Hamilton's day in the sun
Lewis celebrating his British GP win with the crowd at Goodwood was just one highlight of another superb Festival of Speed. Here follow some of the others
Lord March couldn’t have asked for more. Just seven days after that brilliant wet-weather win in the British Grand Prix here was Lewis Hamilton at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, eager to meet his adoring public and bask in the deserved glory they offered him. Sunday at Goodwood was Lewis’s day and unlike his appearance here last year – and at Silverstone a week before – the sun was shining on British motor sport’s young hero.
Just as he did last year, Hamilton appeared regally on the balcony of Goodwood House, this time to be interviewed by DJ and racing fan Chris Evans. Lewis might be ‘racing royalty’ at the moment, but that didn’t stop Chris giving him a bit of gentle ribbing about that red light moment in the Montréal pitlane.
“When we go through red lights, we get points. When you go through red lights, you lose points,” Evans quipped. “I had a feeling you were going to bring that one up,” replied Lewis. “I mean, the rules are twisted aren’t they? It’s just not right.”
“You can have some of my points anytime that happens, it’s fine!” retorted Chris.
As ever, there was much to celebrate beyond the main theme of ‘Hawthorn to Hamilton – Britain’s love affair with world motor sport’, including 40 years of Gulf at Le Mans and 50 years of Lola. The selection of cars matched the high standards set in the previous 15 Festivals, and of course we all had our particular favourites. The bizarre and frankly scary-looking Shadow Mk1 Can-Am ‘dwarf’ stood out for me.
But the biggest jaw-dropper had to be Scottish trials hero Dougie Lampkin who spent the weekend riding just about everywhere, entertaining the crowds with his stupendous ability to ride over anything – no matter how high, steep or seemingly impossible. He even made a star appearance on Motor Sport’s stand on Sunday morning. He was inches away from wiping out our stock of archive DVDs (and me, for that matter), but of course it was all part of the show. Cheers, Dougie!
The Festival of Speed is a celebration of everything that is great about motor sport – so in return, here we celebrate everything that was great about the 2008 Festival of Speed.
Forest rally stage
The Forest Rally Stage fitted nicely into Motor Sport’s agenda, in that it provided an opportunity to see the cars of then and now in action – from the co-driver’s seat.
Two of the fastest Scandinavians ever to grace a stage – the first World Drivers’ Champion Björn Waldegård and current WRC title contender Mikko Hirvonen – were both in action; Waldegård in a Ford Escort MkII similar to that he used in his 1979 campaign and Hirvonen in his Ford Focus RS WRC 07.
First to tackle the narrow and twisty 1.55-mile gravel stage was Waldegård, working furiously at the wheel while simultaneously reaching down for the gearstick and handbrake. Watching the 64-year-old set up the steering to flick the rear of the Escort around corners was to see a master at work. The car sounded terrific – grunty and eager to gobble up the road – and the result pleased its driver. “You’re lucky,” Waldegård told me at the finish, “that time is eight seconds quicker than I went yesterday.”
Time to clamber into the rocket ship that is Hirvonen’s Focus. Leaving the startline of the stage was akin to the sensation of taking off in a plane, heightened by the low down position of the co-driver’s seat offering only a limited view of the stage ahead.
Hirvonen, 28, worked just as hard at the wheel, but his movements were sharper, quicker – such is the power of his car that it needed far less encouragement around corners and seemed almost to grumble at having to slow down for a hairpin.
Hirvonen’s time was a 2m25.5sec compared to Waldegård’s 2m51.4sec, but really that’s beside the point. The main thing that these two men had achieved was to provide a fantastic display of driving for the fans.
You couldn’t miss the Tech pavilion – there were cars dancing outside it. Not the sort of car you’ve ever sat in, but a quartet of Toyota’s i-Real, a minimal one-person transportation pod, half-android, half armchair, which stretches its limbs and leans over to change direction like a carbon fibre greyhound. Watching its limbs extend and contract while it first grew tall and then sat back on its haunches, all in a sinuous routine to funky sax music, it was easy to forget it was being driven, or perhaps conducted, by its occupant, who reclines languidly within it guiding its carobatics with a joystick.
It may be hard to see the relevance, but it was mesmerising, and perhaps the message was that when the oil is gone we will have to look on the car purely as entertainment.
Inside the hall manufacturers did their best to spin out the black stuff with hybrid concepts – Honda CR-2, Opel Flextreme, Citroën C-Metisse, Land Rover LRX – all featuring regenerative braking. That’s the green angle we’re most likely to find in our garages first.
