Goodwood Festival of Speed 2011

This year’s Racing Revolutions theme allowed Lord March to fill Goodwood Park with some of history’s most significant racing cars, which between them spanned a century


Is there any better place on earth to see and hear the history of motor racing? If there is, let me know, and I’ll be there.

Every year the Goodwood Festival of Speed has a theme and for 2011 it was ‘Racing Revolutions — quantum leaps that shaped the sport’, a framework that allowed the ever-inventive Goodwood folk to walk us through all the significant moments, from sheet metal to carbon fibre. Perhaps the theme could have been shortened to ‘From Flintstone to Ecclestone’.

The resulting show brought to Sussex a truly sensational collection of cars and motorcycles, some of which we had seen before, and many we never thought we’d see. It is the sheer breadth of the entry that makes the Festival mandatory for the genuine motor sport enthusiast. And quantum leaps mean weird wings, left-field takes on downforce and bluesky thinking on powertrains.

Take the Marmon Wasp, emerging from the Indianapolis Hall of Fame into the Sussex sunshine for everyone to see. This was the first single-seater racing car to have a rear-view mirror, a small revolution in 1911 but a significant one nonetheless, and 100 years on mirrors are simply smaller and more aerodynamically efficient.

In 1912 Robert Peugeot sanctioned research into a new four-cylinder engine with twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and higher revs to produce more power. The Peugeot L45 used this revolutionary engine to win the Indy 500 in 1913, a huge leap forward for racing engines back then.

Power, of course, was never enough. People talked about streamlining rather than aerodynamics and the lowdrag E-type Jaguar looks as slippery now as it did half a century ago. At Goodwood Jaguar wowed the huge crowd with a superb collection of its racing cars, from the legendary E-type to the Walkinshaw Le Mans winners.

Once competition cars had more power and lower drag they had to be stopped, disc brakes replacing the drums, and now carbon brakes that stop Formula 1 machines on a sixpence. All this was at Goodwood this year, from the Jaguar C-type to the F1 cars of 2010, in another illustration of Racing Revolutions.

The Alfa Romeo 159 always attracts a crowd in the Festival paddock, partly because of its beauty but also because its supercharger pushed Juan Manuel Fangio to his first World Championship 60 years ago. Supercharging became popular in the 1920s, but by the end of the ’50s it was on its way out and in the late ’70s Renault brought turbochargers to F1. On the Goodwood hill we saw the famous yellow ‘teapot’ or — as Renault prefers to say — the RS01 driven by the ever-popular Rene Arnoux.

A quantum leap that changed the shape of the sport, and the shape of the cars, was carbon fibre. We take it for granted now, but in the Festival paddock we were able to take another look at the earliest examples of monocoques made from the exotic material that John Barnard researched with Hercules and RollsRoyce back in 1981. Also of great interest was the Arrows A10B from ’88, designed by a young chap called Ross Brawn whose talent had been recognised by Jackie Oliver. The A10B was the team’s most successful car.

A well-known quantum leap that changed the sport was moving the engine from the front to the rear of the cat Auto Union famously tried this in the 1930s, but it was Cooper which changed the look of single-seater racing cars forever, starting with its 500cc cars in 1946 and then winning the World Championship in 1959 with the Climax engine in the back of the T51. Two years later the Americans were startled to see Jack Brabham’s rear-engined T54 at the Brickyard — the start of another revolution.

In Goodwood’s Sunday afternoon `shoot-out’ for the fastest 20 cars it was Dan Collins who triumphed in the twin-chassis Lotus-Cosworth 88B, a brilliant racing revolution from Colin Chapman that was quickly abolished back in 1981. A great idea abolished like many before and many since. In racing everything changes but nothing changes. Today it’s diffusers and exhaust gases, tomorrow… who knows.

Leaving the Festival on Sunday night somebody remarked that this was yet another great show but that Michael Schumacher, a man who shaped the sport for nigh-on a decade, had yet to make an appearance in Goodwood Park. If you were Schumacher would you have chosen 2011 to take your bow? Probably not.

Finally, writing of Racing Revolutions, it could be said that the Earl of March and his Goodwood Road Racing Company have changed forever the shape of historic motor racing events. We can only speculate as to what he has up his sleeve to keep on improving the two events that he has brought to the calendar. Let’s hope the Grand Prix teams hang on to their laptops so that we can enjoy the cars of today in decades to come.

For now, however, we should just rejoice that so much of the sport’s heritage survives to entertain us each summer.