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Goodwood Festival of Speed 2015 - Car Geek Nirvana

Flat out and fearless at Lord March's garden party

Matt Zuchowski
Sep 16, 2015
Photographer: Konrad Skura

Compared to other automotive events, the annual Goodwood feast is like Coachella or Lollapalooza to Live 8. Sure, they are great festivals that will let you see top artists and collect memories to remember, but regardless of your music taste, they fall short of the enormous scale, the things that happened, and the audience's response of the memorable Live 8. It was something much more than just a concert, it was once-in-a-lifetime achievement, a historical act. That's how you feel when you step inside what is, in fact, a private party held at the premises of the centuries-old Goodwood House. There's so much to savor and get excited about that you can really get more irritation than joy from having to decide where to go and what to see. There's a good reason the festival lasts for the whole four days—it'd take many hours to walk through the Lord's immaculate lawns to see all of the attractions taking place, from the Concours d'Elegance show and the multimillion-dollar Bonhams auction, through the static expositions and numerous other treats, up to the famous hillclimb race, which takes place on the narrow and extremely tricky-to-tackle 1.16-mile stretch of road.

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It's this road that sets the Festival of Speed apart from other car gatherings. At Goodwood, you get all the cars at your fingertips as if they're celebrities standing patiently next to one another so that everybody can have a longer look at them, touch them, or pose for a selfie. It's probably the only opportunity most people will ever get to watch this all-star line-up in pursuit against the clock, allowing the ones who have come to savor the cars to the fullest. It can feel like a 1930s Grand Prix at one moment only to jump to a '70s Le Mans race at another, and finish off with the most recent Formula 1 round. Each year, the lineup celebrates a different theme, and even if this year's "Flat-Out and Fearless—Racing on the Edge" was conspicuously similar to the previous editions' names, which invariably had something to do with speed and bravery, it still managed to bring some of the greatest machines to have ever turned a wheel, including a few world premieres and some rare classics that hadn't seen the light of day for decades.

Together, a few hundred cars totaling 120,000 hp were everything any car fan could wish for. For the fans of the hypercar heavyweights, there were an all-new Ferrari FXX K or the Koenigsegg Agera R, the owner of which claimed that it is much faster than LaFerrari (he learned that first-hand, owning the Maranello's protagonist as well...). If that's too common for your taste, then there were there brand-new Koenigsegg Regera, a recent one-off Ferrari F12 TRS and a svelte Aston Martin Lagonda Taraf. Fans of the junior-supercar league could pick between a new Ferrari 488 GTB, an even newer McLaren 570S, and a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. For the power hungry, Lord March brought an 800+hp Aston Martin Vulcan and a 900hp Pikes Peak-spec Ford RS2000.

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Prefer the older stuff? Look no further; Goodwood surely has some of the greatest classics to offer that anyone would be extremely lucky to find solo, here counted in dozens. Be it the little-known cars like a Tecno E371 Formula 1 and a cartoonish pre-war Renault 40CV Montlhery Coupe, or the all-time classics like Porsche 956 and Ford Escort Cosworth. Together with the most recent track gods, they were all precious parts of a moving (in many ways) and extremely competent overview of the evolution of racing.

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The cars told a story in several chapters: from the pre-war Grand Prix cars, through the classic endurance racers, touring cars, rally cars, Formula 1 cars, all the way to the newest GT and Le Mans prototypes. This year, additional classes celebrated the 60th anniversary of the French sports car manufacture Alpine, which will soon be revived with a new car. The Celebration Coupe concept was driven by the Master of the House himself, "one of the most prolific drivers ever to have pressed an accelerator," Derek Bell. And what better way to celebrate a racing driver than to bring all of the cars that have given him success. Among them, a Mirage GR8 (that is not for "great," even if it did win Le Mans), a Surtees TS7 (in which Bell scored his solitary F1 point), and an extremely rare Porsche 924 Carrera GT of his own, which he had brought from his home that happens to be just around the corner.

