Motorsports is rapidly succumbing to the reality TV generation. Programmes like Drive to Survive have of course done wonders for viewing figures and F1’s popularity, but the sport is starting to feel a little manufactured, clever editing creates drama, piped in crowd noise generates that football fan feeling and well, to an old fart like me, it’s lost its magic.

So, when I was invited down to Goodwood to sample a taster of their 30th anniversary plans for 2023 I jumped at the chance. I grew up in Chichester, just a few miles from Goodwood, my weekends and afternoon would be filled with trying to get to Goodwood as often as possible to see what was going round the track, some days you would hear it and know that it was something special, like perhaps a Formula 1 car testing some aero before heading to a European Grand Prix. This was the late 1980s.

Just a few years later the then Earl of March, now of course Duke of Richmond publicly expressed his desire and plans to reactivate motorsports at Goodwood. In the years after the closure of the circuit to racing housing estates had been built, estate agents had lied to buyers, neglecting to mention he active airfield and race-track at the bottom of the garden.

The initial Goodwood Festival of Speed had been a roaring success for the estate but also the local community. Knowing there would be some fight from local residents the Goodwood Supporters Association was founded. I was still relatively young, but I can remember attending talks from special guests given at various places around Goodwood, and when the time came for the hearing to see if permission would be granted, the hearing was packed out with a sea of green GSA jumpers and permission was given to bring back five days of unsilenced motor racing.

Standing in Goodwood House listening to the Duke of Richmond retailing his own personal memories brought back the magic of those early years of Goodwood, the excitement of seeing so many cars that you would never get the chance to even see, let alone hear and see move has not faded.

Is there another place on the planet where so many of the world’s most important cars have gathered? The Duke of Richmond thinks not, and I would be inclined to agree. I have my own personal memories of Goodwood. Nick Heidfeld seemingly aiming straight for me as he flew up the hill setting a hillclimb record that would stand for many years. Grant William in the rain at the circuit in 1999 firmly establish my desire for a 60s Jaguar saloon (I now own one and Grant is to blame). Most importantly though, it is the friends made, the laughter, the tingle of excitement the first tiem you walk in to the paddock. The walk back along the hillclimb course after the action has finished, the little hot chocolate bar my father and I would sit at first thing in the morning and plan our day at the festival.

Goodwood has given so much and so to be invited along to the announcement for the 2023 activities was a special treat. 75 years of Goodwood circuit, 30 years of the Festival of Speed and 25 years of the Revival. It is hard to deny that Goodwood hasn’t influenced me. As such the opportunity to passenger with some of the legends that I have watched at Goodwood over the years could not be passed up.

First up was William Medcalf, his 4ltr Bentley fresh from the desert, but looking resplendent as always. Medcalf is a Bentley specialist, selling, restoring, and fixing cars from his Hampshire based business, he is also well versed in what it takes to steer one of these pre-war cars around Goodwood. Unlike most race cars, you don’t fall in and wedge yourself in to a bucket seat before being strapped in like a baby. No, you climb up a Bentley, get both feet in and then sit down in the beautiful soft leather seat that would perhaps feel more familiar in an old cigar lounge. You pull the door to, it’s an unnervingly small catch that separates yourself with Goodwood’s finest tarmac. There are no seat belts, the top half of your body protrudes out of the body of the open top Bentley and for one brief-moment you ponder whether this is a great idea. William gestures to fling my arm around the back of his seat to give me something to hold on to and off we go.

The torque is very impressive, we tear off towards Madgwick and the buffeting on the helmet is the first thing you really notice, it’s very windy when your head is the aero. Medcalf makes easy work of the three laps we have. Me hanging on is the only real tell that we are keeping some impressive speeds through the corners. The drive is smooth, calm, the feeling of weight that you think there should be just doesn’t appear. There’s clearly oversteer keen to come through, its quickly neutralised and the Blockley tyres fight on with their challenge of keeping the 1.5 tonne Bentley going where we want it. I thank William for the laps and jump out. Medcalf will be back on the track in action at the upcoming Members’ Meeting on April 15th /16th.

Next up is one of the crowd favourites at the Members Meeting, Nick Swift. Swift has bought two cars along today, a 60s Mini that you would often seen at Goodwood Revival and this Clubman that competes in the Gordon Spice Trophy against the Rover SD1s, Capris and my good friends BMW. Because I’m generally supporting the popular ‘UFO’ BMW, I thought it would be great to feel what it is like to be in a car running at a similar pace.

I have been lucky enough to sample Goodwood’s excellent ‘Revival Experience’ a chance to drive some of the cars you would typically associate with Goodwood. One of those cars was a 1960s Mini and I still distinctly remember the instructor telling me, no matter what the car is doing, just keep your foot pinned to the throttle and it will work itself out. This 150bhp 1275GT is different though, grip and momentum are key and driving a fast, tidy line the only way to give the bigger engine cars a hard time. Swift’s movements on the steering wheel are wild, but the car remains compliant, composed, we fly in to the fearsome No Name corner, grabbing a bit of curve on the left hander as we excite towards Lavant. After the relatively tranquil Bentley the Mini is a riot of revs, noise and fast inputs. My laps are over in a flash, but it is a real privilege to have sat next to one of Goodwood’s most popular racers.

The flagship race of the Revival weekend is the Tourist Trophy, race cars from the 1960s that today would race at Le Mans – it’s the 100th anniversary this year, so expect Goodwood to be celebrating that – today Olly Bryant has brought down his 2021 race winning Cobra, but this time with a passenger seat ahead of a road rally he plans to take part in with his father.

Right now though, I am the first person to ever be strapped in to the race-winning Cobra for a feel of what some of the faster cars feel like around Goodwood. The Cobra is capable of lapping Goodwood in around 1.24, to put that in to perspective, that’s as quick as any well driven supercar can get around Goodwood. The first real surprise is the noise, it is glorious, but it’s not outrageous. I am swiftly reminded the car is wearing silencers today! The power delivery is smooth and unrelenting. Imagine a car where there was always more power available, and you’ll start to understand the performance of the Cobra. Bryant is kept busy, no doubt also dealing with the extra weight of his well-fed passenger, but the laps fly by. Short work is made of catching and passing everything else on track, including a Ferrari 296 GTB.

The Cobra looks very physical to drive, it is hard to imagine 30 minutes of race pace against almost 30 other rivals, all the while trying to keep the Cobra on track at one of the fastest and most unforgiving racetracks in the world. I clamber out of the Cobra with a heightened level of respect for the men and women that race at Goodwood.

As I start to consider making a move the rain starts to draw in. The track is quieting down and there is Bill Shepherd’s 1963 Ford Galaxie. I think back to 1999 and watching the ‘BUY 1’ Jaguar MkI sliding around Goodwood and in a flash I am chatting to Shepherd and getting strapped in to the Galaxie for a few wet laps of Goodwood. You don’t slide these cars, they have a life of their own I am told. The key is to keep the huge Ford just in that sweet window where you still have control and can play with the power, weight and balance. My three laps are a masterclass of how delicately you can thread the unwieldy Galaxie around a narrow, wet racetrack. Shepherd is clearly enjoying himself, quickly working the amount of grip we still have to play with. What a privilege.

And with that, my dream is over. For those of you who are still yet to buy tickets for Goodwood’s event this year. Members’ Meeting is 15-16 April. Festival of Speed is 13-16 July and Goodwood Revival is 8-10 September. See you there.

Photography by Jo Harding / inmotionimages

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