May 01, 2013

Glorious Goodwood

Goodwood is much more than just a motor racing heaven

With a full career covering motoring and motor racing, Damien Reid thought he’d seen it all until he made it to Goodwood for the Revival. Walking through the gates is admission to a world that stopped 50 years ago.

There’s a story going around that a gentleman bought tickets to the Goodwood Revival and when he arrived, he parked up the back of a giant paddock filled with classic cars.

The sight of stunningly beautiful Jaguars, Aston Martins, Ferraris, Rolls-Royces, Maseratis and more was overwhelming and over a few hours he was firmly ensconced in the atmosphere that only Goodwood can produce.

Overhead, Spitfires and Lancaster bombers strafed the fields in a dramatic air display, people walked past in period costumes and vendors on the streetside sold food and souvenirs from mobile outlets that looked as though they came straight out of the 1940s.

The racing is 'no holds barred'
At the end of the day with probably close to 1000 finely polished cars floating around that he’d drooled over, some worth millions of dollars, it was time to leave.

As he pulled out of the driveway he noticed a flood of people coming from across the road and it was only then that he realised that he’d never actually made it to the entrance but instead, spent the entire day walking around the public car park.

With just under 50,000 people through the gates on each of the three days it’s entirely believable, especially when you consider that only pre-1966 cars are allowed to use the public car park while the rest use park ‘n ride systems and are bussed in on pre-’66 model buses.

To gain entrance to the pits and paddock, you obviously need the right pass, but you can also only enter if you’re dressed in the appropriate pre-1966 attire. That’s the great thing about Lord March’s dream, that nothing is left to chance.

In order to submerge yourself in the full ambiance of Goodwood, everything must fit in with the period but the effort is worth it a thousand times over because nothing compares to the sights, sounds, smells and the buzz of attending a post WW2 day at the motor races.

So, dressed in moleskin trousers, braces, flannelette shirt with cravat, tweed vest and jacket and a broad brim fedora, I and 140,000 others over the course of the weekend, stepped through the gates and into the Goodwood time machine.

On the other side, security police waved the well-behaved guests through from their vantage points behind Ford Zephyr and Jaguar Mk2 police cars. Out of sight from the police, mock gangs of Mods and Rockers faced off against each other comparing the Harley Davidsons of the Rockers to the multi-mirrored inner-city moto scooters favoured by the Mods.

In the distance, the sound of a Glenn Miller-style jazz band could be heard entertaining recently returned WW2 troops and all this was before we’d reached the main area of the venue. So authentic, it was near impossible to spot any resemblance to the modern day.

The Goodwood Revival came about in 1998 after the phenomenal success of the Festival of Speed hillclimb which Lord March began six years earlier on his property and it attracted 30,000 people at its first event.

He then wanted to resurrect the famous race track on his property which had been home to the British Grand Prix in the immediate post war era and saw the likes of Fangio, Moss, Brabham, Gurney and Salvadori take part over the years.

The track officially opened in 1948 and hosted Britain’s first post-war motor race but was eventually retired in 1966 as faster cars outgrew it during a time when fatalities were on the rise and safety was being championed for the first time, most notably by Jackie Stewart.

These days Sir Jackie revels in the experience and was one of the big name drivers piloting a Silver Arrows Mercedes while his contemporary, Stirling Moss, lapped the circuit in an immaculate BMW 328 Mille Miglia.

The amazing thing about Goodwood is that it has remained faithful to an era that many thought was impossible to recreate given the demands of modern day corporate hospitality, sponsorship and safety.

The 3.8km circuit is devoid of large gravel traps, high catch wire fencing and Armco fences that are a must for new circuits.

With the exception of one chicane that was part of the original track just before the start/finish line, it has also resisted the temptation to be dotted with the slowing down devices and unlike Silverstone which was also built around an airfield using the perimeter roads, the Goodwood layout you see cars racing on today is exactly the same as it was in 1948.

Dangerous, fast and exciting; it has its own safety mechanisms in place to keep drivers under control, that being their own fear and acres of grass across the infield to spin off.

There’s nothing quite like seeing a Mark 2 Jag entering a sweeping, fast, flat out corner in a four-wheeled drift chased by a tiny BMW 1600 which is defying the laws of physics as it three wheels it through the same corner with its inside front never touching the ground until it’s pointing straight again.

Unlike today’s modern pits, pitlane at Goodwood is a simple ribbon of tarmac with a large open-plan area covered by a common roof for all to use while VIP spectators get to stand on the roof. There’s no individual garages with roller doors to keep spectators away or glass-fronted, multi-storey corporate boxes on top, it’s all about the basics.

Away from the racing, a retro Auto Alley runs with car manufacturers displaying their “latest” models in period showrooms. Take a walk into the 1960s inspired Rolls-Royce dealership located in March Motor Works and you’re confronted by a “new” 1962 Silver Cloud Mk2 Drophead CoupĂ© in a lustrous black that takes pride of place on the carpet.

Attention to detail in the showroom included original vintage signage, a showroom manager in appropriate business attire and even an imposing safe in the corner.

With a theatrical twist, only possible at the Revival, the showroom hosted glamorous movie star couples throughout the weekend with impromptu photo calls and the ever-present paparazzi. This resulted in the period police making regular visits in their Triumph Heralds and MGA 1600s to hold back the fans.

Across the road, the Mini showroom displaying Sir Alec Issigonis’ original 850cc classic used a trio of go-go dancer girls dancing in the window to tempt potential customers through the door.

With Goodwood being the modern day home to Rolls-Royce located just around the corner, the famous British marque was also allowed to display one of its heritage cars on track with a stunning $500,000 Mark 1 Silver Cloud Drophead CoupĂ© forming part of the Course Director’s entourage.

This lapped the circuit after every race, probably doubling its mileage over the space of three days, and followed in the wheel tracks of two original Ford GT40s.

Each year Goodwood celebrates several anniversaries and this time it was a four-fold celebration to honour the 50th anniversary of the AC Cobra with a one-make race for the late Carroll Shelby’s most dramatic cars, the largest gathering of pre-war Silver Arrows racers ever assembled, a 50th birthday tribute to the Ferrari 250 GTO and a special tribute to one of America’s few F1 and LeMans heroes, Dan Gurney.

This year was the first time the famous Silver Arrows Auto Unions (we know them today as Audi) and Mercedes Grand Prix cars have been re-united on a race track since World War 2, while the average value of a Ferrari 250GTO hovers around the $US20million mark which made the grid of 20 cars worth in excess of $US300million.

That’s not a bad turnout when you consider they only made 37 and almost all were used in competition with the most valuable on track being the ex-Stirling Moss green car which sold last June at auction for $US35million.

The Goodwood Revival is so typically British that it’s an event which cannot be replicated in any other country and given the constraints of modern day racing which have to take in safety and corporate entertainment issues, it cannot even be replicated at other British tracks like Silverstone.

Lord March’s dedication to preserving the best of a bygone era and the fastidious attention to detail at every corner is something to be admired. After nearly 25 years covering all forms of motor racing and motoring festivals, I’m trying very hard to think of a better motorsporting event in the world and so far I’m still drawing blanks. See you next year Goodwood.

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