Pace, panache & personalities
From more than 10 Porsche 917s to the largest recent collection of pre-war Auto Unions; from Mercedes-Benz Silver Arrows to Jim Clark’s Indy-winning Lotus 38, via Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, David Coulthard, Mark Webber, Jacky Ickx, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Stirling Moss and Al Unser Sr. What else could it be but Goodwood’s 2009 Festival of Speed?
The estimated value of machinery this year totalled more than £257 million and included cars dating from 1905 – a Darracq 200HP – to not just the present day but the future, in the shape of various inventions in the FoS-TECH Pavilion. The on-track action was divided into more than 25 classes that featured 100 years of Bugatti, classic endurance racers – in keeping with this year’s theme ‘True grit: epic feats of endurance’ – Matra in motor sport, iconic Indycars, 75 years of the Silver Arrows, 40 years of Frank Williams in F1 and 50 years of the Daytona International Speedway.
Up on the Rally Stage, Sébastien Loeb arrived having never seen the short test before and set a time five seconds faster than anyone else. However, because of the stage’s twisty nature and the Citroën’s turbo lag, a good battle developed between Loeb and Intercontinental Rally Challenge frontrunner Kris Meeke. Particularly interesting partnerships included Hannu Mikkola in a 1983 Audi Quattro A2, Rauno Aaltonen in the Austin Mini Cooper S that he used to finish third in class on the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally, and Björn Waldegård in a 1974 Lancia Stratos.
One of the Festival’s biggest star guests was American Jesse James, best known for his exploits in a Trophy Truck, but who is also the husband of Hollywood actress Sandra Bullock. On top of that James is a distant relation to the legendary US outlaw! He arrived a few days early to have a look at Goodwood’s Bowler offroading course, where much of his weekend would be spent. His Trophy Truck was still ‘in transit’ to Britain, though, so in order not to delay proceedings he decided to learn the track in his Vauxhall Vectra diesel hire car. After losing the rear bumper on the first jump he decided he needed to get more air, so proceeded to the next one at double the speed. The car speared upwards and then landed on its nose. “At least I ticked the full insurance box,” he quipped.
Other non-racing action included film star Peter Fonda riding up the hill on a Captain America Harley replica to mark the 40th anniversary of Easy Rider. Afterwards, when asked how it was to ride the bike again, he joked, “Well, the first and last 75 metres is always tricky, but that bit in between is impossible…”
Of course there were the usual burnouts and donuts from the Formula 1 drivers – Timo Glock must be congratulated, for after seeing that Lewis Hamilton was being interviewed in the top paddock he proceeded to do a steady stream of donuts behind him, ruining the chance of anyone hearing a word he had to say. Although the most extravagant display almost certainly went to NASCAR driver Landon Cassill, who got to the strip of Tarmac in front of Goodwood House with the 1997 Chevrolet Monte Carlo ‘T-Rex’ before trying to blow its tyres with an exhaustive 30-second burnout. The tyres remained intact, but as compensation he held his steering wheel out the window – while the burnout was in progress – and then got out to stand on the roof. Cue huge cheers from the crowd and a group of worried marshals trying to extinguish burning rubber on the track.
Taking it slightly more sedately, but receiving no less enthusiasm from the crowd, the oldest NASCAR in existence – the 1949 Oldsmobile Rocket – also graced the hill driven by Kenton Evans and Marshall Griffin. But this wasn’t the most weird and wonderful car to feature over the weekend: not only had Lord March’s team managed to entice out the ex-Mick Hill 1976 Super Saloon Volkswagen-Chevrolet Beetle, based on a Trojan F5000, but they also had the 1990 Life L190 that never got through pre-qualifying in its day.
In Sunday’s ‘Top timed cars shoot-out’ Anthony Reid did everything to thwart Justin Law’s attempts to be fastest up the hill – including an engine change in the 1999 Nissan Primera on Saturday night – but the Jaguar XJR8/9 driver was once again unstoppable with a blistering time of 44.40 seconds.
As always the FoS-TECH pavilion was filled with new technologies and included a stunning Ital Design Frazer Nash Namir. It has a limited relationship with the British company founded in 1922, but the Namir will be something to look forward to if supercars go green. At full throttle the car reportedly pumps out less CO2 than Smart’s cleanest city runner, but will still reach 62mph in 3.5 seconds.
