swerves its way through the park. A sudden blast of noise and cheers from the fans herald the imminent arrival of Heikki Kovalainen in the Renault R25. The Finn spent less than 45 seconds hustling the car from a standing start to the top of the Sussex Downs. Another few minutes behind the straw bales rewards us with Nico Rosberg in his Williams Cosworth FW28 and Randy Mamola on his Ducati Desmosedici. On the pillion, where Michael Schumacher so recently sat, is Lord March’s plucky (or crazy) daughter Alexandra.

A little later Nigel Mansell, on his first visit to the Festival, has a brush with the straw bales at Molecomb Corner, the approach to which is over a crest, off-camber and slightly downhill. The people’s favourite reverses out and continues on his way. Well, he would. “That’ll give the media plenty to talk about,” he tells the commentator when he reaches the top of the hill. “No doubt you’ll replay the video endless times during the day.”

In among the endurance cars Targa winner Vic Elford, who has the gorgeous Porsche 908/3 for the weekend, talks about the long-tailed 917. Asked about doing 250mph on the Mulsanne at Le Mans, Vic responds with his usual laconic candour. “It was very comfortable, not much to do except wonder what it would be like if something failed at that speed. The long straight got a lot shorter in that car, though.” Along the way, Allan McNish sits in the Audi R10 which won at Le Mans this year. Two large plastic balls on a long piece of string protrude from the air intakes. “There’s not enough room for my balls in the cockpit,” said the Scot. Quite so. Smartly uniformed Audi engineers explained that the apparatus was to remind them to remove the covers on the oil coolers.

Onward, then, and over the bridge to the infield where we spy what appears to be a row of sandcastles. Upon closer inspection it transpires that a sculptor has created 10 grand prix cars, one for each decade, from 170 tons of sand. Three burly minders walk past with Nigel Mansell in their midst. Not far behind is Jacky Ickx. No minders, just his wife.

Back over the bridge, and marshals are ushering a gang of growling Can-Am cars onto the track. It’s the 40th anniversary of these mighty machines. The F1 paddock is bristling with news that Juan Pablo Montoya is to join Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR team for 2006. Dan Gurney quietly opines that JPM will be on something of a learning curve. “Compared to Formula 1 the jostling in NASCAR will be like docking aircraft carriers,” he says. World Champion Alan Jones says that the Columbian’s colleagues will not have an opinion. “They run a risk assessment on interviews. Unless they have a PR girl on one shoulder and a lawyer on the other, they cannot speak,” he tells nearby fans. Jonesy has never been shy of expressing his views on the sport he loves. At McLaren, former team manager Jo Ramirez says that the squad will benefit from the arrival of Fernando Alonso. “He has many of Ayrton’s qualities,” he says. “Total focus, total commitment and huge ambition.”

The appearance of Mika Hakkinen went down very well with the crowd. The Finn is much admired by the fans for seeing to M Schumacher in some gripping wheel-to-wheel games of chicken, and is firmly in the ‘real racing driver’ class. In his Goodwood press conference the original Ice Man was in an open, chatty mood. He said he was enjoying being back in a McLaren, the lop-sided grin and dry humour very much in evidence all weekend.

Earlier in the day we had seen the Red Arrows and the Tornado GR4, the former another reminder of formation flying at its absolute best and the latter a gut-wrenching, gob-smacking display of unadulterated speed and power. The GR4 climbs like a rocket.

Just time then to see the last of the action on the hillclimb. Down at the startline Martin Brundle is doing his trademark ‘grid walk’ under the lime trees. As he strode down the line of cars he neatly door-stepped a rather nervous Lord March who was climbing aboard Mamola’s Ducati for a gig he later described as “like doing the Cresta run on two wheels.” Next it was Jackie Stewart aboard the Matra MS10. Murray Walker sat on the rear wheel, trying not to butt in. Then he bumped into a man dressed in cowboy hat, cowboy boots and Levis held aloft by a belt with a large buckle inscribed ‘The King’. Richard Petty was examining what he calls the “lil’ biddy” F1 cars, in this case Button’s Honda RA106. It was Petty’s first time here and he was an instant hit with the crowd. He drove his 1972 Dodge Charger, not a machine ideally suited to a narrow and cambered course, and signed what seemed about 50,000 autographs. “I ain’t seen nothing like it in the world,” was the King’s first reaction to the Festival. “And I seen a few events.”

