Goodwood Festival of Speed

The Goodwood Festival of Speed gets bigger and bigger. And it gets better and better.

Was this the best ever? You decide.

What makes this extraordinary happening so special is the sheer breadth of its content. The ever-increasing presence of the Americans has made a big difference. They just get what the Festival is all about – not proving you could have been a world champion, but putting on a great show for the 200,000 fans who come to revel in the noise, drama and colour.

Few people better expressed the theme of ‘Flat out & Fearless, Racing on the Edge’ than Valentino Rossi, who scored a MotoGP win at Assen on the Saturday and flew straight to Goodwood for his debut appearance. The Doctor had a very late night at Lord March’s party, rode his Yamaha up the hill and drove a Mazda 787B and a Porsche 962 before he flew out again on Sunday night. So keen was he to drive the cars that he rescheduled his flight and helicoptered to Southampton airport at the last possible moment. His appearance on the Goodwood House balcony verged on the Papal.

“Fantastic, so much fun, see you soon,” grinned Vale. We hope so.

A real showstopper was the sight of no fewer than seven Mercedes-Benz 300 SLRs, with Sir Stirling Moss at the wheel of the famous number 722 in which he won the 1955 Mille Miglia. “Lovely car,” he said, “does everything so well, just as good as I remember it.” It was truly memorable to see all the silver cars together (the other remained confined to a German museum).

In contrast the Le Mans-winning Mazda 787 stirred more recent, and very noisy, memories. The Japanese manufacturer was everywhere, its beautiful sculpture towering above Goodwood House, its ‘Raise the Roof’ live bands in the stables, its brand-new MX-5 on the hill – all in celebration of its 60 years in motor sport.

Then there was the 28-litre Fiat S76, running in anger for the first time in 100 years. And angry it sounded, with flames leaping from the exhausts, the car constantly surrounded by goggle-eyed fans with their fingers in their ears. For intrepid owner Duncan Pittaway the restoration of this mighty beast has been a labour of love – and he plans to drive the thing to future events from his home in Bristol. Hats off.

A thrilling Sunday shoot-out was won by Roger Clark’s son Olly in his outrageously quick Subaru Impreza ‘Gobstopper’, reaching the top of the hill in 44.91sec. Fans love the shoot-out and each year we wonder if the outright record will ever be broken, but Nick Heidfeld’s McLaren run in 1999 of 41.6sec remains well out of reach.

Up in the forest rally fans got mouthfuls of dust watching some of the sport’s great exponents, including Kris Meeke in his Citroën DS3 WRC, jumping, sliding and bouncing over this narrow stage between the trees.

This was a memorable year for bikers, or motorcycle riders as John Surtees rightly prefers to call them, and Big John was at the centre of it all as ever. From behind some hefty straw bales we stood and revelled in the sight of so many champions gunning up that hill – Rossi, former arch rival Casey Stoner, Freddie Spencer, Kenny Roberts, Giacomo Agostini, Phil Read, Troy Corser and John McGuinness to name but a few.

More peacefully, the Cartier Style et Luxe was just a mouth-watering oasis in all this mind-blowing panorama of speed and noise. Peter Mullin brought his stunning collection of Figoni & Falaschi cars from his museum in California to celebrate the Parisian coachbuilder’s 80th anniversary.

And I haven’t yet got as far as the Formula 1 boys, Jenson Button, Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg and Kimi Räikkönen all in superb form just a few days before the British Grand Prix.

“I’ve been coming since I started in F1. Such a fun event, lots of old friends, great cars and I get to drive some historic McLarens,” said Button. Great to hear those old V10s again, shrieking up the hill. Oh, and Nyck de Vries drove Ayrton Senna’s McLaren-Honda. What a privilege, for him and us.

It went on. Kiwi ‘Mad’ Mike Whiddett showed us how to slalom up the track, a new drift class kicked up lots of grass and dust, an Aston Martin Ulster made nearly three million quid at the annual Bonhams sale and an RAF Typhoon rattled the champagne glasses. Very Goodwood.

Too many folk, with nothing to prove, are making a mess of Molecomb Corner, causing long delays for fans along the track. That niggle apart, it doesn’t get much better than the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Rob Widdows.

*****

My magic moment

Engine damage? A mere trifle to ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits...

From a kaleidoscope of wonderful moments I am going for the ‘Big Daddy’ of them all. Don Garlits made his FoS debut, bringing one of his early Swamp Rats from Florida. Not everything went according to plan, though.

Garlits never breaks his engines, but on Friday afternoon that’s what happened. Valve spring, floating valve, piston and cylinder head wrecked. No spare motor. No more runs. Then mechanic Davie says he wants to take the valve cover off for a closer look. Good move, Davie. Big Daddy goes into overdrive… “Hey, we can fix this, run it on seven cylinders. I’ve won championships on seven.”

Up go the sleeves, out come the spanners. Head off, pushrods out, valve out, intake blocked with a piece cut off a Sprite can and some denture fixative. As you do.

Borrowed batteries won’t spin the mag. The Williams mechanics arrive with one of those mega F1 battery packs. Instant noise. Big Daddy is ready to roll.

So, down to the startline they go – where the push-truck’s starter motor jams. No big deal. Along comes the Goodwood Range Rover, a tow rope is attached to the Swamp Rat, and she fires up in a blast of nitro-filled noise.

When the world’s most successful dragster racer has come all the way from Florida to show us Brits how it’s done, then it’s gonna be done in style. But where do you get denture fixative on a Sunday afternoon in Sussex? Rob Widdows