Goodwood Festival of Speed. Bottom: Brian Redman in Porsche 917 P/A. Click image to enlarge
Article and photos by Lesley Wimbush
WEST SUSSEX, England – Few things score higher in bucket list points than a trip to the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed. There’s a surreal quality to the event that was more than just the after-effects of being dropped onto one of the finest examples of English aristocracy’s country landholdings in existence, directly after a trans-Atlantic flight, where we stood blinking mole-like in the bright sunshine before being swallowed by the vast crowds.
If being transported into what looked like a Merchant-Ivory production, complete with topiary gardens, a block of stables, private airfield and 12,000 acres of rolling English countryside wasn’t enough, then there were the cars.
Oh, the cars. Good lord, the cars. Our entrance delivered us into the pit area where multiple classes of cars spanning decades of motorsport were either undergoing some last-minute tinkering, or idling while waiting for their class to start.
In a “pinch-me” moment of slack-jawed wonder, I recognized Paddy Hopkirk’s Mini Cooper S – one of the most famous rally cars in history and winner of the ’64 Monte Carlo Rally. Beside it is the distinctive BMW 3.0L “Batmobile” six-time European Touring car winner, its engine turning over in furious “rump-rump-rump” bursts. Blinking twice in disbelief, I spy the Jaguar XJR9 Silk Cut racecar under an awning, with its unmistakeable purple and white livery and skirted rear fenders.
The pits were jammed with fans straining to catch glimpses of contemporary Formula One champions Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, and legends John Surtees, Damon Hill and Stirling Moss.
By the time I’d made my way across one of several lawns fronting the various wings of the estate, I’d reached that point of sensory overload where I’d almost completely lost any ability to comprehend what I was experiencing. Thinking I needed a five-minute timeout to collect myself and perhaps down a cold refreshment, I tried to work my way through the massive crush of humanity circling the grounds like a salmon swimming upstream.
“So sorry”, I muttered, careening into to a silver-haired gent with sparkling blue eyes who was posing for a picture with one of the spectators. “Bloody hell, love,” laughed Derek Bell, draping his arm across the woman’s shoulders and leaning in once more for the shot.
Cutting through one of the dozens of paddocks, I’m brought up short by the sudden appearance of a vintage white spyder that stops directly in front of me. It’s the Porsche 917 P/A – Joe Siffert’s 1969 Can-Am car, and joking with the a small group of fans from the open cockpit is Brian Redman, four-time Spa 1000 km winner, three-time 24 Hours of Daytona champion and one of the most successful drivers in racing history.
Being the quick-thinking professional that I am, I quickly fire off a few shots (some of which actually work out) and back away, where I find myself directly in the path of another approaching Porsche. I’m delighted to see (before being hustled out of the way by one of the army of white-jumpered marshals) that this car is an old friend: the 1998 Le Mans winning 911 GT1 whose cockpit I’d managed to talk my way into on a visit to the Zuffenhausen Porsche Museum a few years earlier. Sighing, I snapped another couple of pictures before continuing in search of that drink. Little did I know that gracing the very seat once occupied by my own behind, was endurance racing’s newest big star, Mark Webber.
Earl of March, Goodwood Estate. Click image to enlarge
Founded in 1993 by the Earl of March, the Goodwood Festival of Speed takes place on the Goodwood Estate, a 12,000-acre landholding in Sussex county. The site boasts a legacy rich in British motor racing, and when Lord March was unable to revive the nearby Goodwood Motor Racing Circuit for what he hoped would become a popular vintage festival and income revenue, he simply decided to host it on the grounds of the family’s estate. Thus, the Festival of Speed was born.
It succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. Motorsports and classic car fans of all ages pour in from all over the globe for the festival. Eventually, the attendance had to be capped at 150,000 per day.