The problem with the Goodwood Festival of Speed is a pleasant one: there’s too much to see.
The contemporary and classic machinery that screams, throbs, bellows or whispers up the hill takes centre stage, but there is plenty of reward to be had in far-flung areas away from Lord March’s driveway.
The event kicks off with the now-traditional Moving Motor Show on Thursday, followed by three days of the festival proper.
If you’re only in West Sussex for one day, though, it can be hard to pack it all in. So here is our insider’s guide on how to ‘do’ Goodwood – the places to grab an autograph, the best route up to the rally stage, where to see the latest supercars and even how to drive the hill if you’re lucky enough to bag a test drive in the Moving Motor Show.
For all the latest on the Festival of Speed, read our full preview here.
How to get it very wrong in public
Almost every year at Goodwood, the straw bales on the outside of Molecomb, a tricky left-hander preceded by a notoriously challenging braking area, claim another high-profile victim in full view of the grandstands.
Last year Olympic hero Sir Chris Hoy spectacularly crashed a Nissan GT-R Nismo. He wasn’t the first to get it so wrong, so publicly, and in all probability he won’t be the last.
How to see F1 cars past and present
A special category will celebrate ‘fearless but flat-broke’ F1 racers and teams who took on grand prix racing’s best, despite their limited resources.
How to see the Moving Motor Show, and more
Thursday at Goodwood means the Moving Motor Show. What better way to test the latest new metal than by driving it up Lord March’s famous hill?
Be sure to get there early and put your name down for any cars you’re wanting to drive, as spaces will fill up fast (restrictions apply). Going on Thursday also means you can see the paddocks and displays before the event properly opens on Friday.
How to drive the hill with Damon Hill
His shock of black hair may have faded to grey, but there’s no mistaking Damon Hill. It’s 20 years since he was crowned Formula 1 champion, but the Englishman is still trim and ready to race.
Hill has agreed to sit in the passenger seat of an orange McLaren 650S and teach me how to drive up Goodwood’s 1.16-mile hillclimb. Today the route is quiet, but it will be a different story this weekend when thousands of spectators line the course.
“I gave up being competitive when I retired from Formula 1, but I still love coming here to drive the hillclimb,” Hill says. “It seems to have a magical appeal to every motorsport enthusiast.”
The course record was set in 1999 by Nick Heidfeld in a McLaren MP4/13. He crossed the finishing line at 170mph and completed the distance in 41.6sec. Since then, F1 cars haven’t been timed on the hillclimb for safety reasons.
Today, in our McLaren 650S, we’re making relatively steady progress by comparison, but when at last the road opens up across the South Downs, Damon encourages me to press on.
“Hillclimbing is a totally different concept from F1, because you are primarily racing against yourself,” he says. “It’s all over in less than a minute, and you have a lot more obstacles to avoid.”
The McLaren can sprint from zero to 100mph in 5.7sec. However, as we scream past Goodwood House and approach the infamous Molecomb Corner, I’m more interested in the fact that it has carbonfibre brakes. I lose traction out of Molecomb, then change up to third as we reach a wiggle in the road on the approach to the flint wall.
“This wall is a formidable test of nerves because of the overhanging trees,” explains Hill. “They blot out the daylight and, for a precious moment, you lose visibility on the approach. It feels as if you are driving straight into the wall.”
The experience is like steering through a tunnel without the headlights on, forcing me to squint as my eyes struggle to adjust to the change in light.“This is the section where drivers make up time,” says Hill. “The road straightens out here as we reach the top of the South Downs. We’re actually 300ft higher up here than when we started, and the views are spectacular.”
Unlike a circuit, the Goodwood course isn’t very wide and, worse, it’s lined with trees. The final stretch of the hillclimb is normally a well-used estate road, too. There’s no time to stop the clock when we scream past the finishing line. Heidfeld’s record is safe, but at least Hill is impressed with my rookie performance.
“You drove within your limits and you didn’t crash,” he says. “So many people get carried away on their first run and come to grief on a corner.”
How to build an enormous sculpture
Gerry Judah has been here 17 times before. The giant sculpture that will serve as the centrepiece of this year’s Festival of Speed – and thus be viewed by more than 150,000 people over four days – is the 18th to be created on the lawn outside Goodwood House by the London-based sculptor and, as usual, it’s all his own work.The ‘own work’ thing may sound obvious, but it isn’t. Not necessarily.
As is well known, each year Goodwood’s mighty installation celebrates the spirit and values of a single manufacturer – this year Mazda – and car manufacturers come with designers of their own. Early in the piece, the Judah-client relationship can sometimes get a little tense.
“I need the company’s people to help me understand a client’s DNA, and something of their priorities, but I’m always the one who comes up with the idea,” says Judah. “That’s how it has always been. I’m a very good team player as long as the team does what I want.”
Judah is particularly happy with this year’s festival installation, a flame-like structure formed as a stack of gigantic steel piers, narrowing and twisting as it climbs, then cantilevering out and away from Goodwood House to suspend two of history’s most important Mazdas: the revered 787B Le Mans winner and the LM55 GT1 concept.
