Goodwood has acquired legendary status since its low-key launch in 1993, when it started with a handful of historic cars but a surfeit of enthusiasm. The Festival Of Speed has grown into a huge annual event with over 150,000 fans attending, twinned with the Revival Festival held in September at the Goodwood racing circuit a mile or so from Goodwood House and the hillclimb. Over the coming days Speedhunters will be posting plenty of coverage from the three days of the festival, and I'll kick things off with AWD action from the Forest Rally Stage.
Rally cars had been running up the Goodwood hillclimb since the early days, but organisers soon realised that rally cars look best in their natural environment. The last time I got down to the Festival the rally cars were still running up the hill with all the others. They looked good, but a thin Tarmac ribbon closed in with hay bales were not the ideal conditions for seeing rally cars at their best. You need a loose surface. You need trees at the side of the road so the pop and bangs of the engines echo around you. You need viewing areas that allow you to get up close and feel the dust and dirt in your face as the cars howl off down the next insanely narrow, claustrophobic forest track. So was born the Forest Rally Stage.
The Forest Rally Stage was first run in 2005 but comprised only half the current course, with a run down from the top of the hill next to the finish of the hillclimb to the Tarmac skidpan lower down, a quick 180° spin and then the run back uphill on the same track. Rally legend Hannu Mikkola teamed up with Goodwood to create the current stage, which comprises 1.7 miles of twisting chalk-based roads cut out of Lord March's woods. It's a tiring trek to get up there, but it's completely worth it.
For something designed by a rally legend, it's fitting that all the cars and drivers who take the start are also legendary. I grew up with Brands Hatch just 20 minutes drive from my house, so naturally gravitated towards circuit racing: I remember watching classic bike and sportscar racer there as a kid (though that's another Speedhunters story). But, despite not being able to call myself a huge rally fan there wasn't one car here that wasn't familiar, that I didn't recognise. Rallying might not be the most spectator-friendly series due to the spread out nature of the stages, but all you have to do is check YouTube to understand why it's so impressive – and popular. There were cars from this year's championships mixing it with 1960s machines – the Festival split them into three categories: cars from the last decade, 'Legendary Group B' cars and 'The Birth Of Stage Rallying' class for the older cars. Seeing each one brought back memories: from either seeing rounds on TV as I was growing up or reading magazine articles about the bravery (madness?!) of earlier era rally drivers and their cars.
In the modern era you can't get any more impressive than French multiple WRC champion (five and counting) Sebastian Loeb. It's lazy to call him the Schumacher of rallying, but, like any cliché it's based on truth. The man is virtually unbeatable, and able to turn his skills to other disciplines: witness his runs at Le Mans. His recent run of bad form in the WRC? Some poor luck? But maybe he's just trying to help his competitors out. On the Goodwood stage the man was on fire: he ran his 2009 Citroen C4 WRC ragged and on his first run – designated a warm-up – was five seconds quicker than the previous fastest run.
Next up someone who could well prove to be the next big thing: Kris Meeke. He was first spotted by the late Colin McCrae, and has been progressing well through the junior formula over the past years. This year he's pummelling the opposition in the IRC and he did the same to the Goodwood stage. If you want wise words, you can always do worse than talk to marshals at tracks – circuit or rally. Fans as well as professionals, they have the chance to study drivers up close. I spent time at several marshals posts, and the pilot impressing them the most was Meeke. As part of their job they were also scoring the runs with marks out of 10, to judge the favourite over the three days of the festival. One group I spoke to gave Meeke 10 for his first run. 10-plus for the second. 10-plus-plus for the third. I could only agree.
Now possibly the next big thing after the next big thing: Welsh 17-year-old Tom Cave. He seemed to be using his Fiesta to to dig out new lines around the stage, chasing the times of the more powerful cars.
The 2003 Hyundai Accent never set the stages on fire when it was racing at the sharp end of the WRC, but multiple British champion Marcus Dodd now campaigns it nationally with some success.
