Originally published in the August, 2015 issue of DRIVENWORLD
July 17, 2015
by Jim Hunter
Motorsport is too often casually distilled to a single endeavor, but it’s varied and unique forms require highly specialized singular focus from competitors and rarely allow for crossover. If there is a trait that the competitors and enthusiasts of these diverse motorsports share, however, it is reverence for the history that has defined the mythic nature of their passion. Legendary names, their machines and achievements, rare in commitment and ingenuity, inspire imaginations across the spectrum of these unique pursuits.
The Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, England captures this imagination like no other event in the world. The annual hill climb is held on the picturesque Goodwood Estate, the home of Lord March (Charles March, The Earl of March and Kinrara). The hill climb literally runs right past his front door, opened to enthusiasts of all forms of motorsport from all over the world.
Lord March is the grandson of Freddie March, The 9th Duke of Richmond, who was a renowned amateur racer and engineer. Freddie March notably won at England’s fabled Brooklands Racing Circuit and later went on to design both March sports cars and aircraft. Sadly, Brooklands was closed in 1939 due to WWII.
Following the war, England pined for Brooklands replacement, and on the advice of a friend The Duke opened a racing circuit around the perimeter of the decommissioned WWII airbase on his West Sussex property. His Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit gave motorsport a new home in England, one which ran strong for nearly two decades before falling silent in 1966.
Decades later, Lord March set about preserving his grandfather’s efforts and quietly undertook the considerable task of re-commissioning the old motor racing circuit. Knowing that done properly the effort would require some time, March took a bold step introducing a companion event, a hill climb through his yard and right past his front door! Rekindling his grandfather’s gentlemanly challenge to sprint friends up the hill in their Lancias during a 1936 picnic, the Festival of Speed was born.
The Festival of Speed attracted immediate popularity while Lord March’s long-term efforts with the circuit came to fruition. In 1998, 50 years from the day his grandfather first opened the circuit, The Goodwood Revival brought motorsport back to the former airfield. The Revival serves to preserve not only the motorsport icons of the era but the time itself with period dress required.
The Festival of Speed is an extraordinary place where one can roam the paddock and stride right up to a race chassis that captivated their imagination in youth, and then moments later watch the latest rare breeds in automotive technology attack the hill with spirit. This year’s FOS hosted the marvel rebirth and first public running of a century old, 28.5-liter land speed car, the Fiat s76 “Beast of Turin,” (also known as the Fiat 300 HP). This remarkable achievement was contrasted on the hill by the competition version of the flagship LaFerrari, the technically astounding and sensational sounding Ferrari FXX K.
Of particular interest to long time F1 fans, Clay Reggazoni’s Ferrari 312-T, chassis # 024, was on hand with a selection of other significant Ferrari F1 cars. Of special note to SoCal petrol heads, Reggazoni drove this chassis to victory in the first Long Beach Grand Prix in 1976. Directly across from Reggazoni’s Ferrari sat the famous JPS Lotus 97T, chassis # 02, in which Ayrton Senna won his very first grand prix in the rain at Estoril, Portugal. These were but two significant chassis in a long list of notable F1 cars from years past.
At Goodwood, one can practically rub elbows with the drivers who made these machines legendary. This year the FOS celebrated the “Flat out and Fearless” and a formidable roster of these competitors was on hand to take a run up the hill.
Valentino Rossi, fresh from victory in the MotoGP Dutch Grand Prix, was on hand to celebrate Yamaha’s 60th Anniversary in his Goodwood debut. Big Daddy Don Garlits also made his first trip to the Festival and brought his rubber emasculating Swamp Rat dragster. 60 years on from his incredible victory for Mercedes in the Mille Miglia, Stirling Moss headlined the first public appearance seven of eight 300 SLRs ever built have ever made together.
Damon Hill took the wheel of his father’s classic Lotus 49 for a run up the hill, as Richard Petty, making a third FOS appearance in his newly restored 1970 Plymouth Superbird, also impressed . . . while current F1 drivers Nico Rosberg, Kimi Räikkönen, Jenson Button, and Felipe Massa all made appearances on demo runs up the hill. Kenny Roberts, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Robbie Gordon, Jochen Mass, Casey Stoner, Derek Bell . . .the list goes on and on.
Ken Block inaugurated Goodwood’s new “Drifting” category and thrilled the masses in his awesome 845-hp “Hoonicorn” Mustang from Gymkhana 7 fame. Block burned a lot of rubber over the entire weekend making numerous sideways, donut punctuated runs up the estate. Robby Gordon brought out a couple of Stadium Trucks to further diversify the field.
Beyond the headlining hill climb, Lord March’s property allows for a fantastic array of tandem events, not the least of which being the rally stage, which cuts through the dense forest near the top of the hill climb run. The rally segments are fascinating to witness in person. Every major manufacturer has a presence, and beyond their numerous displays and demonstrations, one can also enjoy the Cartier “Style et Luxe” concours on the lawn behind the Lord’s home. If so inclined and adequately funded, guests registered to bid in the adjacent Bonhams Collector Motorcar auction.
There is literally something for everyone, but perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the festival can be found in the paddock. It is the old and new, where we have been–where we are headed, that combine to make the Festival of Speed a truly kinetic, dynamic, and organic enthusiast experience.