On a less cheerful note, Lewis Hamilton missed out on the chance to sample Ayrton Senna’s 1988 championship-winning McLaren MP4/4 after it developed gearbox problems while Bruno Senna was driving it on Saturday. Even though Hamilton gave the fans something to cheer by driving last year’s McLaren, he must be wondering how much bad luck he can have in one year…
Our personal favourite moments? In no particular order: two Ferrari F1 mechanics taking pictures of, and waving to, the Wacky Racers; David Coulthard pushing Damon Hill’s 1996 World Championship-winning Williams-Renault FW18 out of the paddock with Hill sitting sedately behind the wheel; the RAF Typhoon display that defied all aeronautical rules known to man; and, of course, Jenson Button negotiating the hill in a 1934 Mercedes-Benz W25.
Nowhere else in the world can you see even half these cars or drivers in one place, and that’s why, every year, the Festival attracts more and more spectators. The access to cars and drivers is unparalleled, and even the credit crunch couldn’t dull the atmosphere. Jesse James summed it up beautifully: “I’m a freak when I do this kinda thing usually, but here I feel normal.” True to the spirit of the Festival of Speed.
Tradition versus technology
Even if you restrict the trawl to front-engined two-seaters, there can hardly be two more diverse ways of climbing the Goodwood hill than in a 1956 Jaguar D-type and a 2009 Nissan GT-R Spec V (left). The surprise then is that I’ve spent a week trying to figure out which was more fun to drive in that environment – and I’m still struggling.
In theory it should have been the old racer. Even if you ignore the huge emotional pull of its importance, its beauty and the fact that I’m sitting in Mike Hawthorn’s old seat, its credentials seem overwhelming. First, it’s a racing car and not a road car, and therefore I need pay no attention to all the dull ride and refinement issues that even a road car as extreme as the Spec V must accommodate. It is also lighter to the tune of over half a tonne.
Driving it at Goodwood, with its 300bhp, 3.8-litre motor at your command, is an unforgettable experience complete as it is with that unparalleled view down the cockpit and the kind of feel you could only get from a racing car on skinny tyres. It’s so softly sprung it irons out the course’s many and varied bumps like a Jaguar road car yet, in the corners, changes direction as easily by throttle as steering. It feels as friendly as it is fast, a thoroughbred racer you could also drive from Coventry to Le Mans, as this very car would have done when it was new.
But what the Nissan lacks in pedigree it makes up for in brain-melting technology. The ‘Spec V’ moniker means it’s the high-performance version of the standard GT-R, which has itself already lapped the old Nürburgring in 7min 26sec, a whisker off the road car lap record. No one at Nissan is saying what the Spec V will do, but with an overboost facility on its 485bhp twin-turbo V6 motor, ceramic brakes, carbon-fibre front and rear bodywork, bespoke suspension, ever stickier tyres and a 60kg weight loss, you’d hope for something near the teens. To put this into perspective, 30 years ago the best that Klaus Ludwig could manage in a Kremer Porsche 935 was 7min 31sec.
Does it surprise you to learn that the Nissan is much more difficult to drive at Goodwood than the Jag? It surprised me. Though their power-to-weight ratios are similar, the torque of the Nissan plus its all-wheel-drive traction means the front of the car arrives at the first corner seemingly at the same time the back leaves the start line. The normal GT-R does 0-60mph in 3.5sec, so I shudder to think what the Spec V did. For all its mass, those ceramic brakes feel almost overqualified for the job, and it turns into the bend with an alacrity most mid-engined cars would struggle to match. But getting back on the throttle slews the car sideways as all its techno-wizardry proves no match for the pure power of the engine.
It kicks and weaves over bumps, reflecting a set-up for a race track rather than what is, after all, a public road. And while you might ease, caress and guide the D-type to the top of the hill, the Nissan you have to wrestle, fight and try to subdue. Which, of course, is what makes it so much fun.
More than the D-type? Obviously not but, in its own and very different way, the Nissan is far closer than I’d have imagined before I drove it, for just about the only thing these two have in common is that both are pure and proper drivers’ cars. You’d expect that of the old racer, but the modern road car? Such cars may be more scarce than ever, but as the Spec V GT-R proves, they are not yet gone for good.