Lightness is the other new grail, and as well as going aluminium, some makers were showing off green materials. Hyundai’s QarmaQ boasted recycled plastics for its body and polycarbonate glazing instead of weighty glass, while the cuddly all-electric Mitsubishi i MiEV (fey spellings involving the letter ‘i’ are crucial in this arena) featured bamboo fibre interior panels. It also has solar panels and a windmill generator. If you can see the obvious flaw in the physics, call them, not me.
Three vehicles dared to admit that speed is fun: a battery-powered 4WD Westfield, built for hillclimbing by ex-F1 engineer Martin Ogilvie and Green Motor Sport, a Tesla, the only serious electric sports car, on sale to you next year, and Morgan’s LIFEcar. This contained the most advanced technology present – hydrogen fuel cell and ultra-capacitors. Bravely, they listed v-max as only 85mph – but as it was visibly doing Mach 1 just standing there, who cared?
However, the car everyone wanted was the Parajet Skycar – a roadable buggy with a propeller and a parawing on top. It really flies, at 90mph. I could have got home in half an hour…
The Festival of Speed isn’t just popular with the thousands of spectators that fill the grounds during the weekend, it also has a certain appeal to many of the sport’s big names.
Over the past few years the Sussex-based estate has seen some brilliant drivers and riders attend the event, and this year was no exception.
On the hillclimb alone Eddie Cheever and Paul Tracy had made the journey from the States, as had Bobby Unser, Tom Sneva and Brian Redman. ‘Local’ stars included the ever-smooth Sir Stirling Moss, design legend Adrian Newey, ex-F1 driver Johnny Herbert and other drivers past (Derek Bell, John “Wattie” Watson, Richard Attwood, Jackie Oliver, Damon Hill, Jack Sears, Jochen Mass) and present (Allan McNish and Frank Biela).
If that wasn’t enough the likes of Mikko Hirvonen, Petter Solberg, Chris Atkinson, Björn Waldegård, Stig Blomqvist and Rauno Aaltonen were testing their mettle on the rally stage, and ace riders Alex Barros, Troy Corser, Carl Fogarty, Michael Rutter and TT-lap record holder John McGuiness blasted up the hill on various machinery.
Lastly let’s not forget Sébastien Bourdais, who wasn’t driving a current Toro Rosso but his Lola-Cosworth B03/00, and Mick Doohan, who walked past the Motor Sport stand without a single member of the public blinking an eye.
Style et Luxe
Surrounded by the seething clamour of the Festival, the Cartier Style et Luxe is an oasis of elegance and calm. Four dozen cars are casually grouped to depict automotive art in eight eclectic classes, like The Shape of Things that Never Came: Audacious Supercar Concepts, and Supercharged Sensations: the Exquisite Coachbuilt Mercedes-Benz. The judges are eclectic, too. Rather than car experts and anoraks, they are chosen for their ability to appreciate beauty on a wider canvas. This year they included architect Norman Foster, art critic Brian Sewell, actress Maryam D’Abo and aerospace designer Marc Newson.
The harmonic glory of sweeping wings and pointed tail on Ralph Lauren’s much-feted Mercedes SSK Trossi roadster made it odds-on favourite for overall victory. It was allegedly bodied by an unknown Italian artisan after Count Carlo Felice Trossi of Scuderia Ferrari fame bought a chassis from Stuttgart and drew a sketch of how he wanted it to look. But during heated discussion among the judges it was nearly beaten by the curvaceous Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale from the Alfa Romeo museum.
The Tipo 33 was in a wonderful class called Dawn of the Supercar, which included my favourite, the blunt-nosed peppermint green Bizzarrini Manta. Giorgio Giugiaro apparently disliked this car more than any other of his designs, but fortunately his orders that it be crushed went unheeded, and it now belongs to American Bizzarrini collector Ron Spindler.
Other classes catered for the Ford Model T, whose centenary was celebrated by an entertaining range that included a WWI hearse, brass Brooklands racer, snowmobile and hot rod; James Bond film cars, which were popular with the crowds; and a sextet of early post-war American designs. This was unsurprisingly won by a rare Tucker Torpedo, but more representative of that extrovert era were the 1949 Studebaker Starlight, the Buick Roadmaster Riviera and the Pontiac Silver Streak Sedan Coupé.
F1 on the hill
Six teams represented the current Formula 1 class at the Festival this year, with runs on each of the three days.