Behind Jenson, and last in line, was Allan McNish in the Auto Union Type C. Sound bites completed, Brundle laid down his microphone, donned his helmet and zapped up the hill in the Benetton from his days as team-mate to M Schumacher. All in a day’s work.

The Festival of Speed prizegiving is on the way back to the car park. On a stage crowded with racing drivers Oscar winner George Lucas gave a prize to Gary Paffett in recognition of his showbiz burn-outs in the McLaren-Mercedes MP4/20.

Returning reluctantly to the car park my little Renault Modus is sandwiched between a Ferrari 360 and a BMW M5. A man in a Goodwood T-shirt is taking a photograph of this. In the row behind two young lads sit on the grass flicking through their autograph books. If they weren’t hooked already, they will be now. Wonder if they captured all seven World Champions?

Parnelli-Offenhauser VPJ-1 Indycar

One of the weirdest racing cars you will ever see. It doesn’t look quite right, and it wasn’t. The strange dihedral wings are something from very early NASA and the radical aerodynamics did little for the handling around Indianapolis. Al Unser did the early testing and was not impressed. A more conventional wing was fitted for the 1972 Indy 500 and Andretti finished in the top 10.

Phantom Corsair

This is a show-stopper, a jaw-dropping piece of automotive sculpture. Built as a concept car by Rust Heinz (he of the 57 varieties) in 1938, the six-seater Phantom was his vision of the perfect automobile. In today’s money, Heinz spent more than £2m on its development. The car was high-tech for its time too, with front-wheel drive, cork sound-proofing, superb aerodynamics and a bench seat for four in the front.

Eagle Weslake T1-G

Arguably the most beautiful grand prix car ever made. Len Terry designed the chassis, while the V12 engine, created by Aubrey Woods, was built at Weslake. Dan Gurney won the Belgian GP in 1967, the first American to win a grand prix in a car of his own construction. Gurney did not drive it at the Festival this year, however. “I was half-way in, and I reckoned if I sat right down in it, I’d never get myself out again,” he said.

Forest rally stage

On Sunday morning we could have been in Finland. Driving rain, low cloud and a stage like an ice rink. Bring out the anoraks and umbrellas. The previous day we could have been on a hillside in Italy. Jackets off, shades on and enjoy the show. Situation normal for rally fans, then. And more than 30,000 of them made the trek up the hill to see Hannu Mikkola’s much improved new Goodwood Forest Rally Stage.

“It’s a proper rally stage,” said Petter Solberg after rushing through the woods in his Subaru. “It’s good enough for the WRC and quite quick too. I love it.” The Norwegian and his team raised a lot of money for the Richard Burns Foundation by giving rides to paying fans.

The WRC teams came to boost the funds of the charity in memory of the popular British rally hero. This added an extra thrill, and poignancy, to the event in which Marcus Gronholm set fastest time of the day in his Ford Focus. Colin McRae, Solberg and Mikko Hirvonen weren’t far behind.

But it was not all about the modern cars. In true Goodwood style the legends of the sport played their part. Mikkola roared round in the Audi Quattro A2, while Rauno Aaltonen had his little Mini Cooper S at all kinds of angles. Fastest of the non-WRC drivers was Mike Rimmer in his Lancia Delta HF Integrale.

Many came to see the inch-perfect skills of Jacky Ickx in the Paris-Dakar Porsche 959. For sheer noise, drama and nostalgia Bjorn Waldegard in the Toyota Celica GT4 was hard to beat. A wonderful supporting cast of sideways drivers past and present kept the crowd on their toes from dawn till dusk.

Lotus Renault 87T

This is the car that gave Ayrton Senna his first grand prix victory, in the rain at Estoril in 1985, when the great Brazilian picked his way around the puddles in a brilliant display of car control. The Renault engine, producing more than 1200bhp in qualifying trim, put Lotus back on the podium. The car was driven at Goodwood by Bruno Senna whose looks and demeanour are an eerie reminder of his uncle.