Goodwood Festival of Speed 2012

The motor manufacturers’ stands are bigger than the showrooms in most towns these days, but thankfully some things don’t change at the world’s best celebration of motor racing. There’s something heart-warming about the familiarities of the Festival of Speed: the glories of the Cathedral Paddock, the straw bales that line the hillclimb, the view on the walk back from the Rally Stage. These are the things that are good for the soul.

The 20th Festival of Speed on June 28-July 1 delivered all that we’ve come to expect from the Earl of March and his team, but while there was much to enjoy (and we should never take any of Goodwood’s delights for granted), this year lacked the set-piece moment we’ll never forget. Perhaps they’re saving their powder for the big 20th anniversary celebrations we can look forward to in 2013.

Alain Prost was the most notable newcomer this time and it was good to watch him take his Festival bow driving a Renault RE40 from 1983 – even if he was disappointingly unrecognisable in a plain helmet missing his famous blue and white design. Contractual obligations stopped him driving a McLaren, too, which was a shame. But the photographic exhibition and collection of his great cars in the stableyard showed how much it meant to Goodwood for Prost to be there. The stableyard was a glorious oasis of calm, which should be repeated for other themes in the future.

There was little calm each time one of the contemporary Formula 1 stars made an appearance. Five of the (so far) seven Grand Prix winners of 2012 were there, with reigning double World Champion Sebastian Vettel showing up on Saturday. If anyone fitted the ‘Young Guns: Born to Win’ theme, it was F1’s youngest ever champion. Pleasingly and predictably, Vettel got into the Goodwood spirit on his event debut as he mixed with fellow hillclimbers and revelled in the diverse machinery that surrounded him.

McLaren duo Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton both turned up on Saturday, which was a surprise. We’d expected Lewis on Sunday, but during Friday alarming talk suggested he’d be a no-show. So there was relief all round when his yellow helmet could be seen nestled in an MP4-26 on the startline on Saturday morning. But young fans hoping to catch a glimpse on the final day will have gone home disappointed. At least Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg kept to the plan for Festival Sunday.

Not for the first time, Anthony Reid claimed FTD in the Top 20 Shootout on Sunday afternoon. He stopped the clocks in 46.46sec at the wheel of the stunning new Chevron GT3, just pipping Gary Ward’s Leyton House CG901B F1 car by two-tenths. But Ward still had the fastest time of the weekend in the bag, his Saturday run of 45.74sec remaining the true benchmark of the 2012 Festival.

Inevitably, some overdid it. During the shootout, Rod Millen found himself in the mother of all tank-slappers that left his Toyota Tacoma Pikes Peak special with a seriously crunched nose, while BTCC racer Tony Gilham brought Saturday’s supercar finale to a premature finish when he slid off at the tricky Molecomb corner, in a car that surely won the prize for daftest name of the Festival, the less-than-super-sounding Gumpert Apollo.

Gilham’s shaken passenger was taken to hospital, but released later that night. You’d never have guessed at Lotus’s recent troubles given the scale of its 60th anniversary celebrations. Gerry Judah’s latest giant sculpture outside Goodwood House was one of the best we’ve seen, and the collection of Lotus race and road cars that surrounded it after their displays on the hill was a highlight. Watching Emerson Fittipaldi in a Lotus 49B, 72 and JPS 72E was a delight, and the same could be said for Stirling Moss’s reunion with the Rob Walker 18 in which he won the 1961 Monaco GP.

The Cartier ‘Style et Luxe’ celebrated the Queen’s diamond jubilee with an eclectic display of royal vehicles. A half-scale midget racer left us wondering whether Prince Charles is a closet fan of American sprint cars. His Aston Martin DB6 MkII Volante, used for a certain quiet family wedding just last year, was voted ‘best in show’ by the judges, who included AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson.

The static Aviation Show was a first, but it was the action in the skies that left us craning our necks with our mouths hanging open. The Red Arrows were as brilliant as ever, the new Euroighter Typhoon appeared to defy the laws of physics and a pair of Tornado GR4s left us wondering which way to turn.

Then at the end of it all Lord March took his duties as host to a whole new level. We’d spent four days wandering around the grounds of his home – now we were invited inside. All were welcome into Goodwood House as blues/rock axeman Kenny Wayne Shepherd played an impromptu 45-minute set, then left us wanting more. At Goodwood, it’s a feeling we know only too well.

Damien Smith