What's it like to race at Goodwood?

Historic Racing
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Dickie Meaden

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An insider’s view of this weekend’s Goodwood Members’ Meeting

In just a few days from now the historic racing community will converge on Goodwood for the 75th Members’ Meeting. Thanks to a late but very welcome call late last Friday afternoon I’m very pleased to say I’ll be racing Lotus Elan 26-R-9, aka The Mongoose, in the Graham Hill Trophy race on Sunday afternoon. Last year I was equally lucky, driving a Lotus Cortina in the Whitmore Cup for pre-66 Touring Cars.

With a total of three appearances at Goodwood under my belt I’m not a rookie, but I’m far from a veteran. That perhaps explains why I find racing at the Sussex circuit uniquely exciting and, if I’m honest, pretty nerve-wracking. For starters the atmosphere is electric, which always adds a certain frisson. Then there’s the responsibility of not being the one to fire your car off and cause an incident. Beyond that – and the entirely self-inflicted pressure of wanting to do well – the challenge of the circuit manifests itself as a tight, fizzing knot in the pit of your stomach.

Why? Speed and commitment, pure and simple. I can’t think of another circuit anywhere in the world that requires the same level of resolve for the first half of the lap. It’s as though you take in one last breath as you exit the chicane, then exhale as you brake and turn-in for Lavant.

Beyond this heady mix of thrill and jeopardy there’s the more cerebral challenge of finding the sweetest line around what is an apparently straightforward lap. I can assure you it’s hard to think clearly when you’re hanging-on for grim death around Madgwick, girding your loins for Fordwater or slewing through St Mary’s.

Added commitment is often not the answer, for it’s all too easy to descend into a vicious spiral of trying harder and ultimately going slower. Even in something like a Cortina, which is quite happy to be driven on the lock-stops. It’s a dilemma that takes discipline and an unusually sensitive connection between the seat of your overalls and the car working beneath it. That’s what I find so addictive about racing old cars – the closer the bond you have with the car the more in-tune you become with how to make it go quickly.

I’ve never formed a more fruitful partnership than with that Cortina – ‘Mighty 63‘ as it came to be known by myself and the team. Strapping into it was like pulling on a favourite pair of shoes, racing it a completely instinctive and utterly joyous process. I don’t think any circuit rewards that kind of intimate alliance quite like Goodwood.

My memories of last year’s Members‘ Meeting are bittersweet. It proved to be the last time I raced the Cortina, but we went out on a high with a session-long qualifying battle for pole with the Cortina of Steve Soper (a hero of my youth) and a flag-to-flag win. Sadly Soper’s Cortina broke after the first lap, denying us chance of a battle, but that race weekend remains a cherished memory.

This year, sat nervously in the assembly area, I’ll be fighting to control the narcotic surge of adrenalin pumping though my system but looking forward to the wide-eyed charge into Madgwick. There really is nothing to touch it.

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