Goodwood Festival of Speed

A gala of motorsport on England’s south coast

The first motorsport event at Goodwood was in 1936, when the ninth of Duke of Richmond organized a hill climb for the Lancia Car Club. He used the road that ran in front of Goodwood House on his vast estate in the undulating county of West Sussex, on England’s south coast. Proper motor racing on the Goodwood Estate did not start until 1948, when the perimeter road of a World War II airfield was converted into the Goodwood Motor Circuit, a high-speed racetrack that was in service until 1966.

Some twenty-five years later, the eleventh Duke of Richmond – like his grandfather, a great racing enthusiast – looked at ways to bring motorsport back to Goodwood: “The main reason for doing this was just to see if Goodwood still meant anything to anyone in terms of motor racing.” Re-opening the track did not prove easy: “I came up against a brick wall in terms of getting local authority approval. It was because of this that we began to wonder whether there was somewhere else we could try out the idea, and the private road through the park seemed an obvious choice.”

One of very few privately owned pre-War Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix cars.

By using the private road for a hill climb once more, the Duke of Richmond revived a different idea of his grandfather’s than he had initially intended. The event that brought motorsport back to the estate was named the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and was held on June 20th, 1993. The plan was for a relatively modest gathering that celebrated one hundred years of motor racing, but the interest from both spectators and entrants was enormous.

The Duke of Richmond remembers the first edition vividly: “It was an amazing year, that first year in 1993, when we realized that we had something that people were really touched by and felt passionate about. We certainly tried to think hard about what it was they would most appreciate, and getting close to the cars was obviously the big thing and bringing out cars which no one had seen for years, the combination of that, but also putting the original driver behind the wheel, that was what really made a difference. The feedback after that first year was terrific, though it was a massive effort and in many ways we could not ever imagine doing it again. We did, of course.”

The more than twenty thousand visitors who came to Goodwood that first weekend were treated to a baffling collection of racing cars and motorcycles. The entry list included Ferrari 250 GTOs, nearly the full range of postwar Aston Martin competition cars, the ex-Juan Manuel Fangio Monaco-winning Maserati 250F, but also the then-new McLaren F1. All of these cars were run on the 1.1-mile hill climb, either by their original drivers or their often-famous owners. In between the sessions, the precious machines were parked in a paddock that was open to the public, who could virtually touch the cars and drivers they had previously only seen on television or read about in magazines. Auctioneer Brooks, now Bonhams, also hosted a sale.

Photo: Wouter Melissen

While the hill climb, open paddock, and Bonhams auction have remained to this day, the Goodwood Festival of Speed has grown to be one of the best-known motoring events in the world. Over the years, the Duke of Richmond and his team added a Concours d’Elegance rally stage designed by 1983 World Rally Champion Hannu Mikkola. During the last few years, the event served as the de facto British Motor Show, with stands of many major manufacturers. By 2003, a startling 158,000 people attended the event; to preserve the original spirit of the Festival of Speed, attendance is now capped at 150,000.

The Festival of Speed is not just great for spectators—there is also a good reason for entrants to return, as Scott George, the chief curator of the Miles Collier Collections, explains: “The Goodwood Festival of Speed has allowed us to expand our network of knowledgeable car experts, drivers, and restoration shops over a twenty-six-year run and share the Miles Collier Collections outside of the U.S. with so many passionate and enthusiastic Festival of Speed fans and participants. Also, to play a role in arguably the most successful and widely recognized automotive event in the world that celebrates a century of the automobile in competition and all motorsports is truly special. In addition, the beautiful Goodwood property and its rich history, with the attention to detail seen repeatedly each year provided under the leadership of Charles Richmond and his Goodwood team, is truly remarkable and something we have been privileged to attend since its inception.”

F1 ace Martin Brundle in the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix winning Eagle from the Miles Collier Collections.

It is a sentiment echoed by Joe Twyman, who first attended as a kid and now represents collectors and regularly chases fast times on the hill in a wide variety of machines: “Collectors are always keen to bring their cars to the Festival because it’s such a great event. It’s well known for having the world’s best cars included in the entry, so to be on the invite list is a real honor. The classes and displays are always so well curated and they always seem to manage to pull something different off. The event has changed a lot from when I first went in 1994, but every year it offers something different, which I also think keeps people coming back.”

