When it comes to a concentrated snapshot of mankind’s four-wheeled achievements, the Goodwood Festival Of Speed takes some beating. If your blood runs high on octane, it should be at the sharp end of your personal bucket list. If you’re not yet the gearhead, the FoS, as it nicknames itself, will almost certainly convert you.
What’s so special? No other mere car show packs such a staggering density of petrol-hedonism per square metre than the Earl of March’s annual shindig on his country estate in Chichester, about 100 kays south of London. At its core, the FoS is a living, breathing, fast-moving and ear-splitting homage to some of the greatest, most interesting and exciting cars motoring’s best and boldest minds have ever created.
What began as a bit of a motorsport revival-themed lark in the early ’90s between The Earl and his well-to-do circle of racing buffs and aristocrats, quickly exploded into a a blue riband festival where the everyday punter, the motorsport fraternity and the car industry come together to overindulge in motoring excess.
Centred around the slightly lunatic forum of punting the world’s fastest and fieriest road and track cars and motorcycles along the estates’s 1.9-kilometre garden path, dubbed the Hill, FoS pulsates with a vibrancy, diversity and intensity normal car shows can’t muster.
This year, CarAdvice tagged along as a guest of Mercedes-AMG to plug into 2016’s theme: Full Throttle – The Endless Pursuit of Power.
The German tri-star marque’s presence exemplifies the depth and richness on show that drew around 150,000 punters through the turnstiles. In terms of hands-on involvement, the brand’s reach extends much further than coercing Formula One champ Lewis Hamilton to flog the just-unveiled Mercedes-AMG GT R road car up ‘the Hill’ with its rear tyres on fire and its twin-turbo V8 bouncing off its rev-limiter.
Other ingredients in Mercedes-Benz’s Goodwood melting pot include three race cars over a century old, pre-war 1930s Silver Arrows land speed record holders, ’90s DTM touring cars, a current BTCC A-Class racer, a London-Sydney Rally winning ’77 280E, the Formula One championship-winning 2009 Brawn-Mercedes BFG 001 and 2014’s dominant F1 W05, the Le Mans-winning 1989 Sauber-Mercedes C9 sportscar, SLS AMG GT3 enduro racers and a fair slab of its current F1 team, with messers Hamilton and Rosberg in tow.
Road car wise, there were four-wheeled entries covering nearly 120 years, from the 1897 Daimler Wagonete and 1898 Benz Velo through to the current AMG C63 and S63 Convertible stock. And that’s before you count the monstrous two-storey new car showroom erected just for the weekend.
A lot going on? You bet. The list of things to see is exhaustive and too long to go into here. Instead, we’ll cover off some highlights with which to measure the cut of the 2016 Goodwood FoS jib, the kind of blockbusting draw cards that entice the Goodwood pilgrims to endure a good 15 kilometres of gridlock in the English countryside just to get through the Goodwood estate’s front gates.
So it’s less accessible than your Paris, New York or Geneva motor shows, the usual events one must visit to see the world’s greatest road-going performance and exotica on static display. And there’s a lot more mud to trudge through as those Ol’ Blighty skies inevitably open, as it does in buckets this year. Goodwood does make you work for it.
But here’s the event’s trump card: not only does FoS showcase dizzying array of the most idolised hero cars, it’s about the only place where you can watch the world’s most elite road-going poster cars getting a full-noise flogging right before your eyes and ears.
To ogle Bugatti‘s Veyron successor, the Chiron, in the flesh on static display is a thing to behold. But to witness its near 1000kW uncorked on a thin ribbon of hotmix, cutting apexes through mud and rain, from a vantage point separated by a small stack of hay bales, is a rare experience on whole other level of cool.
The road car stuff letting rip on the Hill essentially covers two themes. One is the Michelin Supercar Run class covering the monstrous and the mega-exotic. The other is First Glance, which showcases the very latest production and concept cars, some of which are enjoying their global public debuts.