Stepping back a few years, the 2001 Focus looked great in its Martini livery – colours that are always going to win me over. It was 'King' Carlos Sainz's car, but driven by rallycross driver George Tracey – not without style or aggression that Carlos would have been pleased with.
Another Sainz machine was in action as well, the 1999 Toyota Corolla. The Corolla was being driven by David Bogie, and was being thrown into the Tarmac skid pan area like he was auditioning for a Driftworks internship. Standing on the apex of the hairpin here was a real pleasure; an easy place for an hour to disappear as I joined the marshals in cheering the more exuberant drivers.
About a third of the way around the track is a long, sweeping hairpin where the cars really get to hang the back out. It's great for spectating, especially as there's a relatively straight blast through the trees straight after it. Here's the 1995 works Toyota Celica ST205.
Oh course, no rallying pilgrimage would be complete without seeing a Subaru. This is yet another Sainz car, an Impreza from 1995. From farmer's utilities to championship-winning rally weapon, the Impreza is still one of my favourite modern era cars. it's such a shame its success has gone away the same way its styling has…
Although a lot of the stage is quite tight and twisty, there are a couple of short sprints where you really see the raw acceleration of the cars.
Walking through the woods was sometimes pretty eery. Although the spectator areas are close to the stage at some places, there are other areas where I'd be tramping through the undergrowth almost on my own, stopping every couple of minutes as the next car came past. With the track cut into the chalk, the whole landscape was covered in a thick layer of chalk dust which was thrown into the air to every time a car fired past. Figures would loom out of the dusty horizon as I paused to blow chalk off my lenses…
But much as I found the WRC cars impressive, once you see a Group B car you forget everything else. As a kid I loved these cars when they came out in the early '80s. They were loud, they were fast, they were incredibly dangerous: so much so the whole class was banned in 1986 after just four seasons. The Ford RS200 was the epitome of Group B: designed by F1 engineer Tony Southgate the car had a carbon-Kevlar monocoque and a 1.8 litre turbocharged Cosworth engine throwing out up to 450 horsepower. It only competed for one year – and one was involved in the terrible accident that helped the demise of Group B when in Portugal 31 fans were injured and three killed when the driver lost control and spun into the crowd. 200 were built to comply with Group B homologation rules (hence the name, plus the RS part for Ford's motorsport preparation arm) and they went on to see success in Rallycross – you could still see them on track up until a year ago or so.
Of course the heavyweight of Group B was Audi, who were also the guest manufacturer at the 2009 Goodwood Festival. This Sport Quattro was victorious in the 1986 Welsh Rally, and it was driven at Goodwood by Hannu Mikkola, then as now. Also present were the 1983 Quattro A2 and the monstrous 550hp Sport Quattro S1 from '85. We'll have a separate story on these and other Audis at the Festival coming up from John Brooks.
The other masters of Group B were Lancia. The precursor to the awesome Delta Integrale was the 4-cylinder, 2-litre turbo Rallye 037, here a 1983 variant with a full rack of night lights. Just as I arrived at the hairpin, this 037 also arrived in a cloud of smoke, fully locked up. Whether it was deliberate or not, it certainly went down well!
Eat my DUS 5T. This is the 037 as it enters the Forest Stage shortly after the start.
There was another 037 present, this one the lighter and more powerful Evo 2 from 1984. After the start the cars dove through a narrow track of deep, soft dust flanked by hay bales before entering the stage. The exit lane is just on the other side of the hay.
Another British Group B entrant – and another with F1 DNA, as Williams Grand Prix helped develop the car. The Metro 6R4 took a town runabout and fed it plenty of high-power spinach: somehow a 400bhp V6 engine is stuffed into the back of the car. Again, with Group B being killed off the 6R4 turned to rallycross for its future.
