The Festival Of Speed Blasts Off

The nirvana that is the Goodwood Festival Of Speed doesn’t get bigger every year so much as even more spectacular. That’s a good thing too: the event reached maximum capacity for any car-fan’s brain to take many years ago… Now four day’s long, that’s still not really enough to take the whole Festival in – and advance tickets are the only way to get entry to the four-day motoring marathon due to its popularity. It seems like a large proportion of the world’s population descends on this small petrol-powered enclave amongst the rolling West Sussex countryside near the south coast of England. Cars, teams, drivers and fans from all over the world are drawn to this, one of the original, biggest and best of automotive celebrations.

All the traditional ingredients were at the Festival: supercars in abundance, priceless classics, irreplaceable racers and the overwhelming enthusiasm of all who attend.

For that added dose of Britishness, the Red Arrows display team also put in an appearance, buzzing the crowds over the weekend and temporarily drawing all eyes away from the poor cars hammering up the hill to the Hawk jets screaming overhead.

This year’s Festival Of Speed paid tribute to the Lotus marque, with the centrepiece mega-sculpture a twisting helix containing aerial Lotus racers mounted in the air like children’s toys.

Being such an enigmatic company, Lotus have always attracted iconic drivers. The names on the sides of the Lotus F1 cars in the paddock read like a who’s who from the last five decades of racing.

Then there’s the innovation that Colin Chapman’s company brought to racing: always on the edge, always pushing the boundaries.

It’s not like you can get bored of seeing a JPS-liveried Senna car, but what made it even more exciting were the rarities on show. Who remembers that Lotus produced a gas-turbine Indycar in 1971 for Emmerson Fittipaldi?

Lotus have always had a special relationship with racing in the US (at least until the recent IndyCar engine fiasco). An American team brought over this Esprit which had competed in the IMSA GTP-supporting Supercar Championship in 1991 – it would be driven up the hill by Doc Bundy.

The un-raced prototype Lotus 96T was designed to take the Lotus name back to the Indianapolis 500. There’s an unfussy, powerful simplicity about ’80s era single-seaters, matched in F1 at the time.

The Elan was celebrating its fiftieth birthday as well: I’ll be taking a detailed look at all these Lotus cars and more in a following story.

There was also an incredible line-up of supercars, including a large number of surprises over and above the ‘expected’ attractions. Aside from the Ferraris, Mercedes and Porsches was an ensemble of the rarest exotics and concepts you could ever hope to see outside an international motorshow. And rather than behind a roped-off dais flanked by rabid security, at Goodwood you get to inspect them up close. It’s a parking lot of the best dreams you could have. Again, more on the line-up on show will be coming up.

The Style Et Luxe concours d’elegance was themed around the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and included a eclectic display of cars – both full size, and miniatures fit for a prince! This Honda S800 had inveigled its way into the regal line-up…

A special display in the inner courtyard of Goodwood House was reserved for cars and photos celebrating the career of Alain Prost. This was part of 2012′s Festival theme: Young Guns: Born To Win, which ranged from Prost back to Stirling Moss and all the way forward to Sebastian Vettel. A look back at those young drivers who had burst onto the scene during their respective periods.

The hillclimb itself provides the spine around which the whole event revolves. The iconic tree-lined start twists round past Goodwood House and snakes up the hill: a thin ribbon of tarmac where the drivers choose either to entertain – and risk all – or take a more sedate approach.

Thursday’s Moving Motorshow was the chance for contemporary manufacturers to unleash their latest creations up the hill, both in the hands of professionals and also the public! Potential buyers could sign up for a blast up the course.

That meant a constant rotation of cars ascending the hill and then coming back down via the back-roads of the estate – and plenty of chances to see in the flesh the newest cars to hit the road, like the GT86.

Over 50 cars from 20 manufacturers took part, with many being UK debuts like the Toyota and the Focus ST.

Not everything was petrol-powered though: new technology demonstrations were on show in a cluster of domes under the FoS-TECH name, with green credentials on display in such a way that even the most ardent fan of fossil fuels couldn’t resist…

How about a electric-powered Toyota 2000GT? The mere concept left a lot of people bemused but intrigued…

Or a self-powered wheel that Michelin were demonstrating, where the each wheel has its own self-contained motor and braking system.

