Words: Tim Nevinson | Photos: Nick Dungan & Jayson Fong
There’s a risk here that this, the first column from a new contributor, is going to look like paid advertising. It’s not, it’s something he feels passionate about, something he wants to shout from the rooftops, because if you too are passionate about classic cars, driving and motorsport, he believes you really need to get on your computer, find, and spend many happy hours enjoying this – as he does.
I read everywhere that motorsport is not like it used to be. You can’t see the cars struggling for grip, the roll angles, gentlemanly racing, being able to see drivers battling against their machines, performance differences, different sounds that make the hairs prickle on the back of your neck, meaningful colour schemes and recognisably different cars.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on all of us, particularly those involved in events and hospitality. The Duke of Richmond had a problem on his hands. You might think that the Duke has plenty of money and could absorb this sort of thing, but the truth is that cashflow is a problem for all of us, and the money involved here was substantial. He had no choice but to cancel all of his major motoring events – The Festival of Speed (essentially a hillclimb) and The Revival, a classic motor racing weekend – both jewels in the crown of international motorsport, and both heavily reliant on spectator income, nearly always sold out each year.
Goodwood has a membership scheme, ranging from affordable to astronomic, and it must have taken some chutzpah from the Duke to ask members for more money to cover the gaping gap in his cashflow, but he did.
With some clever lateral thinking, he decided to take advantage of the fact that spectators and guests were not allowed and ran an event where modern safety constraints and large crowds were not a consideration. He called it ‘Speedweek’; a crossbreed of his usual events, but with much higher speeds involved in demonstrations, and perhaps a little more risk in the racing events.
The income came from ‘pay per view’, live TV, a live internet feed, membership and, of course, substantial commercial sponsorship, but still managing to keep the overt sponsorship down to a level that might have been seen in the 1960s.
I already had the cheapest level of membership, so on the three days of active competition I was glued to my computer for the whole weekend, much in the same way as Kiwis and Australians camp around the TV for ‘The Great Race’. I think I ate, drank, and slept that weekend – but not much.
What was so inspiring about the event was not just the sheer breadth of ‘proper’ motorsport on show, but the choice of watching the sport, devoid of all the frills usually in place to entertain the great unwashed, or not. You knew you had the best seat in the house, because, apart from marshals, organisers, teams and essential media, nobody but you had a better view. The coverage also included extra camera angles and drones which would not have been possible in a normal event.
Why is this different to say an F1 Grand Prix? Because Goodwood as a circuit is set up to look like an event held in the 1960s, with all the safety and advertising hidden in the background. This means that Goodwood as a circuit in its present form cannot hope to meet the safety standards for modern racing speeds. They do a damn good job, and the barriers (tyre walls covered in conveyor belt material) are right up to scratch, as you will see, when needed. However, there was modern racing speeds and a ground effect F1 car set the circuit record.
This was achieved in a high-speed sprint shootout, with Le Mans winners and Grand Prix drivers duking it out over a flying lap, in both modern and classic racing cars. Demos included today’s F1 cars, Porsche 956, 917 and Ferrari 512M and virtually every TWR Jaguar ever built. Now to be honest the modern F1 cars leave me cold, so that was a chance for me to get a bite to eat, with more snacking when the drift cars appeared.
However, as I mentioned earlier, this all served to demonstrate the quality of the cars racing or doing high speed demos and illustrated the sheer spectacle of what we were watching.
That was one end of the scale. At the other, and no less amazing or entertaining, were the races for Edwardian aero-engined racing cars from the early 1900s. Twenty-two heroic motor cars at their most basic in terms of chassis, but with engines in the 20-litre range, turning over at 1000-2000 maximum rpm, with flames spouting from exhausts and the drivers perched way aloft in dining room chairs, no seat belts, their whole body visibly fighting with the enormous steering wheels, rudimentary controls, great gobs of torque and little in the way of brakes or lateral grip. This was no demo run, these guys were on full noise jousting for victory, sliding instead of braking and not touching or forcing each other off the track. Few break down, the only loose screws are in the drivers!
What these guys are doing is truly epic, with no margin for safety in these tall, fast, heavy, and unruly beasts. Mark Walker’s 22.5 litre V8 Darracq (basically an enormous flying bedstead on wheels), Ben Colling’s Blitzen Benz (1908, 12.8-litre four cylinder), Duncan Pittaway’s 28.3-litre, four-cylinder ‘Beast of Turin’ FIAT (whose bonnet is as tall as a man) battled with Julian Masjub’s ‘tiny’ 4.9-litre Indianapolis Sunbeam, all headlining a substantial grid of pre-WW1 monsters.
There is no David in these David and Goliath battles, there are just Goliaths and Super Goliaths. All have immense engines and skinny tyres (no more than 3 inches wide), but the performance difference of each around Goodwood’s flowing circuit was immense, the lead changing around four times every lap, a Vauxhall charging past into the corners, the Darracq bulldozing through on the straights. The lap time for these unwieldy leviathans computed to an average speed over the whole lap of 75mph!
