Sunday mornings don’t get any more surreal. I’m on a golf cart with Norman Dewis, Jaguar’s legendary – an over-used word, but not here – test driver. Norman’s 94 next month, and he came within a whisker of winning the 1952 Mille Miglia co-driving with Stirling Moss in a Jaguar C-type fitted with prototype disc brakes. He also raced a D-type in the infamous and tragic 1955 Le Mans 24 Hours.
As we bumble our way from the cathedral paddock round the back of the house to the TAG Heuer drivers’ club, the anecdotes flow like freshly minted gold coins. Turns out that Enzo Ferrari offered him the job of chief test driver, back in the 1960s. He turned him down. ‘Mike Parkes [Ferrari sports car and F1 driver] said to the Old Man, “Norman’s the guy you need”. I thought about it, of course I did, but my wife said, “you can go if you want, but I won’t be joining you”, and we had a couple of young kids at the time, so I decided not to. Who knows what would have happened if I’d gone…’
As we wander into the club, whom should we bump into but none other than Sir Stirling Moss himself, eyes closed and carbon fibre walking stick at his side as he catches some rays. ‘Shall we give him a surprise?’ Norman says, eyes atwinkle. Before we get a chance, Mark Webber arrives, with his customary ‘g’day mate’ greeting and a respectful handshake for the greatest driver never to win the F1 world title. A split second later, Dario Franchitti turns up. He tells me a story about a drive he once did with the late Colin McRae in the Scottish Highlands, the details of which sadly can’t be repeated here…
Trying to count up the race wins and life experiences these four have amassed between them is enough to melt your brain.
It’s also the Goodwood Festival of Speed in a nutshell. OK, so this is all happening inside the drivers’ club, but there are no starry tantrums outside either because the whole secret of this event is the thing that everyone knows F1 has lost: proximity.
Lewis Hamilton has just signed a friend’s baby. Kimi Raikkonen has even been persuaded to remove his sunglasses (by a rather attractive female TV presenter, admittedly, but you take my point). And getting an earful of Damon Hill’s 1996 title-winning Williams FW16 is a reminder that, yes, this year’s F1 cars are definitely sonically challenged.
What else do I learn? Jay Kay, a man who recently phoned me to tell me he’d just added a Ford RS200 to his awesome car collection, is wide-eyed when we discuss his newly arrived – and virulently green – LaFerrari. ‘It’s fast,’ he says. ‘I mean, really fast. The fastest thing I’ve ever owned.’ Karun Chandhok, former F1 driver and another signing for the fast evolving Formula E series, is a ferociously bright guy, with an incredible insight into the machinations of F1. When he hangs up his racing boots, he’ll make a great team principal.
Sebastien Buemi, who finished third for Toyota at Le Mans a few weeks ago, and Brandon Hartley who almost finished for Porsche in the 919, are both currently quite busy. We had plenty of time to chat while the marshals cleared the wreckage and flaming hay bales that delayed the lunchtime supercar run. ‘My last free weekend was in April,’ Buemi tells me. ‘The next free one is in late August.’ We discuss Loic Duval’s horrific crash in practice for this year’s Le Mans. He’s on the mend, thank goodness, but got a sufficiently nasty knock to the head to forget that his wife had just given birth to their second child the week before.
On which note – crashes not babies – there were a handful of shunts at this year’s FOS. Olympic cycling hero Sir Chris Hoy was renamed Sir Chris Hay after burying a Nissan GTR deep into the bales at Molecomb, and Anthony Reid – a millimetre-perfect FOS specialist – had a bad one in an Aston Martin. Oh dear.
These are things I’d like to say don’t cross your mind if you’re lucky enough to be driving something up the sainted hill in front of 75,000 people, or whatever it is. But they do. Now factor in that the drive in question is in a Jaguar E-type ‘Group 44’, a one-off roadster converted by a guy called Bob Tullius. Conceived to give the E-type a last gasp push in the US in its twilight years, it won the SCCA (Sports Club of America) championship in 1975, with a total of 12 victories out of 17 races. Stripped almost bare, with a sheet of plexiglass instead of a windscreen, and pumping out 460bhp, this might be the maddest E-type of the lot.
It’s certainly the loudest. There are side exhausts on either side, and the Jag heritage guys reckon it’s been measured at 126dB. That makes it impossible to run at virtually every circuit in the country, but also means that today I only have to tickle the throttle to sound like I know what I’m doing. The clutch bites like a wounded animal, but there’s so much grunt that the thing happily burbles down the hill to the start line, emitting such a ridiculous noise it makes its current F-type relative sound like a G-wiz.
