In previous years, my experience of the Goodwood Festival of Speed was the same as yours; reading about one of ec's writer's experiences at one of the greatest vintage motor racing celebrations in the world. For 2017 however, my experience was wholly different as I finally watched the events from Lord March's lawn in person, which hopefully means your experience will now be slightly different from the coverage we've run in previous years. If nothing else, you will witness it from a perspective a bit more American than from one of European editors. Which is to say, more complaining about lunch portion sizes and inconsiderate people clearly on the wrong side of walking paths.
My trip to Goodwood was part of the Jaguar trip. Although there was plenty of driving associated with those features, sadly, there was no driving for us up the driveway during the Festival. History has shown that is probably better left to the pro racing drivers, as there have definitely been several examples of ham-fisted journalists embarrassing the profession with unapproved modifications to course's landscaping and barriers. There were even reports of an American journalist burning up a Subaru's clutch on the run up the hill this year.
The first Festival of Speed was held in 1993 as a one-day event attracting a very respectable 25,000 attendees. Today the event is four days, if you count the Moving Motor Show on Thursday, and the 150,000 tickets are always sold out. I attended on the Friday only and clearly, there were a large number of English car enthusiasts far too ill to get to work that day. The previous day had seen almost a day long rain shower in the area, nearly unheard of in England so I am told, but while the day started out mucking through wet grass, the sun managed to peak out a few times just long enough to dry up the ground and bring a bit of warmth.
The gates lead directly to the paddocks, which are open to everyone and allow you to get within mere inches of some of the most famous racing cars in history. As an Southern Californian it was shocking how many people were just standing and staring at cars, talking to the mechanics or even complete strangers, missing countless opportunities for selfies. The contrast between new and old cars is astounding; the amount of technicians, specialized tools, and consequently money required to run an old race car seems to swell exponentially between decades. The resources necessary to run a world-class sports car program in the 1960s couldn't operate a modern coffee shop; much less compete in something Pirelli World Challenge. Running an F1 car from the '90s would make NASA's Apollo engineers' eye water out of pure nerdtastic jealousy.
The paddock is ringed by food stands built to look as if they are straight out of the 1950s. The presence of phrases like "organic" and "free range" however belies their true age even before you see modern pricing on sausage rolls and bacon biscuits. I have been in England two days at this point, my internal clock has no clue what time it is despite my watch showing early AM hours, my stomach however is still completely put-off by the locals enjoying warm beer strolling through the cool morning dew.
After walking through what could easily be mistaken for a Sherwood Forest film set, you find what could easily be mistaken for a Downton Abbey film set. The Goodwood House, is larger and grander than anything you might imagine. The first portion of the house was built a few years before the Mayflower even set sail to what would become the United States. Several additions have been made throughout the next couple of hundred years with the now famous Goodwood Circuit, which hosts the Revival being added to the grounds in 1948.
Every year, a giant sculpture on the house's lawn celebrates a featured automotive marque. The manufacturers have ranged from Audi to Toyota with most OEs with significant road racing heritage represented at some point. Car companies, sometimes seen as lifeless and cold monoliths are brought to life in a dynamic three-dimensional display; this year's featured brand was Bernie Ecclestone.
The Style et Luxe Concourse event is on the Cartier Lawn, when one has an entire estate, one has a front lawn, a back lawn and a lawn for every occasion. Vehicles on display ranged from the latest hypercars to obscure microcars with apparently no connection other than being interesting and/or beautiful. It was hard to say if the cars were as interesting as peoples' reactions to them. Some were so moved they spontaneously broke out into sketching.
The real show is the Lord's driveway, a 1.16-mile hillclimb famous for being narrow, bumpy, off camber, low grip and reportedly enjoyable. The twisting asphalt is lined with grandstands and hospitality tents. There are no concrete barriers, chain link fences or much else to separate crowds from the cars. There are, however, flagpoles everywhere, apparently installed just to make life difficult for photographers.
In the display section, car manufacturers build temporary showrooms on par with anything brought to international auto shows. It's no mystery that a place like this is where you get in front of enthusiast customers. Besides the car manufacturers, there is an area with a swap meet feel to it for aftermarket parts, souvenirs and accessories. No matter what country you find yourself in, if there is a gathering of car enthusiasts, there is a guy with stand selling Steve McQueen paraphernalia — anyone need a Gulf Blue pleather jacket? Hidden behind the rows stands selling metal petrol station signs and lorry bollocks I found one of my favorite parts of the event; several Universities had brought their entries for Formula Student competition. Here in the States, we call it Formula SAE. Basically, University students build open wheel race cars, larger than a kart but smaller than most formula cars; roughly a 60-inch wheelbase and weighing around 360 pounds. These are ground-up student designed and built race cars, I spent more than an hour talking to the students about the cars and the competition. Teams can chose between gas and electric powertrains, and according to the students, electrons are the fuel of choice by far.
I did spend a good deal of time watching cars climb the hill as well. The variety of vehicles is a bit of a shock to the senses. One minute you are watching vintage motorcycles puff sputter and clatter up the hill and next it's a trophy truck doing donuts followed by a 1980s GTP car followed shortly by a new supercar. Everything from the sights, sounds of smells transports you to different eras of human's transportation technology. FOS is a living timeline of engineering for automotive enthusiasts — with hot dogs and commemorative lapel pins.
Some may scoff at the fact that there is no "real racing" taking place. This is a hill climb event and only a handful of the competitors are serious about winning. That isn't the point of Festival of Speed. This is a celebration of the cars. Yes you will see famous drivers both current and retired, but again, most of them are showing up to enjoy themselves. This is what car shows should be; not a bunch of cars parked in a lot or inside a building, but cars being driven. We need to stop treating cars like brontosaurus skeletons in a natural history museum and instead enjoy them like seeing a lion running in the Serengeti. I finally checked this event off my list, but now that I've been, I'm anxious to go back. Cars are more fun when they are experienced with all your senses.