One after another, around 80 heroic road-goers hit the Hill course with guns a-blazing, tyres scrambling and tails wagging. Some stop mid-run for an impromptu burnout, others proceed to rip doughnuts on the skid pan beyond the Hill’s finish line.
Notable ‘just unveiled’ participants wrung to their redlines include the Alfa Romeo Giulia QV, the Aston Martin DB11 and GT8, Bentley‘s Bentayga, BMW‘s 2002 Homage, the Fiat 124 Spider (which is no prettier in the flesh), Honda NSXs both old and new, Jaguar‘s F-Pace S, the dramatic Lamborghini Aventador ‘Miura’ Homage, Maserati‘s Levante 430 CV, Mazda’s cute little MX-5 Speedster concept, the heroic Mercedes-AMG GT R, Nissan’s banzai ‘world record’ drift GT-R, Porsche’s fresh 718 Boxster, a sinister Rolls-Royce ‘Black Badge’ Black Wraith, the much anticipated Tesla Model X, Toyota’s confronting Mirai, Volkswagen‘s beaut little Golf GTI Clubsport S and a bit of true Aussie grit in the Vauxhall-badged HSV Maloo.
You can’t glance sideways without eyeballing a Ferrari or McLaren, and rarer birds than you’ll spot cruising downtown Sydney or Melbourne. One beast was a one-off McLaren P1 LM – essentially the P1 GTR racecar repurposed for street use, packing 700kW-odd. Unsurprisingly, arch-rival Ferrari counter this with with not one but two super-exotic FXXs and a 599 XX Evo…
It’s not all hyper-exotica. Audi, Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Honda, Ford, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz/AMG, Mini, McLaren, Nissan, Renault, Rolls-Royce, Tesla and Volkswagen all have large trade stand presence stuffed full of their current showroom wares. There’s also a massive merchandise area chock full everything from beer mugs to three-piece suits.
Each year, one manufacturer is ‘honoured’ with a central display – usually a towering sculpture from which exotic cars suspended upside down over Goodwood Manor’s forecourt – with 2016 marking BMW’s centenary.
Goodwood allows punters to get hands-on with the action, with Porsche, Audi and Land Rover offering either drive or ride programs in their own off-road arenas. More hands-off is the Cartier ‘Style et luxe’ concours d’elegance display on the front lawn of Goodwood manor, a veritable gallery of 50 automobiles-as-art, displaying content as disparate as an 1898 Stephens Dog Cart, a 1967 AC 428 Frua Coupe, three decades of Lancia, classic hey‹-day Lamborghinis, a history of Alpine, 1920s Vauxhalls and no fewer than seven V12-powered Rolls-Royces.
So while Goodwood FoS is, in essence, built from motorsport foundations, you don’t have to be an anorak-wearing race nerd to find much that literally drop your jaw. But if you are geeky about car racing, well, are you in for a gluttonous treat indeed…
Race cars. Jeez, where to start…?
Goodwood FoS crams hundreds of the world’s most legendary racecars and bikes, encompassing 25 different categories, and parks them up, row up row, in the Paddock area. It’s a veritable high-octane museum, though there’s no armed security or bulletproof glass inhibiting the punters’ hero worship. If you’re polite and respectful, access to everything on display is virtually uninhibited.
From cars of the first Grand Prix in 1906 to seven current F1 teams; from touring cars to Nascar; from rally’s halcyon Group B era to the pinnacle of modern drifting; from the 1000kW insanity of F1’s Turbo Era and ’70s Can-Am; from old-school drag cars to today’s hybrid Le Mans pointy-enders, it is a wondrous sensory overload of sights, sounds and smells. Scattered throughout the famous is the weird and the odd-ball, anything from a drag motorcycle with over 1100kW to a 2011 Sauber F1 racer reconfigured as a drift car.
