A log of my observations, thoughts and opinions about motor racing in general and sportscar racing in particular. Your comments welcome.
Wednesday, 17 July 2013
The Goodwood Festival of Speed
What on earth to make of the Goodwood Festival of Speed? Thanks to a work colleague who had a spare ticket that he was willing to part with, and to Goodwood’s policy that 12-year-olds could get in for free, I went along for my first-ever proper Festival of Speed on Saturday. I use the word ‘proper’ as I had visited the “Moving Motor Show” in 2012, but this was my first time at the Festival of Speed itself. I had been to the Revival Meeting in 2003, and had really enjoyed it – it is a race meeting, after all – but the Festival had never quite held the same appeal for me. My son Robin was in his element though. From the moment we parked up in the car park, and a McLaren MP4 12-C drew up alongside us, until we spotted an Austin Healey 3000 in the same car park on our way back to the car some nine hours later, Robin delighted himself, getting up close to some true motoring icons.
For a young, impressionable Top Gear Magazine reader like Robin, there was something to see at every corner, but for me, somehow the event failed to hold me in the same thrall. The Festival of Speed is, as someone said to me, a big garden party. It unquestionably attracts some extremely well-heeled folk, for whom perhaps the British Grand Prix has fallen out of favour, but for whom the social ‘see and be seen’ events at Wimbledon, Henley and Glyndebourne are opportunities to parade the latest addition to their wardrobe, jewellery box, garage or (dare I say it?) bedroom. And like all good garden parties, you invite some ‘ordinary people’ as well, in order to gain credibility in the eyes of the public.
But this is too cynical a view. Especially as the over-riding feeling at Goodwood is one of naïve enthusiasm, where the commercial and political realities of modern motorsport are far from evident. Gathering together winners from F1, WEC, WRC, BTCC, Moto GP and other disciplines beyond my ken, means that there is indeed something for everyone; and the wealth of manufacturer stands presenting their message, gives even more breadth to the appeal of the event. A Festival indeed.
It may be that the very breadth is what makes me feel uncomfortable at Goodwood. At Le Mans, there is a certain security in the knowledge that my fellow-spectator knows about the WM-Peugeot, about Jean Rondeau and about Jaguar’s and Bentley’s heritage. But at Goodwood, there is the Sin R1 and the Peugeot Onyx, about which I know nothing, and there is a song and a dance about Peter Fonda and Captain America. And the fact that Spana and Tauro make road cars has somehow passed me by. I know about the 250 GTO’s racing heritage, but what is a 599 GTO? Am I alone here in feeling somehow overwhelmed by it all? I did take some recompense at Robin’s joy at seeing a real Ferrari F40, though.
I found the whole affair somewhat unstructured: we never quite knew what was happening or where we were supposed to be. It was unfortunate that the Vulcan bomber display coincided with the action on the track before us, although there had been nothing going on for the previous hour. Maybe I should have been listening to the commentary more closely on the radio – quite how that could be described as “free”, when the event programme cost £15, was something of a mystery. The raceday programme at Le Mans was a mere five euros. At least the queues for hamburgers and ice cream were pleasantly manageable.
The ‘festival’ mentality was carried over into the lack of structure of the event. The fact that one would suddenly ‘happen upon’ something or someone of note – for example Lord March himself strolling through the crowd trying (and failing) to look inconspicuous, or Andy Wallace on his way from A to B, or Derek Bell on his way back, was kind of nice, but if there was something you particularly wanted to see, then it was rather random whether you would succeed or not. You always had the impression that by doing this, here, now, you were missing something else happening somewhere else.
The activity on the hill was similarly haphazard. Some runs were competitive, being against the clock; but most were merely demonstration runs. With the track being so narrow, and run-off areas non-existent, you couldn’t doubt the wisdom of this approach, but it meant that watching the action on the track was as much of a lottery as the goings-on in the paddock. And again, this may be as much a reflection on my approach as on the event, but I found the “blink and you’ve missed it” nature of the runs up the hill annoying as well. Driver interviews, when they were out of the car at the top of the hill, were sometimes live, and sometimes delayed; the pictures on the screen, similarly were sometimes of live action and sometimes repeats. If you’re only looking occasionally at the big screen, you’re not in a position to follow a narrative flow of pictures.
This sounds far too negative; you’d think I hadn’t enjoyed my day. Wrong; I had a really good time, and I am so glad I went. Many of my gripes are because I didn’t have a proper strategy for the event: I just turned up and followed my nose (or Robin’s). Maybe I needed to be a VIP or have a proper guide, telling me where to go and what to do next.
Or maybe it’s because the pleasure is in just being there. History is not made at the Goodwood Festival, but it is celebrated. And for that, you need to approach the event in a different frame of mind. I’ll know next time!