A taste of the St Mary's Trophyby Dan Trent on 20th October 2017
Joining the St Mary's Trophy field – sort of...
Track day experiences are 10 a penny, especially in the world of corporate entertainment. Emphasis on the ‘experience’ usually too, many being little more than a carefully controlled taste of track action and with rather more emphasis on the wining and dining.
Fair play to Goodwood, then, for its Revival Racing Experience – a new package based on the historic touring car stars of the St Mary’s Trophy. After all, who wouldn’t want a taste of perhaps the most popular race held at the Revival? It’s certainly seen some breathtaking battles over the years, 2017’s event delivering epic racing in the shape of Rob Huff and Michael Caine in their Austin A40s in the first round and the fabulous scrap between Motor Sport’s own Richard Meaden in an Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Mike Jordan (below) in another A40 in the second. If this customer event can offer even a flavour of that it could be a winner.
The signs are good when you first clap eyes on the cars, lined up on parade outside the ‘60s-dressed Jackie Stewart Pavilion and ready to take to the track. It’s obvious each has a story to tell, the preparation mechanically thorough but honest to the history of the cars, some of which bear the battle scars, scrutineering stickers and other mementos of pukka competition use. In keeping with the grids you see in the St Mary’s Trophy proper, the line-up is pleasing in its diversity – a Mini Cooper, MkII Jaguar 3.4, Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV, Lotus Cortina, Porsche 912, MGB, Ford Falcon and BMW 1800TI/SA. Variety is the spice of and all that, the promise of everything from air-cooled flat fours to thundering V8s whetting the appetite even more effectively than the admittedly charming ‘60s set dressing and themed lunch menu.
Catering to customers who may have little or no track experience, let alone the mechanical sympathy or ability to properly drive historic machinery, is no small challenge. And it’s a brave instructor who sits beside someone on an unforgiving track like Goodwood and attempts to keep them on the black stuff without the safety nets of ABS, traction control or even being able to make instructions heard above the din. But the team, headed by Goodwood’s chief instructor David Brise, do a good job of introducing the cars and offering tactful warnings as to some of their quirks and characteristics. It’s sufficient that by the time anyone gets behind the wheel they’re well aware of what they’re taking on without worrying anyone’s out to spoil their fun.
Brise details a few basic modifications applied to all the cars, including grippy Avon track tyres and well-fettled brakes to meet modern expectations of cornering limits and stopping power. Some of the racier cams fitted to cars like the MG, BMW and Alfa Romeo have also been replaced with less aggressive ones to make them more tractable and easier to drive. Variable rev limiters are also fitted, giving instructors some control over top speeds and keeping something in hand to avoid buzzed motors should anyone get confused by the variety of gearbox layouts encountered.
But don’t assume the driving’s a bit dumbed down as a result. Actually, it’s far from it. The cars are so different and require acclimatisation to their particular characteristics, meaning even if you know the track well there’s a boot-cooling sense of leaping into the unknown the first time you turn into the fast right-hander at Madgwick. This corner alone both informs much about how the cars behave and offers genuine insight into what it must be like to race door to door in the St Mary’s Trophy pack.
In the Jaguar you wind on a quarter turn of slack before the wheel stops dead and you then lift out of your seat at the effort to get some steering angle on the front wheels. Its creamy straight-six is a delight once you’re back on the power, though. In the Mini it’s the tiniest lift you dare get away with and then gritted teeth as it hops, skips and jumps its way round the corner, the warning it’ll swap ends at the slightest sign of uncertainty always weighing on your mind. The Falcon smothers it the way it does the rest of the lap, only the chicane at the end betraying its size. The Porsche feels the most nailed down and sports car like, cornering flat and true with its Beetle-like thrum taking on a more sophisticated edge as you lean on the throttle. The MG has a similarly focused feel while the BMW and Alfa Romeo both have a natural balance to them, all three serving long careers as racing cars before joining the fleet. Then there’s the Lotus Cortina, which darts for the apex and then immediately sits down on its rear axle when the power comes in, twin-cam howling and carbs sucking hard.
OK, the pace isn’t quite sufficient for the classic, Jim Clark-style four-wheel drift with inside front dangling in the air. But that you even get a sense of it reveals why this car is always in the thick of the St Mary’s Trophy action. As experiences go it’s up there with the best of them.