Soul proprietor

“Everything looks good to me, some detail to be nailed down, but now we just have to get it done.” A typically succinct statement from the Earl of March as he walked through the Festival of Speed site a couple of days before this year’s extravaganza.

Alongside him was a camera crew from Channel 4 who’ve spent the past year following him around for a documentary to be shown later in the year. it’s one of four in a series entitled Aristocrats which sets out to see inside the lives of 21st-century aristos. Quite how they intend to portray this particular Lord in 47 minutes is beyond me. His workload is mind-boggling, the Festival just one of a row of plates that he somehow manages to keep spinning.

I mean, he could surely be sitting on his yacht, could he not? This was, unbelievably, the 20th running of an event that began as a fairly low-key gathering for those with a passion for historic cars and motorcycles, staged over just a single day, Sunday June 20 1993. Nobody could have foreseen that 20,000 people would descend upon Goodwood House and certainly there was a shortage of loos, plus refreshments ran out before the day was done. Willie Green, driving a lotus Climax 18, set a record for the hillclimb course through the park, taking 57.29sec to reach the top of the hill. Six years later a little-known young man from Germany covered the same distance in 41.6sec at the wheel of a McLaren-Mercedes MP4/13, Nick Heidfeld’s spectacular effort bringing a sunday crowd of 60,000 to its feet in rapturous applause. The record remains to this day; the Formula 1 cars are no longer allowed to do timed runs and indulge instead in wild donuts, practice starts and ear-splitting lunges from corner to corner.

I was relecting on all this as I sat on the big, fat front wheel of a Camel-liveried Lotus-Honda, watching five other (far more successful) Lotus Grand Prix cars being hoisted high, and swung into position on this year’s sculpture in celebration of the company’s 60th anniversary. against the skyline was perched a copy of the 2012 Lotus-Renault, the dramatic differences between the two cars somehow mirroring the changes to the Festival of Speed. In 1993 there was no ‘central sculpture’, just an Aston Martin DB7 sitting on a plinth outside Goodwood House.

So, the FOS, to use its acronym, is bigger, more sophisticated, four days long now, 185,000 fans this time. But is it better? Perhaps it lacks its early charm, the feel of a picnic in a park, but it’s still a wonderful party, a truly breathtaking kaleidoscope of entertainment for those who love their cars and ’bikes. there’s just so much to do, so many sights to see, almost too much to take in. you may have noticed in the programme that the Patrons for the event are Stirling Moss, John surtees and Damon hill, the two former having helped to get the whole thing started in the first place.

“It’s different, of course, and things move on,” says Surtees, “but it is still a tremendous day out for the family. A chance for grandparents to show their grandchildren the old cars, to tell them about the ‘great old days’, and for the younger ones the F1 cars have been a big attraction in recent years. I rode my Vincent at the first one, drove my Surtees TS20, and I’m still driving cars up that hill today.”

No doubt about that. but the business is a result of an abiding passion Lord March inherited from his grandfather, for the people, the cars, the ’bikes and the excitement that make up motor racing.

For many, it is the surprises, the constant low of new ideas that brings them back year after year. an impromptu gig from bluesman Kenny Wayne Shepherd wowed the marshals and spectators who stayed for the prize-giving this year. Only at Goodwood.

“It is a beautiful event, totally unique,” said Jacky Ickx, who was guest of honour at the staff lunch hosted by Lord March on the Monday after the Festival. “It is the people who make it, the people who make it happen, and the people who come. The Festival of Speed has soul; there is nothing like it.” He’s right.

Rob Widdows