Goodwood Festival is not only about European cars, or even cars in general, though. The organizers are happy to showcase the abilities of everything that is fast, raw, and makes serious sound and smoke. This year the event hosted the largest number of American cars and drivers since its inception. The list included: father of the modern drag racing Don Garlits, NASCAR legend Richard "The King" Petty, and a choice of the hill-climbing and Baja top brass.

The grid was full of some of the finest Japanese metal and even welcomed cars from the Australian V-8 touring championships. Rally cars provided lots of sideways action on a separate rally stage, which runs through the Lord's forests, while even more sideways action ensued on the asphalt thanks to the European elite of drifting, who joined the ever-expanding grid for the first time this year.

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There are nearly as many interesting cars in the parking lot as on the racecourse. We're normally not in favor of peeping into private cars in parking lots, but here it's part of the usual ritual. We casually strolled past numerous Porsche 918s, a couple of LaFerraris, a McLaren P1, and everyone barely noticed an entire row of "exotic" late-model Lamborghinis. Then there are jetfighters, concerts, and fireworks.

The car that best epitomized the spirit of the event was possibly the 1911 Fiat S76. It was appropriately nicknamed The Beast of Turin thanks to its fire-spitting, downright crazy 28.0L engine. It ran up the hill in full anger for the first time in more than 100 years. Mercedes strived for a sensation of a different type, presenting seven 300 SLR race cars of the eight built, which together dominated the 1955 World Championship. It was a perfect chance for Stirling Moss to reunite with the famous "722" SLR, the car he drove to the record-breaking Mille Miglia win exactly 60 years ago. Fewer people may have heard of Hans Hermann, a driver of another of the "Silver arrows." The former Juan Manuel Fangio teammate is 87 now. It was understandable that he needed assistance to get up from a golf cart and lumber with crutches over to his old 3.0L straight-eight Mercedes to amble into its cramped cockpit and thrash it up the hill.

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It's this kind of scene that makes the Festival legendary—the great heroes of the past hanging out together as normal people do and acting just as jauntily as French rally legend Jean Ragnotti, who played football with an empty plastic bottle over the classic Alpines in between his runs in a Renault 5 Maxi Turbo. The history comes alive here and writes new chapters. Jenson Button drove the McLaren MP4/6 that gave Ayrton Senna his second F1 Champion title in 1990. 1996 Formula 1 Champion Damon Hill piloted his father Graham's Lotus 49, while Brendon Hartley flew the No. 19 Porsche 919 Hybrid up the hill only two short weeks after it won the Le Mans 24 hours race, the car still carrying French bugs on the windscreen as the proof for its heroic battle.

Only here can you see Ken Block doing his usual stuff in his new Hoonicorn, women in their sixties pushing their Ford GT40s or 1970s Formula 1 cars to the limit. Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason drove the priceless Auto Union Type D Doppel Kompressor, followed by the fearless Felix Baumgartner, proving that skydiving from outer space is easier than operating a pre-war Opel. Still, the audience award went to the cameo appearance of Valentino Rossi. The Superbike legend came to Goodwood straight from a win on the TT Assen track to the cockpit of the just as cool and just as Italian Lancia Delta S4, before swapping it for the Group C Mazda 787B.

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The whole thing sounds like a teenage boy fantasy, but in fact it is a dream come true of a certain British aristocrat. Charles Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March and Kinrara, heir of Duke of Richmond, happens to be president of the British Automobile Racing Club and one of the biggest living petrolheads. Taking up from his grandfather's custom to invite his friends to race about the Goodwood Circuit throughout the last 23 years, Lord March's informal picnics have evolved into one of the biggest and definitely most entertaining motor shows in the whole of Great Britain, if not the world.

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With more than 200,000 people attending and participation from the world's biggest carmakers, it's no longer an intimate meeting of a few fellow supercar owners. It's grown to something more special and spectacular. It's an exceptional event worth the trouble of coming all the way over the pond from America. Lord March will await you, as he does each year in July at his West Sussex premises.

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By Matt Zuchowski
46 Articles

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