Goodwood Festival of Speed

Goodwood was the Classic Gentleman’s racing circuit — attached to a stately home, converted in the 1940s from the wartime fighter airfield, and with the paddocks in the stables, it epitomised the immediate post-war racing clan — the sort of upper-class twit element that instantly and irresistably conjures Monty Python and Harry Enfield. After many years of genteel decay, the whole of Goodwood has been now been revitalised, spruced up and brought into the latter days of the twentieth century. It now hosts an annual Festival of Speed, one of the great opportunities to see racing cars and bikes of every era both close to and in action on the hill climb circuit that runs past Goodwood house itself.

The paddock and pits are adjacent to the house, with open access to all — it must be one of the very few events in the world where you can turn from admiring the ’99 works F1 Maclaren to gaze in to wonder at the adjacent 1935 Alfa Romeo, only to realise that the affable chap climbing into its cockpit is John Surtees.

No apologies though for four wheels appearing here — this has appeal for anyone who appreciates the aesthetic of engineering, be it the locomotive magnificence of the 1926 Railton to the lightweight elegance of the Maseratis and the watchmaker’s precision of the 1960s Hondas. All in the single-minded pursuit of going that little bit faster than the next person. And having fun.

There was one very special moment of touching my family past. I have a photograph, taken by my father in about 1962, of Jim Redman’s amazing 250-6 DOHC Honda — that’s right, 250cc and 6 cylinders, at a time when the British manufacturers regarded anything with more than two cylinders as an oriental or Italian plot, pushrods as the pillars of empire and still weren’t sure that the move from side valves had been strictly necessary. At Goodwood this year I came across the same machine and of course set up a photograph with me in it (to be scanned at some indeterminate point).

Highlight of the day for me wasn’t Coulthard’s Maclaren, Macrae’s very sideways works Subaru or even the bikes being caned up the hillclimb — it was the little 1936 2-litre ERA, which rocketed up the course in 59 seconds, only 8 seconds behind the ’99 works rally cars and way ahead of most of the 70s and 80s exotica being run. This was a man having fun, big time. Then of course, there’s the added bonus of all the twisty country roads between Hindhead and Goodwood, plus the return diversion along the A272 to Petworth, one of England’s truly great biking roads.

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