The Goodwood Festival of Speed

by Frank Rapisardi

Goodwood Festival of SpeedIf you think you have seen it all, you haven’t seen anything yet till you experience the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed in England. On one of my many trips over to the UK, I had the good fortune to attend one of the greatest automotive events of them all, the granddaddy of everything that moves at speed—The Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, England. Though primarily automotive, it is also a celebration of motorcycles, boats, and planes at speed; actually anything that moves.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedMy wife and I were picked up at our hotel near Buckingham Palace by my long time English friend and fellow autofisti, Giles Meyrick and his wife. A short fifty minutes later, heading south from London on the motorway, we entered one of the many Goodwood car parks that would hold thousands of visitors from around the world. I knew immediately from just a quick scan of the motors parked near us, older Jags and Ferraris, newer Maseratis and Astons, that it was going to be everything I expected and more.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedAs you enter, you’re welcomed by Lord March’s palatial Goodwood estate, which every year erects a tribute exhibit to the featured marque just outside its front door. This year’s tribute was to Rolls Royce as three symbols of this venerable marque, a plane, a car, and a record setting speedboat were suspended upside down 100 feet in the air on an artistic scaffolding. What an opening act! Rolls Royce displayed everything from John Lennon’s psychedelic 60’s Rolls to one of Queen Elizabeth’s stately and ceremonial Rolls. All events are held on Lord March’s estate.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedAs we turned to leave the estate to meet up with more British friends, we witnessed Lord March himself being driven off in an open Rolls. The word Goodwood is a multifaceted one. In addition to the Festival of Speed’s three days in early July, for three days in September you can step back in time with the Goodwood Revival at the Goodwood Motor Circuit and relive this circuit’s glory days from 1948-1966. Cars and motorcycles of that period relive the fifties and sixties where once F1 and Tourist Trophy sports car races made the circuit come alive. Drivers as well as spectators dress in period costumes as 1950’s aircraft fly overhead. But we are here to see today’s speed and more.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedWe made our way directly across from the Goodwood Estate to the hill climb start/finish line to watch some practice runs. We had reserved grandstand seats for the timed hill climb events scheduled for later in the afternoon. To get to the start/finish, you have to walk through an infield containing every major automotive manufacturer’s display tent, filled with goodies and surprises. Renault was displaying Fernando Alonso’s winning F1 car while Aston Martin offered up the ProDrive Astons for your delight.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedDown the hill from the start/finish line you encounter the individual marques housed under near Barrett-Jackson size tents. Alfa Romeo appeared to have flown over its entire famous Arese museum, Museo Storico. Technicians were prepping and starting those glorious racing monopostos for your enjoyment. Bentley’s tent held its green monster that had just won LeMans. There were ancient Fiats and monstrous looking Bugattis, one of a kind survivors you may never see here in the States. In England, unlike the States with displays like Pebble Beach and Amelia Island, you are free to experience the cars, even touching them without fear of any retribution. It’s an unspoken trust between owners and fans and it seems to only happen in the UK and Europe.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedOthers, like Lotus, had an example of every one of its cars there, including a display on “The F1 Cars of Ayrton Senna”. Moving from tent to tent you are also wise to keep your eyes open for the many famous drivers in attendance. Derek Bell went flying by us on his way to a late start for a practice run up Goodwood Hill.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedIn one of the other tents I went up and introduced my wife and myself to Sir John Surtees. The only motorcycle and automobile world champion ever, Surtees graciously spent several minutes welcoming us to Goodwood and asking about things in the States (he later would almost run me over in his haste to get out of the paddock for his practice run in his big 1930’s Gran Prix Silver Arrow Mercedes). I then proceeded to meet Jochen Mass who graciously took pictures with my wife and I.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedTaking a break, we went for some champagne, and while sitting down I heard what I thought was a large plane about to crash into us. As it turned out it was a South African 747, but approximately 300 feet overhead it was banking over us and the hill course to the delight of everyone. Only at Goodwood—and it was a scheduled part of the day. All day long, WW2 fighter planes could be seen and heard doing acrobatic maneuvers.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedIf I haven’t got your attention yet, every year Goodwood has a Super Car Corral. This year’s was exceptional. Every super car in the world was there. My favorite this year—the Swedish supercar Koenigsegg, specifically the Modena which at the time was the fastest production car on the road, faster than a McLaren F1. Fortunately, my good friend Giles knew one of the company’s principals, and Paul proceeded to give us a personal viewing of this massive beast. Simultaneously, the Super Car drivers appeared and fired up their engines for their practice run on the hill—a moment I will never forget. Think of a squadron of F-16s taking off, one every two seconds.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedParticipating in this year’s afternoon hill climb was a gaggle of F1, Gran Prix,Indy,CanAm and LeMans drivers: Michael Schumacher, Montoya, Button, Surtees, Jackie Icks, Brian Redman and Sterling Moss to name just a few. Steve McQueen’s son driving along with Jackie Icks’ daughter were sentimental favorites. Every type of vehicle is represented at Goodwood- from American dragsters to Zagatos—even antiques, turn of the century machines just putt-putt putting along but who were shown a deep appreciation by the onlookers. Another fan favorite every year is the American glass floored Dodge funny car dragster, whose driver, when it goes up on its rails, steers by looking through the floor. Even Juan Montoya used his turn to produce several “F1 donuts” to the fans’ delight!

Goodwood Festival of SpeedAfter our hill climb addiction was filled, we toured the satellite exhibits that line the estate’s perimeter. We stumbled across a display of Alfa Bat cars and assorted rare Cunninghams, a lovely white Maserati Tipo 61 (birdcage), four giant blown Bentleys, two McLaren F1s, an Iso Griffos and a Rivolta, a stunning and rare Maserati—even a scaled down, functional kid sized car display. Like the tented cars, these exhibits are all approachable.

Goodwood Festival of SpeedNo English day goes by it seems without some rain, but this time it didn’t really matter. As we were making our way back to the car park, nothing could wipe off the giant smiles we had on our faces after experiencing a taste of what heaven must certainly be like.

© Frank Rapisardi 2009