The Toyota Celica Twin Cam Turbo from 1985 was solid and dependable, if not on the outright pace of the other Group B machinery. This was another car driven at Goodwood by its original driver: Bjorn Waldergard in this instance, taking a pretty tight line…
A slight impostor in the Group B ranks was this Peugeot 405 T16 GR, built for the Paris Dakar rally. With its soft suspension it rolled around the stage a bit, but was actually much faster than it looked: particularly when it hit the jump!
"Start and finish on grass. Tarmac pad in middle of stage. Generally flowing forestry track, chalky base, narrow in places". The outline pace notes for the competitors contained the usual notations for co-drivers. The start and finish, however, were definitely not grass…
The final batch of cars were the older ones from the '60s and '70s, but they were no less entertaining and, in some cases. rather more surprising! The obvious rally icon for from the 1970s is the Lancia Stratos. It must have looked like it arrived from another world when it officially hit the WRC in 1974. Compared to its boxy rivals, the swooping Bertone bodywork is quite something to see even now.
More traditional was this late '70s Vauxhall Chevette. Also out from the British contingent was multiple British champion Russell Brookes who drove his famous Heat For Hire 1985 Opel Manta during the day.
Amongst the recognisable rally cars were some others that I I wouldn't normally associate with rallying. Porsche do have a long history of rally competition, and the 911 has also shown well on tarmac rallies. The later 953 and 959 4WD models were much more potent and wide-ranging in ability. But also on display were a 1976 Ferrari 308GTB (which I could hear from a mile off as it bottomed-out all the way round the track) and an insane Lotus Esprit from 1972. The first time I caught the Lotus was as it flew over the jump, bodywork wobbling in the air. A very strange sight.
Meeke might have been the marshals' favourite for speed, but for effort it was the Skoda 120s from 1974. Norwegian John Haugland embarrassed far more powerful machinery at the time with his 1.2 litres and fearsome 100bhp and continues to do the same today. I was advised to keep an eye out for the Skoda: with so little power he couldn't afford to lift off in the corners, so every one was taken at full pelt, the back of the car flailing around. Excellent!
Lancia's long association with rallying stretches right back. I loved the sound of this 1973 Fulvia HF with its 1.6 litre flat 4. It also looked beautiful and could get the back out and the tyres smoking on demand!
Another marque with a long history is Ford: prior to the Focus, the Escort saw almost 20 years of actions in various guises. This Mk2 RS1800 from 1977 with its iconic Rothmans livery was actually driven at the time by current Ford M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson. Early Escorts were loved by their drivers for their controllable, back-out style. Even now current WRC drivers have parked their current cars for drives on historic rallies in old Escorts – WRC championship leader Mikko Hirvonen even had a similar model to this one rebuilt for his own use recently!
If the Esprit and the Ferrari confused me, then this thing basically just scared me. It was one of the first cars I saw take a run through the stage after I arrived, and I heard it coming well before I saw it. American chopper and hot rod builder Jesse James' 950bhp 'Trophy Truck' came powering out of the penultimate turn like some kind of alien bug out of Starship Troopers. It was apparently impossible to keep in a straight line, and did its best to make the stage a whole lot wider. With 30 inches of suspension travel it's maybe not surprising. Everyone watching just kind of had to stand there opened mouthed for a few minutes just to take it in. Of course, after every run James got out with the widest grin imaginable.
I just don't know where else you can go to see such a variety of amazing rally cars. I'm embarrassed to admit that despite all my professed love for these cars I've never actually attended a rally, but that's something I'll definitely be rectifying in the near future. The highlight for me was on the Saturday, as Loeb, Meeke and BRC driver Guy Wilks took turns almost back to back to try and capture the fastest time. The frenzied attacks on the stage were breathtaking as they completed their runs, dove into their garages for tweaks and then immediately came back out for another try. Unbelievably, Loeb then joined Meeke in his 207 as co-driver! Fantastic. Next up I'll take a closer look at the rally paddock and preparation area.