Cars, Stars and Stripes

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ROB WIDDOWS – DISPATCHES

I WONDER WHAT HE WAS THINKING ABOUT WHEN HE LOOKED out of his bedroom window just after dawn on Friday July 1. Along the landing from his private apartments slept some of the greatest racing drivers the world has seen. Down below, in the silence of early morning, hundreds of the world’s most beautiful racing cars and motorcycles were yet to be roused into action.

The Earl of March and Kinrara has created something quite extraordinary. Of that there can be no doubt. By the end of Sunday July 3 a staggering 181,000 people had wandered through the grounds of Goodwood House and up into the forest. The Festival of Speed has become an annual pilgrimage for anyone who loves cars and wants to pay homage to their heroes.

Now spread over four days to encompass the Moving Motor Show (which surely should be the British Motor Show), the Festival has constantly re-invented itself. And it is this broadening of the appeal, not to mention the attention to detail, that never fails to thrill those who think they’ve seen It all before. The Festival has long since ceased to be an event only for those wtth a knowledge of, or a passion for, historic racing machinery. It is a social event, a garden party in the great traditions of Wimbledon, Ascot or Henley.

What sets Goodwood apart, however, is the wow factor, the creativity and courage that takes the event to new highs each summer. Wherever you look there is something happening. A Grand Prix car being hustled up the hill, a World Rally Car being thrown around a stage, a Vulcan bomber overhead, a motorcycle back-flipping off a jump, a rock guitarist atop Goodwood House, motor racing royally shoulder to shoulder with the fans, and so on.

For the purist, perhaps this is too much, too far from the roots of an event that began in 1993 with just a few historic cars doing a hiliclimb. For the vast majority, if the smiling faces told the story, this is what they want when they go motor racing. It’s called entertainment and it’s for the family, not just for Dad and his stopwatch. When Goodwood has all its plates spinning at once there is nowhere else I’d rather be, to misquote Roy Salvador!, who in the heyday of the circuit announced: “Give me Goodwood on a summer’s day and you can forget the rest of the world.”

It is clear that the movers and shakers agree with him. The Formula 1 teams came to Goodwood on their way from Valencia to Silverstone, both Christian Homer and Adrian Newey drove on the hill, as did Mark Webber. Jenson Button, wearing a Hesketh T-shirt and grinning from car to car, drove McLaren’s new road car to save wear and tear on an injured knee. The car manufacturers were out in force, building ever-bigger palaces in the park from which to sell their latest models. Jaguar, celebrating 50 years of the E-type, built an E-type sculpture made from steel pipes (Tata Steel, naturally). Enzo Ferrari might not have recognised what he once called “the most beautiful car ever made”. (The Ferrari SWB Berlinetta was surely more deserving of that accolade, but I digress.) Skoda had a snarling Fabia VRS in a cage. Well, why not? And, leading by example, Lord March drove Parnell! Jones’s Lotus 56 indycar. Having been briefed by Jones himself, the ringmaster set off up the hill in this fearsome gas turbine-powered wedge, only for the track to be red-flagged. Lord March loves getting his hands on these rare cars and was frustrated at not getting the whistling red wedge to the top of his now-famous road.

“I feel like I’m in America,” said the person next to me as we watched the celebration for the centenary of the Indianapolis 500. And that, of course, was the idea. But this was a moment for the true enthusiast, especially those who’ve been to the Brickyard, and the proceedings weren’t to everyone’s taste. Transporting the raw atmosphere of Indy to a Sussex park was a tough call and the Brits are too reserved to let it all hang out Indy-style. But Goodwood lets it all hang out and we’ll be back for the Revival.

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