Among the metal you’ll spot legendary drivers who raced them and famous tasked with punting the priceless machinery through Lord March’s back garden path in 2016. So while you’re gawking at the Lotus-BRM 43, Brabham-Repco BT24, Auto Union Type C, rallycross Ford Focus, McLaren-Honda MP4/6 and Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, you’re like to rub shoulders with Sir Jackie Stewart, Brian Johnson (AC/DC), Nick Mason (Pink Floyd), Ken Block, Jenson Button or (GM vice-president) Mark Reuss as they climb into those respective cars in preparation for a white-knuckled run on the Hill.
While there are 33 different classes of hill climb entrants, organisers lump them into 13 different groups, each getting 45-minute sessions per day over the three days of running.
Some opt for demonstration runs, while others fancy having a crack at the official Hill course record, a seemingly unbeatable 41.6 seconds set by Nick Heidfeld back in 1999 in a McLaren MP4/13 Formula One car.
The slowest car appears to be the new Jaguar F-Pace SUV, though its excuse is that it negotiated the hill climb cocked up on two wheels. Unfortunately, stunt driver Terry Grant manages to put the big Jag on its wing mirrors during the attempt…
He isn’t the only one caught out in the sometimes wet and often changeable conditions. Ben ‘Stig’ Collins’ Ford F-150 Raptor desert-racer ute passes my track-side vantage point spinning like a top, and I watch one century-old antique just avoid impaling itself into the hay bales, the kind of hay that has little hope of arresting the 10-tonne inertia of a 17.2-litre V8 diesel-powered Kamaz T4 ‘Dakar’ truck that gets scarily out of shape through the same curves.’
Moments later, a 400kW-plus rallycross Citroen DS3 miraculously recovers from spearing off track backwards at warp six, though less lucky is the late-90s Renault Laguna and current Chevrolet Cruze BTCC touring cars, both suffering huge crashes. They wouldn’t be the first or last casualties of the weekend, either.
Of the survivors, it’s steerer Olly Clark who cracks the quickest timed run of the weekend, pulling off a stunning 46.3sec in a bewinged Subaru Impreza that looks to have swallowed a truckload of Viagra…
There have been two fatalities to date in the event’s 23-year history, and the largely unspoken if underlying message is that Goodwood enjoys flirting with danger, and competitors and spectators alike should leave any hand-wringing reservations at the front gate. Up in the Paddock area, in particular, it sometimes takes some deft footwork as a punter to avoid being mowed down by barely restrained squillion-horsepower four-wheeled monster lumbering around the pits.
The casual and cavalier attitude of the Goodwood circus seemingly shared among the organisers, punters and corporate representatives can be eye-wide for a bloke harking from the sometime nanny state that is Australia. It’s refreshingly adventurous and unshackled in its approach and attitude. Enter the Goodwood grounds and you sense that enter Lord March’s world runs very much on his terms.
It’s not merely the slim physical separation between the public and the action that makes the FoS so tangibly enjoyable. It’s that while it’s evident that the booze flows freely, the women behave like ladies, the blokes remain gentlemen, the event is policed with a smile and it maintains a calm and respectful atmosphere off track even when you think it couldn’t get any wilder and looser on track.
And that’s what really makes the Goodwood Festival of Speed experience quite unique. It’s still old-school, still underpinned with privileged and aristocratic foundations. Sure, the inaccessibility of its country location – try getting accommodation anywhere near Chichester on this weekend in late June – does deter the ‘riffraff’. But that’s a key component to the event’s character.
To reproduce the festival anywhere else more accessible, I suspect, would almost certainly homogenise and wreck it. And spoil so much of what makes it unique and so utterly enjoyable.
The good oil on Goodwood Festival of Speed? If you fancy venturing into the finest and most furious automotive wonderland on the annual calendar, book your tickets before you jump on the bomber to Heathrow. This year’s event was a sellout before a wheel turned in anger.
For more information on next year’s event, check out goodwood.com for details.
For more photos courtesy of 2016 Goodwood Festival of Speed click the link here.