On the scent of Bloodhound SSC
Inside its shining glass pavilion the needle snout of Bloodhound SSC seemed eager to show the rest of Goodwood what high speed really means. At its 1000mph target speed the jet-rocket car would devour Lord March’s drive in about three seconds – and overtake the Red Arrows mid-display.
This was not the real Land Speed Record car – that won’t begin build until next year – but a GRP full-sized model. Or at least most of it – the rear end including wheels was absent, making it harder to visualise the bulk of the 40ft-plus machine.
In between driving Jaguar’s fastest car, the XFR prototype which hit 225mph at Bonneville, up the hill, Wing Commander Andy Green, Bloodhound’s driver, fielded questions and signed autographs, while the team’s inspiration Richard Noble promoted the project’s educational element. Over 1000 schools are now involved in various ways, and are keen to see the visitor centre where the cars will be built in public, although that location has yet to be decided.
Meanwhile the team has homed in on three potential sites for the record runs: Black Rock desert where ThrustSSC ran, a previously unused salt flat north of Bonneville, and Verneuk Pan in South Africa, once tried by Malcolm Campbell.
Near the mock-up sat the Eurojet EJ200 turbofan engine which thrusts in tandem with the rocket, and the 800bhp V12 motor which pumps a tonne of liquid oxydiser to the rocket in 22sec. John Piper, the ex-Williams F1 man who is engineering director, was on hand to explain Bloodhound’s progress. Excess aerodynamic lift at the rear, identified by CFD techniques, has meant redesigning the rocket car’s tail. However, testing the unique rocket is going well. A small version performed on target and a full-size version, the largest hybrid rocket ever built in Britain, was due to test at the Mojave Desert rocket range in July. There will be footage of that on YouTube.
The impressive mock-up will be seen at more events this summer as the team builds support from major sponsors and individual enthusiasts through the 1k Club.
From an easy rider to Britain’s new GP hopes
Ironically, the 2009 Festival of Speed’s most famous motorcycle was also its slowest. Peter Fonda’s Captain America replica chopper wouldn’t even do a ton, but the Easy Rider star got a great reception each time he rode up the hill at a suitably laid-back pace.
Fonda, who was at Goodwood to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the cult biker movie, needed outside help on each ride, with a group of jogging marshals grabbing the Harley as he slowed to a halt at the top of the hill. “I had my right ankle fused together a few years ago,” explained Fonda, who obviously wasn’t the only ageing motorcyclist limping around Lord March’s acres.
Much of the remainder of the two-wheel paddock celebrated two themes, with six decades of Grand Prix bikes marking the 60th anniversary of motorcycle GP racing and a dozen endurance racing machines fitting the overall theme of ‘epic feats of endurance’.
Among the stars were John Surtees, who rode the glorious four-cylinder MV Agusta with which he won his last 500 world title in 1960 before switching to F1, and rock-hard Australian Mick Doohan, who won five consecutive 500 world titles in the 1990s after coming close to losing his right leg in an accident.
Also in evidence was Britain’s new breed of GP racers – teenagers Danny Webb and Scott Redding, who last year became the youngest rider to win a World Championship race at 15 years and 170 days.
Among the endurance bikes were two Hondas raced by yours truly in the 1980s, a 1983 CB1000R (right) and a 1984 VF750, with which our team took second place in that year’s Le Mans 24-hour motorcycle race.
Brabham celebrates Le Mans and F1 glory
After 16 attempts and at the age of 43 David Brabham, one of the finest sports car drivers of the modern era, has finally clinched an overall Le Mans win. Back-to-back GT class victories for Aston Martin is one thing, to conquer the whole race quite another. But he was hardly getting carried away at this, his glorious homecoming.
Yes, Brabham is a proud Australian, but he’s spent more of his life in England than Down Under. “This is where my home is, where my kids are growing up,” he says. In front of his ‘home’ crowd, Brabs drove the victorious Peugeot 908 HDi FAP turbodiesel up Goodwood’s hill to a rapturous reception. But the success, which he shared with fellow ex-F1 drivers Alex Wurz and Marc Gené, still hadn’t sunk in as he reflected on his achievement at the Festival of Speed.
“To look back over 16 years, if you asked how many real chances did I have to win, you’d have to say only two: this year and with the Bentley [in 2003 when he finished second]. The Panoz was not a car that was going to win Le Mans and in GTs you can obviously only win your class. I always wondered what it would be like standing on the top podium for an overall victory, but when I got up there it didn’t feel any different to the class wins with Aston Martin. Really strange.
