Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness
The onset of autumn brings the end of summer and the prospect of long dark
evenings. This year, of course, summer never arrived, leaving the leftie Global
Warming doom-mongers to back pedal and hastily re-brand their agenda as
Climate Change. Leaving all that aside though, autumn also brings two of the
very best – and very different – historic meetings. It also saw the late arrival of
It is incredible that we have just witnessed the tenth annual Goodwood Revival
Meeting. Seems like only yesterday that we walked out of the gates at the end
of the first one thinking “they’ll never manage to do that again”. But oh yes they
did, year after year. Having attended every single one it has been fascinating to
watch the growth of the event too.
When Lord March first announced his time-warp event we all winced a bit at the
thought of having to don jacket and tie to go racing but we soon got used to it.
So well has the period dress theme caught on that clued-up charity shops up
and down the land have cashed in handsomely ever since. There was even a
Ladies’ Day this year. Why, even Brooksie – making his debut appearance –
put in more time agonising over what to wear rather than what lenses to take!
Sportsmanship and Gamesmanship
The racing itself has been good right from the start but if anything has got a little
too intense of late. Despite the fact that Goodwood is a stand-alone event, not
part of any championship or anything, such is the cachet of competing at the
Revival there is an element of win at all costs. There is nothing wrong with
healthy competition, but driving standards have not always been of the best but
fortunately Goodwood have recognised this; at least one ‘name’ driver found his
entries were not accepted for a year or two!.It was particularly disconcerting
however, that the two most serious accidents this year involved highly
experienced historic racers.
Historic motorsport has always been a heady mix of gentlemen
drivers/successful businessmen indulging their passion together with the
relatively impecunious enthusiast racing on a budget, together with professional
drivers. However there are now some very serious people spending very serious
money to race at Goodwood, and size of wallet does not equate to talent. There
are those who are trying to race – and win – in machinery that is beyond their
ability. Many have been quick to realise that Goodwood provenance is now
adding value to machinery – and I don’t just mean to cars that raced at the
circuit pre- ’66!
Despite those reservations, the Revival has given us the opportunity to see
some fabulous cars racing, cars we perhaps otherwise might not have seen in
action. The scurrilous might even say that some cars that would not have
existed, but for the Revival. Unfortunately though, we have also seen some
valuable cars badly damaged, sometimes a little unnecessarily. The beauty of
the Goodwood track is that it unchanged from its heyday (1948-1966), and don’t
forget that the circuit closed in 1966 largely because the speed of then-current
racing cars had surpassed the safety levels of the track. Now, safety has been
improved with tyre barriers etc, but conversely many of those pre- ’66 cars have
been the subject of a further 40 years’ development (yes really). If you don’t
believe me, the fastest lap in the RAC TT Celebration race back in 1998 was set
by a Jaguar E-Type lighweight at 1m 30.958s. A similar car, in similar
conditions set the fastest time again this year. The time? 1m 27.529s. A glance
back at the results sheets over the years will reveal even bigger reductions in
lap times in other classes.
Such has been the growth in popularity of historic racing that it is breeding its
own group of superstars. Goodwood in particular always attracts a number of
famous names, some of them still racing at or near the top, but now drivers
such as Peter Hardman, Martin Stretton and Gary Pearson are more than
capable of giving them a run for their money. Others too, such as Justin Law,
Oliver Bryant and Edwin Jowsey have established themselves in this area of the
sport. Justin Law is spectacular in a Group C Jaguar and is quite the equal of
many of the star names who drove the cars in their heyday. Conversely,
modern-day drivers such as Emanuele Pirro, Dario Franchitti, Jean-Marc
Gounon and Tonio Liuzzi have really revelled in the opportunity to race cars
older than themselves.
As we look towards the tenth anniversary event, Goodwood are promising us yet
more surprises. Wonder what they’ve got in store?
British Expeditionary Force
One month on and the first week-end in October saw a large part of the historic
racing circus de-camp to the Belgian Ardennes for a very different event. Many
of the same cars and people but just very different in style. Equally enchanting
though. A week-end later than usual but there was no need to worry about
weather as the Spa-Francorchamps circuit was bathed in unbroken sunshine
and clear blue skies for the entire week-end. How often does that happen here?
The multi-hued trees of the surrounding forests provided a fabulous back-drop
that would make New England envious. Old England’s got nothing on this place
either, but that’s another story.
Feature event of the meeting is the Spa Six Hours, contested by sports and
saloon cars from the sixties, but a full supporting programme over the two days
saw racing for everything from Formula Junior to Grand Prix Masters. In all, the
best part of 600 cars took part, some of them racing more than once, and
getting on for 1,000 drivers were involved, most races being two-driver affairs.
The grid for the Six Hours alone contained 82 cars. Most modern-day race
organisers can only dream of such figures.
The beauty of historic racing is the variety. So much of modern racing is of the
one-make variety now and even F1, the pinnacle of the sport, has talked
common components etc to reduce costs. Having said that though, FIA fuehrer
Max Mosley took umbrage when a certain team supposedly tried something of
the sort this year!