The selection of cars and drivers of the inaugural Goodwood Festival of Speed were but a taste of what was to come. Major collections, museums, race teams, and manufacturers all do their best to provide the spectators with something they have not seen before. Some cars are even restored specifically so they can be demonstrated at Goodwood. Among the many great memories are event patron Stirling Moss and co-driver Denis Jenkinson, who were reunited with the very Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR they had driven to victory in the 1955 Mille Miglia; the fire-breathing “Beast of Turin” Fiat Grand Prix car; and the massive crowd reception of MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi.

One of the more unusual Grand Prix winners is this Tyrrell six-wheeler from 1977.

Through what is now a literal festival ground snakes the same 1.1-mile road that was used for the Lancia Car Club hill climb in 1936 and for every Festival of Speed since. At the bottom of the hill, the start is on a tree-lined lane, followed by two right-handers and a straight section past Goodwood House. For Twyman the start is special every time: “It is always fun doing a standing start; with the exception of the Monaco Historic Grand Prix, there are very few places nowadays in historic racing where you get to do that. The run up past the House is also great because you come from under the trees and everything opens up and you get a real feeling for the enormity of the event that Goodwood is.”

The straight section that runs past the House then goes under the bridge, and is followed by Molecomb corner. This is a blind left-hander with braking zone over a crest, which has caught many drivers out over the years. Twyman believes getting on the brakes on time for Molecomb is key: “There is certainly more time to be gained on the exit on the run up to the flint wall. I suspect that 90 percent of the accidents that happen there have been as a result of overly ambitious braking! The road is uneven and the cars do ‘track’ there over the bumps and I have always felt that I could brake a little later every time I have gone through there at speed. I am always quite thankful though that I did not; it is risk versus reward.”

Two evolutions of the McLaren F1 GTR GT1 racers.

Next up is another straight before there is a fast but narrow section with a flint wall on one side. This is a tricky section, particularly with a modern car, as two-time Le Mans winner and Pikes Peak record holder Romain Dumas recalls: “Our car is very wide and large, so there is no room for a mistake.” He also fondly remembers the final left-hander: “The last corner last year was flat, at a speed of 230 km/h.” Twyman not only likes the start but also the finish: “Having done a timed run it is nice to know you have finished it and not had a ‘moment’ in front of one hundred thousand people!”

In the first few years, some Formula 1 teams made a point of setting the fastest time of the day. McLaren in particular was keen to take a win and in 1999 brought Mika Hakkinen’s 1998 World Championship winning MP4/13 for test driver Nick Heidfeld to race. Having the benefit of tire warmers, he managed to clock a time of 41.6 seconds. For safety reasons, tire warmers were no longer allowed from the following year and the F1 teams have only done demonstration runs since. The other competitors continued to challenge for fast times, but no one came near Heidfeld’s record until 2018, when Romain Dumas brought the all-electric Volkswagen ID-R, which he had just won Pikes Peak with.

Sir Jackie Stewart leading sons Paul and Mark in the three F1 cars in which he became World Champion.

In 2018, the car was as-raced at Pikes Peak, but still set a time of 43.9, which was the third fastest ever. In 2019, the Volkswagen team was back with different tires and a changed suspension setup to suit the track and lack of heaters, as Dumas explains: “What is the most difficult at Goodwood is that it is such a short run and normal tires do not heat up, so you need a softer car.” The car is nevertheless so powerful and, despite the four-wheel drive, Dumas still suffered from wheel-spin. What also complicates things, according to Dumas, is that track conditions are never the same: “With so many exhibitions, you never know how dirty the track will be.” All of this seemed to bother the Frenchman very little as he first clocked a 41.2 and then a 39.9 during practice. Dumas fondly recalls his run: “It was quite fun to drive.”

Dumas continues on his favorite moment of the weekend: “The best time at Goodwood is at the end of the day, when you can see all the cars up close; it was perfect. I have so many pictures from the last two years—all the rally cars, the F1s, the DTM, Group C, etc.” It is clearly this passion for cars and bikes in general and motorsport in particular that is shared by everyone at Goodwood, whether it is the Duke of Richmond himself, the entrants, the visitors, or the marshals who keep everyone safe during the weekend.

Sadly, the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed had to be cancelled in 2020. Knowing the Duke of Richmond and his team, the event will be back next year, bigger and better than ever.