The Goodwood Festival of Speed is an annual hill climb and celebration of all things motorised held in the grounds of Goodwood House, West Sussex.The event was founded in 1993 by Lord March in order to bring motor racing back to the Goodwood estate — a location steeped in British motor racing history. Shortly after taking over the estate in the early 1990s, Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March and Kinrar (or Lord March, as he is formally known) wanted to bring motor racing back to the Goodwood Circuit, but did not have the necessary permit to host a race there. Therefore, he instead hosted it on his own grounds. With a small selection of entrants made up of invited historic vehicles, the first event that took place on Sunday 13 June proved to be a success, taking in a crowd of 25,000 despite a date clash with the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year. For the following year, the event expanded to two days, and in 1996 added one extra day on Friday. The extremely hot and sunny four day 2013 FoS attracted a record total audience of over 196,000!
The event is scheduled to fit into the motor racing calendar to avoid a date clash with the Formula One season, enabling not just fans but many teams involved in current motor racing championships to attend. Visitors can expect to see cars and motorbikes from over 100 years of worldwide motor racing history climb the hill, including many of the latest F1 machines.
Aside from the machines, the event attracts a host of names from the past and present of motor racing, offering a rare chance to see world-famous names driving a wide range of cars at close hand.
Spread over the vast estate the Festival of Speed now also includes a forest rally stage, off-road all-wheel drive experiences, BMX and Moto-cross displays, various static displays of automobile excellence and history, a Bonhams auction of classic cars, an aviation exhibition with helicopter flights, air displays and showroom exhibits by all of the major motor companies – some of which unveiled new designs exclusively at the show.
This review covers the Friday and Saturday of what, in its twentieth year, is now a four day event, and only scratches at the surface of the mind-blowing scale of activities spread over the estate. Centre of course to each day is the near-continuous hill climb runs, most of which are purely demonstrations of historic machinery and contemporary Formula One, sports and production cars with a few timed runs to add to the excitement.
The record time for the hillclimb was set in 1999 when Nick Heidfeld (seen here at this year’s event) drove a McLaren MP4/13 Formula One car up the 1.16 miles of the hill in 41.6 seconds (100.385 mph).
For safety reasons Formula One cars are no longer allowed to do official timed runs, and will often focus on demonstrations that are spectacular rather than fast. Lewis Hamilton’s run this year in the Mercedes included several ‘doughnuts’ and tyre-smoking pauses in front of the appreciative crowds. In 2006 Heikki Kovalainen completed the course in a Renault R25 F1 car and was unofficially timed below 40 seconds.
Other current drivers appearing in 2013 included Jenson Button, Sebastian Buemi, Sergio Perez, Marc Gene, Romain Grosjean and Nico Rosberg, joined by famous names from the past such as Jackie Ickx, Hannu Mikkola, Jochen Mass, Martin Brundle, Carlos Sainz, Bobby Unser, Damon Hill, Eddie Cheever, Jackie Stewart, John Surtees, Emerson Fittipaldi, Rene Arnoux, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost, and of course the great Sir Stirling Moss. A number of celebrities could also be spotted such as ‘Easy Rider’ Peter Fonda, Nick Mason, and Olympian Chris Hoy.
There are one or two flying displays on each day of the event, with that on the Friday seeing the Red Arrows arriving over Goodwood House into their display and departing in a flypast over the circuit.
On the Saturday Vulcan XH558 displayed behind the trees, which divested their population of birds – thankfully not taking up the same area of sky! The RAF’s display Typhoon made a single pass later in the day – fast and loud, as befits the event.
A signature of each FoS since 1997 has been a spectacular temporary ‘sculpture’ erected in front of Goodwood House and designed by Gerry Judah. This year’s structure commemorated fifty years of the iconic Porsche 911 with three significant design stages gracing the top of the sculpture – a 1963 original, a 1973 Carrera RS 2.7 and a current Carrera 4. The new Porsche 911 GT3 was one of the cars making its UK debut at the event, and very many other examples were to be seen on show and in motion. McLaren were also celebrating their 50th anniversary and displayed an impressive array of machinery in a dedicated area and in a cavalcade up the hill, with Jenson Button heavily involved.
Bonhams achieved a vehicle auction sales record of £19.6million for the Mercedes-Benz W196 in its stunning £36million sale, which also including a new Maserati auction price record of over £4million for a 1955 300 S. Considered by many as the greatest F1 driver ever, Juan Manuel Fangio raced the W196 Mercedes in 1954, the year he won his second World Championship. This amazing piece of racing history was one of two produced at Fangio’s request without covered wheels so he could position the car more accurately on the track while driving. This record beat the 2011 sale price of a Ferrari by £9.6M.
The Sunday Shootout competition was won by Festival favourite Justin Law in his Jaguar XJR8/9. Law posted a blistering time of 45.95 seconds up the 1.16-mile Hillclimb course. In second place (47.32 secs) was the spectacular Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak car driven by Gregory Guilvert, who just pipped third place Jonny Cocker in the unconventional yet technically impressive Lola-Drayson (47.34 secs). Closing in was fourth place Alex Buncombe who also reached a sub-48 time of 47.79 seconds in a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3. One of the fastest times posted on the Friday was that by Gary Ward in the Lotus-Renault 98T once raced by the great Ayrton Senna. On the Saturday however he caught the hay bales marking the edge of the circuit at speed causing heavy damage to one corner of the car. Thankfully there were few other accidents over the weekend.
There is little that compares with the Festival of Speed for both quality and quantity. It brings together a vast array of the historical and modern – and even the future – of motor extravagance and performance. It is totally, utterly unique.