Festival of Speed
A short piece on my experience at this years Goodwood Festival of Speed
It was the first day of July in the peaceful British countryside. The sky radiated with the glow of the early morning sun; the air was sweet with the smell of freshly cut grass and filled with the soft sound of bird song. The tranquility of the English countryside was quite suddenly obliterated by the scream of drifting Jaguar V8s and the stench of high octane fuel. We had arrived at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the only valid reason to destroy a calm summer morning in West Sussex.
It is an atmosphere like no other - over 150,000 car enthusiasts descend on this single hill on the south coast of the U.K for four days of summer every year. The FOS has not once failed to have the most incredible array of automotive excellence any one person could surround themselves with. It is without a doubt the single best car event in the U.K (if not the world). Over a century of F1 racers, rally cars, hill climb monsters, Le Mans winners, bikes, the latest in the world of supercars and hypercars, a Red Arrows air display and Eurofighter aerobatics - the majority of which the pilot spent inverted 100m above the treeline.
The Goodwood Festival of Speed is utterly unique. A petrol-head of any age can obsess over the vast array of automotive history so closely that it no longer becomes an infatuation with the on-screen or online world of automotive programmes or vlogs. That Lamborghini poster on your wall you collected from your first ever Top Gear magazine at the age of 10 is paled into insignificance now that you stand at the open scissor door of a 2017, £1.7 million Centenario in full exposed carbon fibre. The small child within can’t sit still from excitement.
A couple of specific moments stood out for me on that Saturday afternoon. Both of which occurred some 10 minutes apart. Such is the nature of an event as extraordinary as the Festival of Speed. The first was this: as I strolled through the Ferrari 70th anniversary paddock, surrounded by no less than £200 million worth of Italian racing legends, I came across a car that I had not only had a 1/28 model of in my bedroom since the age of 12 but also happens to be one of, if not my favourite car ever manufactured. The 1964 Ferrari 250 LM. This particular variant was identical to that die-cast model, full Rosso Corsa paint with no livery. £25 million of fully restored automotive beauty. Stood behind this magnificent machine was none other than Henry Catchpole.
To any automotive enthusiast this man is a legend. His Evo video reviews on YouTube are some of the most exquisitely written pieces of automotive dialogue I have ever listened to. The most impressive of which, that I highly recommend you go and watch, is his comparison of the Mclaren P1 and F1 in the south of France. The cinematography and commentary achieves in 10 minutes what many automotive journalists attempt to do across their whole careers. It is both visually stunning and verbally enthralling. The kind of content that any like-minded, self-proclaimed car geek would admire.
I had met Henry before at the Windsor Castle Concour D’elegance the previous summer but it was a relatively brief exchange before he recorded his video covering the event. This time I was able to talk to him for a while longer. We spent 15 minutes chatting away about the vehicles, the event and his immanent run up the hill climb in that very Ferrari. Before I left I asked him how he had gotten into automotive journalism. To my surprise he happened to have studied History, the degree with which I am about to enter my third year of. His genuine love of and attitude toward his work and the number of similarities we shared is probably the very reason I am writing this blog post, right at this moment, as I sit on my flight back from my summer holiday to the Algarve.
Now I come to the second moment, which was far less impactful on my aspirations and future job, but equally as special and rare. Walking back from the paddocks, having just spoken to a childhood inspiration of mine, the high-pitch scream of the 1970’s F1 racecars approached with increasing volume. I can honestly say that there is no scene - or sound - quite like it.
What was so special about this selection of vehicles were the drivers who once raced them in their prime. Mario Andretti, Bruce Mclaren, Niki Lauda and James Hunt to name a few. These individuals are known in the world of Formula One as some of the greatest talents to ever grace the racetrack. To witness an array of 12 of these vehicles anywhere is something special, but in person, as they pull into the paddock from a run at full chat up the Hill Climb is a once in a lifetime experience. As I take the lens cover off my Canon and kneel down to take some shots of the scene that had just befallen the paddock at Goodwood a very recognisable Matra pulled up beside me. What a great angle to get an action shot of the young driver, waiting to be pushed back into his spot in the pits, I thought. As I zoomed in on the figure, a white full-face helmet loomed into focus, crowned by a band of red tartan. The driver turned to face the crowd, the unmistakable eyes of Jackie Stewart gazed out of the cockpit as I crouched beside the very car that bore his name across the back quarter panel.
For anyone who has been a fan of F1, the experience of being 3 feet away from Jackie Stewart behind the wheel of his Matra MS80 in which he won the 1969 season is hard to fathom. It is these moments that perfectly sum up Goodwood, the kind that no petrol head will ever forget. Yes, you could go to an F1 race. Monaco, Silverstone, or Monza; but without some impossible array of VIP passes, the average car guy like myself could never have even the slightest chance of experiencing the automotive world like at Goodwood. If you are sat reading this post and have yet to experience the Festival of Speed, open a new tab, type those three words into google and book your tickets for 2018. You will not regret it.
For those who can't be bothered to type words into the searchbar... here's a link: www.goodwood.com/flagship-events/festival-of-speed/