“The whole thing is safe but, like things I’ve done here before, there’s a sense of danger,” he says. “I think that’s an important element.”
The idea for stacked piers refers to a particular form of traditional Japanese construction and came from Judah’s contacts with Mazda. However, it is his relationship with Goodwood’s kingpin, Charles March, and with local engineering and fabrication experts, that steers each project.
Judah is already considering Goodwood’s 2016 centrepiece. Does he know how it will look? “Sure,” he replies, “but I’m not going to tell you.”
How to appreciate the art of drifting
For the first time, Goodwood will feature a special category dedicated to the art of drifting. A number of the discipline’s biggest names have lined up to take part, including festival stalwart Ken Block, who will be driving his 850bhp Ford Mustang, dubbed the ‘Hoonicorn’.
That’s pretty much all the reason you need to watch the drifters do their stuff up the hill on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
How to prepare a race car
The great thing about magnesium is that it’s strong and light, which makes it a great material from which to construct components in a racing car’s suspension. You get a lot of strength for a relatively low unsprung mass.
The bad thing about magnesium is that it’s so prone to corrosion that you don’t need salt water to make it oxidise – just air will do it.
So if it hasn’t been treated, or alloyed, from the start, it’ll just sit there, gently weakening.
This makes it a terrible thing to make a racing car’s suspension from, especially if you think you’re still going to be driving the car in 50 years’ time, and of course no one considers that. People make racing cars to win today. There’s one Porsche 917 with a magnesium chassis that now cannot be driven properly at all.
And that’s how I find myself at Revolve Technologies in Brentwood, helping to dismantle the rear suspension of one of Ford’s own GT40s.
What always surprises me about these operations is that the cars are looked after on a far smaller budget than I’d expect, given how modern car companies like to bask in the glow of their historic cars’ halos. I reckon most privately owned historic racers have more spent on them. Yet Ford’s GT40s are used as course cars at Goodwood’s motorsport events, and this example was at Le Mans for the announcement that Ford will return there next year.
Still, despite Ford’s surprisingly small budget, there appear to be enough people involved with the right skills and experience, as well as the foresight, to figure that the old GT40s’ seats might one day perish, the fuel tanks might split and – yes – the magnesium wheel uprights might crack.
Hence the preventative maintenance, and hence why the wheels won’t fall off this particular GT40 at Goodwood this year. Unless I didn’t do up that nut properly.
How to see the latest supercars
Seeing all the supercars at Goodwood will take a little bit of planning, as not all of them are in the same location. The obvious place to start is the Michelin Supercar Paddock, which is where you will find all the cars due to head up the hill. It’s far better to see them moving, though, and there are two great spots for this.
The first is as close to the first corner as you can possibly get. That way you get to see any burnouts off the line and then get to watch the drivers piling on the power as they storm up the hill in spectacular style.
The second spot is just after the footbridge near the Porsche Experience Centre, as the cars negotiate the deceptively tricky Molecomb corner that has claimed so many scalps.
There’s a competitive element to the supercar runs, which are held against the clock on Saturday. The array of exotica includes the track-focused McLaren P1 GTR and Koenigsegg’s 1500bhp Regera. The turbocharged Honda-engined Glickenhaus SCG 003 is also set to take part, as will the Aston Martin Vantage GT12 and Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
While you are on the far side of the hill to the house, head to the manufacturers’ main stands, where there will be more models on static display.
Finally, expect a fair amount of diversity in the newly rebranded Performance Car Parking area. This area of the car park is towards the north of the site and is where you’ll find exotica owned by members of the public.
How to beat the crowds to get an autograph
It’s a well-known fact that you don’t go through the entrance to a major event and then walk no further, yet that’s the gist of our insider’s tip for getting one of the best views of the festival.
Just make sure you arrive by the gate at the bottom end of Lord March’s drive, where the cars gather before going up the hill.
It’s here that the showmen will negotiate the required U-turn after leaving the assembly area by exercising their right foot a dab too far, in order to swing their car’s back end around the turn.
Rally drivers have also been known to ‘warm their tyres’ by performing doughnuts in the tight space. Yes, some drivers are more sensible, but many aren’t.
As the queue to go up the hill builds, drivers will hop from their cars and chat to all and sundry - which is when you can get their autograph.
How to see the rally cars at flat chat
The forest rally stage at the Goodwood Festival of Speed is a must-see spectacle that you have to make time for, even if you’re only visiting for a day.
Designed with input from 1983 world rally champion Hannu Mikkola, the 1.7-mile-long stage is narrow and layered in chalky gravel, with fast sections and tight corners lined with trees.
To get there, you have to stroll for 30-40 minutes up the hill from the manufacturer stands on the right-hand side of the asphalt hillclimb. If you don’t fancy the trek, a free tractor ride is available.
At the stage, you’ll see cars from all eras, starting with the early years of rallying, represented by the Ford Escort RS1600 and Mini Cooper S, to more contemporary machinery such as the Citroën DS3 and Subaru Impreza World Rally Cars.
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