Being a fully confirmed and as-good-as Christened petrol head, I was surprised myself that 2011 was my first visit to the three day motorsport mecca nestled in rural Sussex that is the Goodwood Festival of speed. Somehow under the impression that this event was a informal gathering of super car owners and professional racers pootling around the grounds of Goodwood park and mingling with a few geeky, hardcore enthusiasts, I was taken aback when, upon entering the venue I was greeted with gleaming chrome towers housing temporary showrooms for all the major car manufacturers, erected in the middle of an idyllic green space.
In fact I was half right about the laid back, informal feel around the event but very wrong about the amount of people I assumed would attend. The Festival was packed to the rafters with car lovers, not just greasy know-it-alls but people from all walks of life, and a few celebrities for good measure. Beautiful women walked the grounds amongst veteran racers who would likely bleed engine oil if cut open, and current F1 stars sauntering around sans-burly minders.
In fact the event belied its exclusive location and proved to be incredibly diverse. The first car I saw take to the famous Goodwood Hill track was a real crowd pleaser, a Nissan Juke that completed the entire course on two wheels.
Proving that the Festival of Speed wasn’t all about getting round the course in the quickest time possible, the crowd were then treated to some theatrics from Rally stunt driver Ken Block in his gymkhana Ford Fiesta.
For me Block’s car with its ostentatious livery and propensity for burnouts and power slides really embodied the spirit of Goodwood. Motorsport is often a strictly governed, sterile sport but the cars on show and the stunts being performed really cut through what most turns most people off of the sport and provided a spectacle that delighted both enthusiast and casual observers alike.
Of course petrol heads were well catered for and revelled at the unique ability Goodwood offers to get up close and personal with some of greatest racing cars and drivers of all time. Each team had their own mini pit in the paddock area and mechanics would periodically fire up the screaming V6 engines and rev them to the crowd’s content.
Being able to get this close to these magnificent machines is something that can’t really be done elsewhere. Stringent restrictions at most motorsport events prevent such intimate interactions between fans and teams, making the Goodwood experience all the more special.
The sight and sound of these beasts roaring up the hill separated from the crowd by mere meters was magic. Free from the shackles of the F1 world championship, drivers had the freedom to entertain onlookers and partake in some freestyle driving.
The thing that really struck me about Goodwood was the spirit of the place, although there were thousands of people meandering around the vast grounds, there was a real sense of community about the place, everyone united by a shared love of the prestige and passion of motorport.
The event combined stunning, multi million-pound machinery with an air of frivolity and freedom seldom experienced in motorsport circles. Most of all, it more than lived up to its ‘festival’ name, promoting a real carnival atmosphere, acting as a veritable playground for car lovers. Needless to say I’ll be going back next year!