Goodwood Festival of Speed

Whatever the weather, and this time Goodwood was not quite as glorious as in previous years, this was always going to be a great Festival of Speed. The theme for the summer of 2016 was ‘Full Throttle – The Endless Pursuit of Power’ and right from the off we revelled in the world’s fastest, loudest, most potent cars and motorcycles.

There was machinery everywhere, more cars than ever before. Yet again the magic ingredient of this feast for eyes and ears was its sheer breadth, its extraordinary juxtaposition of the sophisticated and the outrageous, the glimpses of the future and the snapshots of the past.

Choosing this event to celebrate its centenary, BMW had really pushed the boat out, with cars and bikes from Munich around every corner. For us, a highlight was Bernie Ecclestone’s decision to send six of his BMW-powered Brabhams, one of the all-conquering BT52s slung upside down on one of the tentacles of a huge sculpture in front of Goodwood House. Down on terra firma Riccardo Patrese was back behind the wheel, feeling some BMW turbo power for the first time in 33 years. “As soon as I sat in the car it all felt so familiar,” said Patrese. “It was so great to be back, I was happy at Brabham. It was a good time, many memories.”

There’s no doubt the Americans always add a spectacular dimension to the Festival, bringing ever more exotic and crazy machinery to the twists and turns of the deceptively demanding hillclimb course. They like to make a lot of noise and a lot of smoke, do NASCAR racers such as Richard Childress Racing, which brought its 2016 Chevy SS for the team owner to drive – much to the delight of the thousands of fans who lined the trackside straw bales. It was a Hollywood film star who nearly stole the show this year however, a racy Keanu Reeves making an enthusiastic debut aboard an Arch V-Twin KRGT-1 motorcycle. “Awesome weekend, beautiful, just a fantastic show, loved it all,” he told the crowd at Sunday’s prizegiving. A great many fans of the piratical Mr Reeves went home with autographs and selfies. That’s how a star should be. Some F1 drivers, take note...

Us Brits love to remember our heroes so it was nice to see Goodwood tip its hat to James Hunt on the 40th anniversary of his dramatic 1976 world championship. His sons Tom and Freddie had some fun in a McLaren M23 and a Hesketh 308, while James’s Austin A35 van was parked in a quiet corner away from the huge crowds in the paddock. Still sad at his passing, we are always happy to celebrate the racer who had no time for toeing the line. 

A great many of the 205,000 fans came to see the supercars and the ‘hypercars’. There was more unattainable glamour than ever this year. Top of the dream machines for millionaires must surely have been the new Bugatti Chiron, its £1.9m price tag and 261mph top speed entrusted to VW boss Wolfgang Durheimer and racer Andy Wallace. Then there was the road-going McLaren P1 GTR, the Aston Martin Vulcan, glorious Ferraris, Maseratis, Porsches, Jaguars, and the beautiful Lamborghini Huracan Spyder driven by former Ferrari F1 team boss and Lamborghini CEO Stefano Domenicali on his first visit to the Festival. You name it: if they were new, and quick, they were there.

Many more turned out to see the F1 cars ahead of the British Grand Prix. Seven teams came out to play on the hill including Mercedes-Benz with Nico Rosberg (just how many selfies can an F1 star do in a day?), McLaren with Jenson Button, Ferrari with tester Marc Gené, Renault with Jolyon Palmer, Red Bull with Pierre Gasly and Williams with new heritage ‘works’ driver Karun Chandhok. The biggest cheers were reserved for Martin Brundle in Ross Brawn’s own Brawn-Mercedes BGP001, Button’s championship car from 2009 making its first appearance since the last race of that memorable season, and Button himself in Niki Lauda’s McLaren-TAG MP4/2 prepped for the occasion by former chief mechanic Neil Trundle.

Not one, but two, thrilling shoot-outs against the clock kept the fans on their toes this summer, one for seven of the 2016 BTCC teams and the other for fastest time of the whole event, this now the traditional climax to the event on live TV. Andrew Jordan in his Ford Focus ST was best of the BTCC tin-tops, covering the 1.16-mile hill in 55.50 seconds ahead of Matt Neal’s Honda Civic Type-R (56.30sec) and Josh Cook (56.84sec) in the MG6 GT.

Favourites for overall honours were Olly Clark in his Subaru Gobstopper and Indy 500 winner Kenny Bräck in the Lanzante-prepared McLaren P1 LM, and that’s how it finished with Clark stopping the clock at 46.29sec to win for the second year running. Second was Bräck on 47.07sec with Mike Skinner third on 50.44sec after a brave and spectacular run in his Toyota Tundra pick-up. 

All in all a very special Festival of Speed, one of the best despite some challenging weather. Jenson Button drove the new Honda NSX up a slippery hill in his Wellington boots. It took three large tractors to pull the Williams F1 transporter out of the lorry park. Ferrari and Renault crews stood by and took their photos. Only at Goodwood. Rob Widdows