How about an all-electric drift car, aiming at a sustainable future for motorsport? Having just spent a day watching the Super-Pro British Drift Championship contenders hammer round Teesside Autodrome today, the thought of the smoke with no accompanying thunder is a slightly strange one – but this is undeniably going to be a part of the future…

Back to the present, and Toyota had an enormous presence in the manufacturers’ exhibition area, with the GT86 the focus of their stand. Stand? Building.

Building? Tower block. Inside, Toyota had various GT86 options with the sweetener being an original AE86 Corolla racer from the 1986 British Touring Car Championship and a 2000GT. Outside, Nürburgring 24 Hours specialists Gazoo Racing were showing off just what they can do when they get their hands on one: this was their Sports FR Concept, which was accompanied by both the GT86s they raced at this year’s 24 Hours (one on the stand and one in Gazoo Racing’s paddock tent).

The paddocks. Ah! The paddocks. It’s impossible to believe that you can get this close to these amazing racers, sitting as they are under a temporary awning. For four days. In the open air. Okay, so during set-up time there was the odd bit of manufacturer bunting to dissuade you salivating directly on the goods, but still.

That was a rare occurrence. Normal service was that as you stumbled blissfully along the seemingly never-ending lines of racers you had as much time as you wanted to study them from every angle – although so would the several hundred other people crowding round…

As with so many of these kinds of event, the Festival Of Speed is now so big that you can hardly expect to see every single car – definitely not on the hill, and maybe not even in the paddock. Too many cars, not enough time… The best plan is to study the Entries booklet and then hunt down your prey. That said, even then a marshal’s whistle would often be the instigator of yet another pleasant surprise. I hadn’t realised that this car was here!

Repeat ad infinitum.

This year I’d dropped down to the site on the Thursday, which is a far quieter day for all involved than the madness of Friday to Sunday. The paddock was rapidly filling up both with early spectators looking for more elbow room around the paddock and of course the teams themselves settling into their new home from home. Take one tent: install a Ferrari Grand Prix team.

Empty spaces filled up as more cars rolled off the transporters and were pushed into their designated parking slots under the awnings. It was like Christmas, seeing what would be under the scarlet wrapping paper…

There are name plates above each car, but with some cars you really don’t need to guess very hard… Not one, not two, but three six-wheeled Formula 1 cars were at the Festival this year.

It was even interesting watching the freighted cars being prepared as they arrived on site. It must be like ferrying art around the world…

An Eagle Weslake minus its unmistakable nose… By the end of the day the elegant car would be complete and ready for inspection.

Goodwood is also one of the few places you get to see modern Formula 1 cars up close outside a Grand Prix weekend: not the latest spec for sure – blame the FIA’s testing regulations as much as anything – but five models of 2011 F1 cars were here, plus Ferraris from 2010.

They would all be taking to the hill, and most of them at the hands of contemporary drivers on the Saturday and Sunday: Vettel, Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button, Heikki Kovalainen and Nico Rosberg would all be on driving duty over the weekend.

And for anyone wanting a history lesson, all you had to do was walk back into the paddock and along the lines of cars to see just how Formula 1 has evolved from its formative years. There have truly been some stunning cars on the way… The Wolf WR1 won on its debut in 1977 at the hands of Jody Scheckter.

The Rally Stage was a hugely popular addition to the Festival Of Speed, and is always worth the hike to the top of the hill. From the open start, where you can see various rally beasts blast off…

…and into the narrow, tree-lined forest stage itself. Spectators line the fences just yards from the track; accredited photographers get the unnerving permission of being able to go proper rally style and hide behind trees right by the passing monsters. They’re coming straight for us!

The stage is twisty but a good length, which means the cars get to stretch their legs and let it all hang out. As one car is coming past you another will be blatting past on the return leg, turbo popping and throttle modulating in time with the available traction.

You can’t escape cars at the Festival Of Speed: it’s not like the Revival, where you can lose yourself in canapés and hats if you so choose. Here everything points to the Hill and the sound of engines reverberates off the trees in the same way as a Le Mans or Nürburgring. Cars can be found everywhere, not just in the open paddocks, sometimes innocuously parked up under the trees awaiting an owner to retrieve them. A 1962 Thompson-Buick Special IndyCar anybody?

The public car parks are just as full of things to catch your eye – although with the huge Lotus and McLaren presence at the Festival there were an unfeasibly large number of Evoras and MP4-12Cs around. They’re almost common now!

So there’s plenty to go through in detail over the coming week: it’s another one of those hugely pleasurable events to attend, and just as good to look back at.

Jonathan Moore

Speedhunters at the 2012 Goodwood Festival Of Speed


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