“It’s going to take time to sink in because I haven’t had a chance to absorb it. I even had to give the trophy back after the race because it had number two on it rather than number one!”
Brabham is enjoying an unexpected second shot at top-line sports car racing. Since his Bentley Le Mans drive he’d mostly become a GT specialist until Acura, Honda’s US arm, called him up. “When I was driving for Multimatic in the Panoz GT2 there weren’t a lot of options,” he says. “I was out of prototypes, but at least I was racing. Then when the Acura programme came up it was far from certain that I’d get the drive. A few people were thinking ‘can he still drive a prototype?’. After the first test I didn’t have to convince anyone.”
This year Acura has graduated to the top P1 class in the American Le Mans Series, with Brabham scoring his first overall win in the series since 2002 at the St Petersburg street track. “All of a sudden my career had changed again, then it was a bit of a surprise when Peugeot knocked on the door for Le Mans,” he says. “That happened in January. When I saw the
e-mail I said to myself OPEN, OPEN, OPEN!”
With the blessing of Highcroft Racing boss Duncan Dayton, Brabham joined Peugeot for the European-based Le Mans Series while dovetailing his commitments with Acura in the States. He admits the 908 (below) is on a different level to any other sports car he has raced. “The first time I got in it I gunned it out of the pits and thought ‘holy shit, this thing is like
a rocket!’,” he grins. “You just realise that’s what we’ve been up against all this time. It was very impressive.”
At the third time of asking, the 908 conquered Le Mans with a dominant performance led by a trio of veterans. It was the French giant’s first win at La Sarthe since 1993, when Brabham’s older brother Geoff was in the line-up. It was a drive a young David had coveted, but then-Peugeot Sport boss Jean Todt plumped for the more experienced brother. “I spoke to Geoff after the race and he said ‘I knew you would win’,” says David. “He said ‘my race and yours were identical’ – in terms of what his role was in the team compared to mine, how the race ran. It was a mirror to his race.”
David’s old man has also been enjoying the victory. Sir Jack Brabham never won Le Mans, but now he has two sons who have. “He’s still chuffed,” says David. “You can hear the happiness in his voice. He’s been through a rough patch with his health, but he’s doing fine at the moment.”
Sir Jack celebrates the 50th anniversary of his first Formula 1 world title this year, which gave David an excuse to drive a 1959 Cooper T51 up the hill (above) as well as his Le Mans mount. He also unveiled a Brabham family merchandise range on the f1tools.com stand, aided by Sir Jack’s old team-mate Dan Gurney, current Aussie F1 star Mark Webber and former Brabham apprentice Nick Goozee.
David Brabham is very aware and proud of his family heritage. He’d already added much to the family name before Le Mans this year, but now he has the win that will forever cement his place in racing history.
Bruno senna on driving Ayrton’s McLaren MP4/4
“It’s hard to describe, there are so many feelings, you know. Driving Ayrton’s car means so many different things to me.
“There is one side of me, the racing driver, getting into a powerful car, something very different to what I have driven before. Then there’s the sentimental side, the feeling that the car has been driven with so much success by Ayrton, and the responsibility that I must try to drive it as well as he did. Obviously that’s not the case here, but I’d love to try it on a proper circuit and really feel the car. But it’s lovely, being in his car, and it’s a great opportunity to be close to some of Ayrton’s things – I really like that.
“Ayrton was always my reference for how I approach my career. So for me it’s an honour, a real pleasure, to drive the McLaren and see how many people are enjoying the speed and the noise of a car they don’t see so much any more.
“Even here, at Goodwood, you can feel how powerful this car is. You accelerate hard through the gears, you have wheelspin, but the car won’t snap on you – it’s fast but it’s benign. Fantastic.
“The differential broke on my first run, which was a real shame, but the car had not run for many years and I was flat out in third gear, and maybe it was just too much. I think the diff was always its Achilles heel and it showed itself again today.
“Today reminds me… I can’t tell you how much I want to be a Grand Prix driver. I am a sprint driver; I like to be on the limit, that’s the thrill. It was not to be this season [with Brawn GP] but my heart is still set on it, one hundred per cent.”
Bruno Senna was talking to Rob Widdows