The McLaren-Mercedes MP4/22 was driven by Pedro de la Rosa on the Friday and Saturday, and Lewis Hamilton on the Sunday, while the Ferrari F2007 was in the hands of Marc Gené all weekend. Red Bull test driver Sébastien Buemi and BMW’s Marko Asmer and Christian Klien pleased the crowds with the now-mandatory burnouts. Also present was Toyota, whose TF107 was enthusiastically driven by test driver Kamui Kobayashi, and Honda, whose RA107 had an unhappy weekend in the hands of Alex Wurz and Jenson Button.
Wurz’s radiator went on his Saturday run and, in the fury of the usual Goodwood wheelspins, the Austrian thought that the steam was in fact smoke from his tyres. He ploughed on up the hill, bouncing off the rev-limiter, to the delight of the packed crowd. At the top the dehydrated engine was declared finished.
Since the Japanese team had last year’s car, they set about replacing the engine that evening leaving the front of the garage open. There were more than a handful of people who sat and watched the entire five-hour operation. But no sooner had they got the car running again than Jenson, who promised to “try a bigger and better burnout on the hill”, promptly cooked the clutch.
Of course the highlight for many was the appearance of Hamilton. The Brit ‘cruised’ up the hill both in the morning and the afternoon to rapturous applause and finished with a huge drift round the top paddock. Emerging from the car he turned to his PA, beaming from ear to ear, and asked, “did you like my entrance?”.
I asked whether he was going to make it back to the Festival next year, just as he was running off to meet yet more fans. Turning, he replied “we’ll see” before winking and disappearing into a throng of supporters.
The sight and sound of nitro-fuelled, snarling, flame-spitting dragsters parked on the world’s oldest cricket lawn at this year’s Festival will surely go down as one of the most visceral displays Lord March has ever staged.
A recreation of the legendary Lions drag strip in Southern California, complete with staging lights, allowed the crews to periodically fire up each day and go through their engine warming procedure – commonly known as a ‘cackle fest’.
The Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum’s executive director, Tony Thacker, is the man to thank for such an amazing experience and he personally took charge of shipping over a dozen of the finest, not to mention priceless, machines for the event. Putting aside the current worldwide shortage of shipping containers and bureaucratic British customs men keeping the cars impounded until the eleventh hour, he also had to deal with the headache of the only factory in the world, located in China, where you can buy the nitro fuel for these cars being ‘closed for business’ because of emission restrictions leading up to the Olympics.
The most famous dragster on display was the bright yellow Mooneyes example, which first came to the UK in 1963 to race at long-forgotten drag strips. There was also a selection of the first ‘slingshot’ front-engined models through to the pioneering rear-engined examples of the 1960s and ’70s, including ‘TV’ Tommy Ivo’s incredible quad-engined ‘Showboat’ car.
After the public had been alerted to the impending assault on the senses, the gentle rumble suddenly turned into a deafening wall of sound. The ground literally shook, and the vibrations resonated through your chest. With every blip of throttle, more and more of the crowd turned to one another and smiled through the nitro smoke. Suddenly it all made sense.
It was a truly surreal experience and unlike anything the Festival audience had experienced before. I just hope there’s a place for the dragsters every year, as the public’s reaction was one of complete and utter astonishment. Not an easy task at this wonderful event considering the pedigree company these brash outlaws were keeping.
As usual there was an array of celebrities in attendance at the glamorous Festival of Speed. There was a glow of light seen for miles around Goodwood when the stage was set for Lord March’s VIP gala ball on Saturday night at Goodwood House. After a black tie dinner and live music by KT Tunstall, guests were ushered outside to a grand fireworks display.
Playing together along to the fireworks were the cream of rock drummers – Roger Taylor from Queen, Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason and Kenney Jones from Small Faces – while Dougie Lampkin rode his bike above the stage to the Queen anthem We Will Rock You. The following day Motor Sport had the pleasure of Dougie performing his wheelies on our stand.
On Sunday, suave-looking guests joined Lord March and Arnaud Bamberger, managing director of Cartier UK, for Cartier’s Style et Luxe private lawn lunch at Goodwood House, set around the Concours of Elegance. Tom Aikens (one of the judges), Jay Kay, Bryan Ferry, Sir Terrance Conran, Chris Evans, Lewis Hamilton and his girlfriend, the Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, were all at the star-studded event.
When I saw Lewis being continuously approached for autographs and pictures, I did feel a tad sorry for him being pulled in all directions. But I soon contradicted myself as he passed me by and asked for a picture with him – now I have it I promise to stop stalking him!