Damon Hill is in front of me in his 1996 Williams FW18. This is another FOS magic moment. Then we’re off, tiny steering wheel wriggling in my hands, as the E’s huge cut slick tyres scrabble for grip. It’s sensational, and would be equally sensational at 30mph, which is handy because that’s roughly how fast we’re going. As well as not crashing, I’m also keen not to fluff my gearchanges. But as the cheeky little crest on the approach to Molecomb flashes past, and we successfully make the left turn that seems to have caught out so many drivers this weekend, I decide to give it full beans past the flint wall and on up the hill.
It’s a sound that’s still echoing round my brain 12 hours later…
It was all eyes on Sebastien Loeb today, as he fired his mighty Peugeot T16 up the hill - the car that smashed records at Pikes Peak last year. In the event he was a full three seconds off the course record, coming in at 44.6 seconds and explaining that the gearing was simply too short to go any quicker. Will Nick Heidfeld’s spectacular 1999 time of 41.6 in a McLaren F1 car ever be beaten?
But what a weekend. The Goodwood Festival of Speed goes from strength to strength, and you can head to their official website for some excellent video highlights. We’ll have even more pictures, drives and reports tomorrow. See you then.
Well, the rain eventually came this morning, but it didn’t dampen the spirits at Lord March’s party and by the afternoon we were back to glorious sunshine.
Click through for some more pictures from Saturday, which, after our own Ollie Marriage showed the way in a P1 on Friday, saw some very fast machinery breaking records on the Goodwood Hillclimb.
It will be no surprise to those who have followed his career on TopGear.com to hear that Jann Mardenborough, Gran Turismo gamer turned pro racer, followed his recent stellar performance in LMP2 at Le Mans by breaking the supercar record for the Hill in a Nissan GTR-NISMO “Time Attack”, just edging out a Noble M600 in the hands of touring car legend Anthony Reid. Is there no stopping this man? The Festival of Speed have posted video here if you want to watch some action.
Unfortunately Olympic cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy wasn’t as lucky in another GT-R Nismo, when he overshot the tricky Molecomb corner and stacked it into the haybales, but happily he emerged unscathed.
And tomorrow, Seb Loeb is going to try and break Nick Heidfeld’s venerable all-time course record. Quick Nick did 41.6 seconds in a 1998 McLaren MP4/13. Loeb is in his all-conquering Peugeot T16. He had a promising testing lap today, which you can watch here.
In the meantime the Beach Boys are rumoured to playing the ball later, so we’re off to find out if it’s true…
Friday at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and it didn’t rain. This is important, because in England, it always rains. Actually, Rains, with a capital R. Always. And it’s important because the Rain didn’t ruin the second day of what is fast becoming England’s premiere motor show; a party where there are less sandwiches and clotted cream (well you can actually get those), more horsepower and prodigious oversteer and ear-shattering V8s and monster 6x6s and gratuitous burnouts.
In short, a very Top Gear sort of garden party.
You’ve got your classic saloons, classic endurance cars, supercars and rally cars all hooning it unapologetically up the classic hill. There’s even a rally stage while of course, no show would be complete without a proper display from none other than the Red Arrows. Magnificent.
It’s not all about the hillclimb, however, because there’s much, much more. Like a brass band. Like a supercar paddock and classic car show on the front lawn, a brass band, and lots and lots of hay – in case those hillclimbers get a little twisted on the run up. In fact, and it pains us to say this, but we did see a classic Mercedes spin out at the top and make a firm acquaintance with the straw.
It wasn’t the only one either, the hillclimb session getting red flagged a second time after an Alfa Romeo 4C went straight into the straw. Thankfully both drivers got out unharmed. The Alfa? Best you not ask.
Outside of that, however, Goodwood is the only time in the world you’ll see a Rolls-Royce getting nice and screechy on its tyres (unless your name is Ollie Marriage and you work for Top Gear magazine), the only time you’ll see Jay Kay wandering around the paddock next to a lime green LaFerrari (really, green), the only chance you’ll get to see WRC cars against the backdrop of a country manor, and the only time you’ll see two Mercedes Formula One cars from two different eras form a ‘rainbow’ over the house. It’s spectacular.
So, here’s some of what we found, and we’ll have many more pics in the coming days when they emerge from Goodwood’s authentically old-school lack of connectivity…