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Goodwood Festival of Speed – the insider’s view

Submitted by on July 23, 2009

Anyone unsure about committing to a maiden visit to Goodwood’s Festival of Speed in 2010 should firmly and finally cast those doubts asunder. This unique event, the last bastion of open-house-anything-goes motorsport, celebrated its 16th running just a few weeks ago and continues to astound. Having been to all 16, and led the commentary team for the past three, I can confidently claim that the 2009 edition moved the already far-reaching boundaries still further.

The incredible variety of single-seaters, sports-racers, tin-tops, rally weapons and bikes that descended on this beautiful corner of West Sussex rendered the diehards – myself very much among them – almost speechless. No, not the ideal predicament for a commentator, I’ll agree, but you get the idea.

In fact, that open-mouthed look is all pervading within a few minutes of the first stroll through the temporary paddocks on the first morning. Quite how event host Lord March and his team manage to assemble such a breathtaking mix is a mystery. Clearly, though, it has something to do with the kudos Goodwood now enjoys and the dedication of the team of people that makes it happen. Typical voxpops ringing out each year from among enthusiastic and knowledgeable Festival fans, who wander freely among the priceless equipment, include: “How on earth did they get that here?” That’s been in a museum for 30 years!” Can’t believe he’s going to drive that again here, today!” and “They only built two of those and the other one was destroyed in 19whenever.” Playing the fly on the wall among like-minded petrolheads is fascinating.

This year’s theme, ‘True Grit – epic feats of endurance’, perfectly encapsulated the link between the visiting heroes and their machines. Only at Goodwood can the rich tapestry of the sport that’s been weaved together over the past 100 years be truly celebrated. And what an array of names to help add further sparkle to the garden-party atmosphere. Formula 1 world champions John Surtees, Jackie Stewart, Alan Jones, Damon Hill and Lewis Hamilton represented the pinnacle of racing, with reigning champion Hamilton’s repeated donuts in his title-winning McLaren-Mercedes MP4-23 cocking a snoop at his day-job frustrations of 2009. US racing giants Johnny Rutherford and Al Unser – with seven Indianapolis 500 wins between them – bridged the Atlantic divide, while laconic NASCAR stockcar king Rusty Wallace was blown away by the event on what was his first visit to England. He was proud to be part of the 50-year celebrations of the discipline’s blue-riband Daytona 500.

For every fan who claims Indy and or Daytona are the greatest spectacles in racing, there’s another who claims the honour should fall to the Le Mans 24 Hours. The French enduro fitted the bill perfectly – it always does – and round-the-clock legends Richard Attwood and Derek Bell drove a variety of machines. The mic pressed to my lips fell silent when Attwood appeared in Porsche Salzburg’s red-and-white 917 number 23 – the very car in which he and Hans Herrmann gave the Stuggart marque the first of its 16 wins at La Sarthe a few months before my birth in 1970. A dozen of the fearsome flat-12 sports-racers were on hand to commemorate 40 years since rivals first ran scared.

“It was one of the worst cars I ever drove, but also one of the best,” Attwood teased, clearly referring to lethal first-generation prototypes and aero-tweaked world-beaters in the same breath. “It doesn’t feel any different to me today.”

Off-road motoring sport was again an integral part of the Festival, with the fifth running of the Forest Rally Stage bringing sultans of slide and whistling wastegates together again. Legendary ’80s heroes Bjorn Waldegaard, Walter Rohrl, Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist were again on hand, throwing Group B Audi Quattros between the trees with age-defying abandon. Current WRC god Sebastien Loeb ­– for many the greatest of all time – made his Festival debut and promptly smashed the two-mile stage record in his total-traction, turbocharged Citroen C4. The Frenchman’s willingness to make numerous forays out into the woods – invariably with one VIP after another strapped in alongside him – was refreshing to see and again rammed home the feeling that these guys do actually enjoy putting something back into a sport that has made them wealthy and well-known. The chance to relax away from the pressure-cooker environment of an international race paddock or rally service park allows for smiles all round – not to mention thousands of autographs, photos and story-telling.

It’s an enormous privilege for me to inform and entertain (the buzzwords for any good commentary insist those better at it than me) such a knowledgeable audience. I simply wouldn’t miss it for the world – and neither should you.

Henry Hope-Frost

Photos: Motion_Captured and Autocar

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