I never made it to Assen. Instead of heading north east last week I found myself running in the opposite direction, towards Goodwood.
Goodwood’s Festival of Speed is Glastonbury for petrol-heads or Ascot with engines, if you hang out around the Drivers’ Club where there’s a lot of bouffants and blazers. Most of all it’s a living, breathing, ear-shattering museum of motor sport.
That’s the main reason the Festival of Speed attracts a crowd of 200,000 (it would be bigger but they’re not allowed to sell more tickets for fear of grid-locking West Sussex). Unlike most sports, motorcycle racing and car racing have a vast material history. You wouldn’t (well, I wouldn’t) travel halfway across the country to see a hundred years of football goalposts or cricket stumps, but you would (well, I would) go many miles to check out Freddie Spencer’s 1985 Rothmans Honda NSR500 and Giacomo Agostini’s 1969 MV Agusta.
Gardner (Honda leathers) gets ready for a run on an ex-Valentino Rossi Ducati
The event seems to teeter on the edge of chaos, which is exactly where it should be, like a good party. Fans swarm around the bikes and then jump out of their skins when a mechanic fires an engine into life just inches away. I spent the weekend riding a few bikes up the hill and had some fun getting from the paddock to the holding area, pushing through the crushing crowd, blipping the throttle and bumping into people.
I may have scared a few fans, but surely that’s why you go to a racing event, isn’t it? It’s certainly got to be better than sitting behind a 100m gravel trap and a 10ft fence, skimming the horizon for sign of man and machine.
That’s the other reason the Festival of Speed is so popular. Even if you were able to beg/borrow/steal a paddock pass for a MotoGP or Formula 1 round, you’d be lucky to get anywhere near man or machine. At Goodwood it’s all there, right in front of you, if you’re prepared to fight your way through the throng.
Chaz Davies and Charley Boorman amid the hubbub at the bottom of the hill
The weekend made me wonder why Dorna don’t work harder to give MotoGP fans more than three races for their money. Some promoters do more than others to make sure fans have a good time – Silverstone, notably – but mostly it’s a case of give me your 80 quid, here’s three races, see you next year…
It is Dorna’s job to be obsessed with television figures but they should play a greater part in making sure trackside fans get their money’s worth. A travelling show of MotoGP’s mechanical history would be a good place to start.
Riding up Goodwood’s hill is the perfect job for a journalist. Over the weekend you get to spend several hours waiting in the various holding areas before and after your rides; standing next to various stars of today and yesterday who have no way of making their escape. To this end I tucked a voice recorder down my right boot on every ride.
92 GP wins here: Gardner, Spencer, Jim Redman, Sammy Miller and Stuart Graham
No one was safe from a chat; from Ago to Fast Freddie and from Bradley Smith and Scott Redding, who flew in for Sunday, by private jet from Assen. Goodwood is prepared to spend some serious money to make sure things happen.
I chatted to Redding on Sunday morning, before he rode the hill aboard a Rothmans Honda RS500 Spencer replica. A few yards away Spencer was sat on a similar-looking 1985 Rothmans NSR500, working the throttle. I said to Redding, shame you can’t get a ride on that. What’s the difference, asked Redding. So I explained that the RS was like his RCV1000R and the NSR was like Marc Marquez’s Repsol RC213V. No reason that Redding should know about NSR500s and RS500s – he was born not long before Spencer retired.
At the top of the hill on Saturday afternoon I asked Ago a few questions about Márquez. What does he think makes the man so special? “No one knows why Marc goes so fast,” said the silver-haired legend. “Not even Marc knows why he is so fast. I always say this is something that comes from inside, a gift from God.” Hmm…
McGuinness shows why bikes are so popular up the hill – cars can’t do this
Funniest of all was Wayne Gardner at the top of the hill on Sunday morning, holding his head in his hands in a vain attempt to ward off the agony of a hangover, the result of way too much champagne at the previous night’s Goodwood ball. Surprise guests at the ball were The Beach Boys, who played a gig. That’s quite a surprise.
Least funny moment (for me, at least) was me trying to impress John McGuinness with a wheelie on an ex-Kevin Schwantz 1993 Suzuki RGV500. The thing picked up at the wrong moment and nearly cannoned me into some ancient GP bike that was dawdling along in front of me. Oh, how McPint would have laughed.