The David and Goliath theme continued with the saloon car races, of which there were four or five. The two classifications for the races being pre-’65 and pre-Group A. Here owners shared their classic saloon with pro drivers – anyone from multi-Le Mans winners Tom Kristensen, Emmanuelle Pirro and Jochen Mass to BTCC touring car stars, who can be incredibly quick pedallers. Every driver at Goodwood is given a very stern talking to beforehand by the Duke of Richmond, on risk of permanent expulsion from Goodwood events, so the biff and bash of BTCC is not apparent, but what is apparent is just how skilful these drivers are in comparison with many of the car’s owners – as seen in lap times, holding slides and drifts, consistency and pin-sharp judgement all so noticeable in grip-starved classic cars.
What a spectacle these cars make. Seven-litre Galaxies, Lotus Cortinas, Minis, Alfas, BMW, Mk2 Jags with the odd ‘homologation special’ but it’s the three Galaxies that command attention, looking for all the world like a landing strip for a Phantom jet, two side by side fit on the track, but three is too many, and good luck if you end up at the chicane alongside one of them. The Galaxies look the same as the one the Drinkrow brothers campaigned in New Zealand, and make you draw breath when you see them, especially with a Lotus Cortina or Mini alongside.
What is amazing with the ebb and flow of the Goodwood circuit is that a well-driven Mini is within a second of a Galaxie’s lap time, and apart from the straights, the British cars are buzzing around the Galaxies like flies around a dead elephant. This situation is fluid though, as fuel loads lighten and brakes disappear (the Minis don’t use ’em!) and tyres give up the struggle. Jaguar’s archetypal Mk2 saloon racers seemed to get left out in the cold a bit, because while highly competent, they did not have the ace card of outright grunt or agility. The Lotus Cortinas had the median but were outgunned in the important places. The angles all these cars achieve, both in roll and in relation to the direction of travel at remarkably high speeds have to be seen to be believed.
It takes drivers of a high level and confidence to consistently challenge their cars’ limit whilst dicing with another car and not touching. I’d like to see someone like Shane van Gisbergen invited to Goodwood for the touring cars because I believe, having seen him slide a Formula Ford car on the outside line around Pukekohe’s sweeper while overtaking four competitors, I consider him to be at the same level as the top drivers witnessed at Speedweek.
As well as the jaw-dropping Galaxies, saloons were represented in a pre-Group A race; Group 1.5 to be precise. The cars mostly looked Group A, but not quite. Enter Boss Mustangs, Camaro Z-28s battling Rover SD1s, Capris, Dolomites and Minis, the latter in 1275GT form.
Unusually for a Goodwood event, the cars ran with the sponsorship messages they would have had at the time, with one race using a reverse grid. You can imagine the mayhem this caused, but all in the best possible taste!
The ‘fill-ins’, if you can call them that, would have been a major draw for any other event, a sort of gymkhana for classic rally cars, in this case the best of the flame-spitting Group B rally cars, Audi quattros, MG Metro 6R4s, Lancia Delta S4, RS200 and a myriad of MkII Escorts, Subarus and modern WRC cars, as well as a drift competition (something that leaves me completely cold).
If these cars aren’t quite valuable enough, the following grids were stunning in terms of their value, Shelby Cobras and lightweight E-Types en masse. Ferrari 250GTs and GTOs sprinkled among the Aston Martin DB4s, Corvette Stingrays and so on. Stig Blomquist, a Kiwi resident, managed to win in the Galaxy saloon and also did very well in the rally competition but blotted his copybook by wiping a Stingray out at high speed against the tyre barrier, leaving his son, Tom, without a drive in the two-driver race.
Brutal CanAm cars followed (early McLaren and Lola T70s) with nimble Lotus 23s snapping at their heels. All these cars were hurled about with no apparent thought for their value and fragility. I cannot think of another circuit that equalises out the power vs agility curve quite so well as Goodwood. It looks fast and flowing like Silverstone, but the curves are just awkward enough to upset the power brokers.
I could go on, but suffice to say the race card also featured Grand Prix cars from 1930 to 1951, 1.5-litre Grand Prix cars from 1961-63 (many of which will have done time in New Zealand), front engined GP cars up to 1960, and closed cockpit GT cars from the 1950s and 1960s. The value of the cars in all categories was immense, but in these latter grids the values were stratospheric, none of which seemed to protect them from absolute full-bore treatment by their owners and drivers.
If there is a but, and there is, it is that more and more of these cars are not what they seem, for want of a better word, and I use it advisedly, replicas. ‘Toolroom’ replicas, in some cases, so-called ‘continuation cars’ linked, however loosely, to the original manufacturer using ‘unused’ chassis numbers in order to build new cars from scratch. Even three continuation versions of the legendary BRM V16 are being built, along with others, such as Vanwall, Ferrari, Jaguar (SS, D-Type and C-Type) Aston Martin, Shelby Daytonas and Cobras. It’s interesting to note that of the 3,306 MkI Lotus Cortinas built, 4000-odd are
To sum up, my point is simple – if you love classic racing, go on the internet and join Goodwood to witness this one-off event with no spectators, and then settle in to chomp through their library of past Festival and Revival events. You won’t regret it.