View from the U.K.

The Festival of Speed is back...but not back to normal

by John Mayhead
9 July 2021 3 min read
Photo by Drew Gibson/Courtesy Goodwood

In many ways, the Festival of Speed feels like every one that has taken place since the first one back in 1993. As I write this, the racing cars are back under their covers after the first day of spectacular runs, the stands secured for the night and the maintenance team preparing the ground for tomorrow.

But in other ways, this year’s Festival was strange. Everyone felt it, from the drivers awaiting their runs up the famous hillclimb to the familiar faces in the press tent. There was a sense of wariness, of trepidation; it felt like we were breaking the rules and that at any time someone could just turn up and tell us all to go home. That wasn’t such an outrageous suggestion, either: The Goodwood team told me that they had been on tenterhooks even yesterday, remembering last year when a Goodwood horse-racing event was cancelled by the Government at a few hours’ notice. With the investment that the Duke of Richmond always pours into his keystone event, that could have been extremely painful for the Estate.

Then there was the size. Limited to 75 percent of usual attendance, the crowds were noticeably smaller than usual, especially in the early morning. Thursday is always quieter that the other days, but this year you didn’t have to search for your friends, you kept bumping into them. The cars, too, were fewer in number. One member of the Cartier team told me that some of the Style et Luxe concours entrants were stuck at the port of Dover; whether tied up in COVID red tape, or the Brexit equivalent was not clear. Others hadn’t even attempted the journey: Mercedes-Benz, usually a huge presence here, reduced its footprint dramatically, and most manufacturers relied on their U.K. event teams rather than the usual global rollout that we’re used to. Even the sculpture was a bit strange: The huge cantilevered structure built to celebrate Lotus was definitely loyal to Colin Chapman’s mantra of ‘simplify, then add lightness’ but lacked the automotive grunt of previous years when the centerpiece has mounted everything from three Ford GT40s to a Porsche 917.

But the vehicles that had made it here remained as spectacular as ever. At the back of the stands by the cricket pitch, I stumbled upon one of the most important cars in history—the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR ‘722’ that Stirling Moss drove to Mille Miglia victory in record time in 1955. It was encased in a glass box, with plinths surrounding it, including an electronic book of remembrance to its most famous driver, who passed away last year. It felt extremely moving; a superb memorial to Moss. At the other end of the spectrum, Aston Martin Racing brought their current F1 car, the AMR21. This is unheard of—nobody brings this season’s car and blasts it up the hill where one of the run-off areas includes a flint-and-brick wall. This is the car in which Lance Stroll will drive in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone next weekend. I assume his father had told him in very clear terms not to bend it.

Other cars were equally impressive. Queenie Louwman drove the Ferrari 375 ‘Grant Piston Ring Special’ that had been modified to run in the 1952 Indy 500, having run in the previous year’s British Grand Prix, a race that marked Ferrari’s first win as an independent constructor.  Then there were the classes of cars to meet every taste, from touring cars to rally beasts, motorcycles to endurance legends, modern supercars to electric vehicles.

At the Bonhams hall, other than the masks and a few sensible constraints, it was business as usual. The place was buzzing, and all thel familiar faces were there. As usual, it took me over an hour to work my way from one end to the other, and at the end my voice was hoarse from talking so much.

All in all, the Duke of Richmond’s team have created something that, although on a slightly smaller scale, looks and feels like the Festival of Speed should. We all know this is a holding pattern for next year, when we’re all hoping that we’ll be clear of this awful disease, but for this summer, the Goodwood batteries have been fully recharged.

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