With such a big grid the Six Hours certainly has variety in bucketloads. The
quality of the entry stepped up a gear this year. Recently we have witnessed
some pretty wild hot-rods taking part but they have largely been weeded out
although there is still mutterings amongst MGB owners, no less, about the
disparity of performance between supposedly similar cars. However, they field
was headed by no less than five Ford GT40’s and inevitably the winner was
expected to come from amomgst their number. Christian Glasel did indeed blast
off into the distance from pole position at the start, his black car hounded by
Shaun Lynn’s blue version, driven by Michael Mallock, but one by one the
GT40’s fell by the wayside, leaving the way clear for the Dutch-entered Shelby
GT350 Mustang driven by John Hugenholtz/Rene Herzog/David Hart to take the
flag first. A beautifully prepared and incredibly rapid machine this, it has also
tasted success in TourAuto. As if to emphasise the variety, not far behind at the
finish of the shortened race was the replica Aston Martin DP214 owned and
driven by Wolfgang Friedrichs together with David Clark and Simon Hadfield.
This was the third consecutive visit to the podium for this car, having won in ’05
before finishing third last year, later promoted to second after the Ford Fairlane
(yes really) ahead of it was discovered to have some slightly non period
Did I say shortened race? Spa does have one or two organisational glitches.
The Six Hours was scheduled to start at 4pm with a 10pm finish – that’s non-
negotiable as there is now a noise curfew at Spa. However, the tightly packed
timetable left little leeway for delays – and inevitably there were a few – together
with a slightly casual, shall we say, classic car parade just before the big race
meant that it actually got underway at 5pm, finishing at ten to ten. I have heard
unofficially that teams have recived a part-refund on their entry fees but this is
an event that everyone looks forward to all year (internet forum traffic proves
that!) and such things really should not happen.
The rest of the programme at Spa consists of a good cross-section of historic
racing, ranging from Pre-war cars, thru’ Formula Junior, ‘fifties sports cars,
sports racing and Formula 1, the majority of the events being organised by the
burgeoning Masters organisation. Having added the Julius Thurgood-run Top Hat
series’ to their portfolio this year they also took the opportunity at Spa to
announce yet more new classes next year for seventies sports prototypes.
One very succesful new series, not under the Masters banner, is U2TC (Under
2-litre Touring Cars). Although comparatively new, this well-policed series
attracts a goodly-sized entry of Alfa Romeo Giulia’s, BMW 1800Ti’s, Lotus
Cortina’s, Mini Cooper’s and the like. The one-hour, two-driver races are a
welcome breath of fresh air and serve to remind just how far modern touring car
racing has sunk – can a series of 10-minute bash ‘n crash races really justify
the tag ‘World Championship’?
Spa’s race was won by a Lotus Cortina from Sweden, the speed of which did
raise a few eyebrows, leaving former Grand Prix driver Jackie Oliver to come
home second in the BMW he shares with Richard Shaw.
The atmosphere at Spa takes a lot of beating, and the camaraderie and
socialising amongst the teams etc really makes this one of the most enjoyable
weekends of the year. Moscow-based Kiwi Roger Wills and his Lotus Cortina
epitomise the spirit of the occasion and must have set some sort of record for
endurance, the Cortina completing some ten hours of racing over the week-end.
Originally entered in a couple of the support races, the Alan Mann Racing-
liveried machine also got pressed into service for the Six Hours after Roger’s
Corvette Stingray displayed a propensity for destroying gearboxes even before
qualifying got under way. Not bad for a 42-year-old car!
Sandwiched between these two great traditional outings was a brand new event
at a very old venue, namely the “1er Week-end de L’Excellence Automobile de
Reims”. Yes, the public roads that go to make-up the Circuit de Gueux were
closed once again for a week-end in September, not withstanding the fact that
the long straight down to Thillois is now a motorway. How do you overcome
that? Simply close one side of the motorway so that the racers blat down one
carriageway whilst the normal traffic grapples with a contraflow the other side of
the barrier. Not very ‘elf ‘n safety, but there you go!
Actually this was a slightly frustrating event; it could have been so much better
but hopefully the organisers were sufficiently buoyed by the 20,000 attendance
over the week-end to do it again. Essentially you bought a “package” that
allowed a series of runs on the circuit together with hospitality and so on.
Inevitably there were an awful lot of Porsche 911’s and the like, but in amongst
them were some genuine race cars (and ‘bikes) with Reims racing provenance.
There were also a few oddities too. Ever heard of Fournier Marcadier Barquette
before? No, neither had I. (It’s a sportscar dating from 1965, bit like a Lotus 23
in appearance but with a narrow rear track).
Star attraction – well, three-pointed star – was to be a series of demonstrations
of the Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner driven by Jean Alesi, this being the car
that Jean-Manuel Fangio drove to victory here upon it’s debut in the 1954 French
Grand Prix. It never really worked anywhere else but is a magnificent bit of kit to
behold. Sadly it flatly refused to run cleanly and never managed more than one
lap at a time. It’s appearances were a little unpredictable as it was a case of
“it’s running, let’s go! The beastie required a full plug change every time, and
there are 16 of them, one bank of the canted-over engine being a little awkward
to access to. The mechanic from Stuttgart must have been really glad when it
was to go home! His efforts were nevertheless really appreciated by the
The paddock area contained a fair few gems if you looked for them, but if this
event is to succeed it needs a little thought in that direction. ‘Les Amis du
Circuit de Gueux’ have done a great job of repainting the pits and circuit
buildings complete with period advertising etc and there is clearly a lot of
goodwill locally so hopefully it become a fixture on the calendar. As I’ve said,
nothing like a bit of variety.
Well, that’s about it for this year. With the nights drawing in I guess it’s time to
pour a glass of wine (only one!), switch on TV (mustn’t leave it on standby) and
get out the videos and DVD’s (are we still allowed to do that?) and look forward
to another great season next year.