These days, they say, a successful Goodwood Festival of Speed is as necessary to the health of the nation’s motoring scene as a full tank in every family car. Early on this year, the weather looked as if it might threaten such a happy outcome, what with the cars of some Friday attendees having to be towed into their parking spaces.
Luckily, intermittent sun shone enough through the weekend to make this one of the happiest events ever, and one of the largest. Early reports put attendance at the ticket-only event at the magic 200,000 the organisers have been seeking for the past few years.
The Festival’s secret is to combine the spectacularly predictable – such as most F1 teams smokily demonstrating their cars a week before they take to the British GP grid at Silverstone – with the new and unexpected, such as Renault’s big boss (and closet historic single-seater racer) Carlos Tavares taking to the hillclimb first at the wheel of the new Alpine A110-50 concept coupe with which he intends to found a sports car dynasty, and later in a still-camouflaged Clio 4 prototype, the car upon which his company most depends for a much-needed European revival.
Though Goodwood nowadays kicks off on Thursday with the Moving Motor Show, the day-long event that allows manufacturers to demonstrate cars to customers on closed estate roads, the whole Festival gets closer annually to becoming Britain’s outdoor motor show. Manufacturers colonise the infield with enormous and specially built multi-tier stands (this year’s 'halo' manufacturer Lotus’s was biggest of all). International car bosses arrive on the South Coast from every point of the compass, as they never did to London’s series of ill-fated static motor shows, lured by amazing cars and a couple of nights’ accommodation in 'the House' at Lord March’s pleasure.
This year’s most high-powered arrival was undoubtedly Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s car-loving president, who braved a two-hour traffic queue to tour the grand prix paddock on Saturday afternoon, drive his own racing car on the track with Lord March and conduct just one interview (with Autocar) before heading back to Japan that evening.
Goodwood’s nooks and crannies continued to be well stocked with industry chiefs, such as Aston chairman David Richards (helping to launch the new Vanquish), McLaren Automotive chief Antony Sheriff (entertaining potential customers for the soon-to-launch MP4-12C Spider), Jaguar Land Rover's Ralf Speth (whose new F-type prototype and XF Shooting Brake were prominent), the aforementioned Carlos Tavares of Renault, and Nissan technical chief Jerry Hardcastle, recently awarded an OBE for his steadfast promotion of the UK’s component supply industry. Hardcastle even succeeded in turning Infiniti’s arresting Emerg-e electric coupe concept – driven flat out on the hill by Red Bull’s Mark Webber – into a showpiece for British batteries, British electric motors, British power electronics and British composites technology.
Lotus shrugged off current management 'issues' to take major attention via Gerry Judah’s gigantic sculpture on the lawn of Goodwood House, widely regarded by aficionados as the best in a 16-year sequence. Meanwhile, Clive Chapman’s slick Classic Team Lotus – with selected owners – put an amazing spectrum of Lotus racing machinery onto the track, ranging from the 1958 Lotus 12 that marked the team’s debut in F1, through Jim Clark’s lovely Lotus 25 and Ford-Lotus Cortina Mk1 (brilliantly driven by former bike champ Stuart Graham) to the Lotus-Renault R30, built and raced only last year.
Track action was both novel and non-stop. Sebastian Vettel was a huge draw, digging trenches in Lord March’s green verges with the punchy Infiniti FX SUV that carries his name. He was supported by Alain Prost, Jenson and Lewis, Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg and a whole galaxy of rally stars. Nissan stunt driver Terry Grant set a time of two minutes (not much more than double the 'normal' time) while driving an all-electric Nissan Leaf in reverse. A mighty red Kenworth threw aside overhanging branches to show how quickly a racing truck could go. The FoS-TECH display, populated mostly with electric cars, features futuristic offerings from everyone from Morgan to Kia, via the evocative Ford EVOS concept.
Underpinning everything, as ever, were Britain’s precious motoring and racing traditions, embodied this year by Jaguar heroes Sir Stirling Moss and Norman Dewis, who took repeatedly to the track, waving to the effusive crowd, in a beautiful pale green C-type Jaguar. At one point on the start line they were chatting so animatedly about old adventures that the starter had to interrupt them to drop the flag. It was such sights that made the whole thing worthwhile.