A Mercedes formula one car at Goodwood House.
A Mercedes formula one car at Goodwood House. Stephen Ottley

Jolly good show


IT'S not the huge and diverse array of classic racing cars. It's not the galaxy of racing superstars. It's not the smorgasbord of modern-day supercars. It's not even the 28-metre-high steel sculpture of a Jaguar E-Type.

No, what really rams home the scale of the Goodwood Festival of Speed is the guy standing next to me taking photos.

That's because he's no ordinary fan: he's Arie Luyendyk, a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. At just about any motor race in the US he would be swamped but at Goodwood he's a just another wide-eyed fan.

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There's something about this event that turns grown men and women into children. Probably because it is full of iconic cars and bikes that racing fans remember from their youth.

What began as a low-key historic racing car meeting in 1993 has become not only one of the biggest motor sport events in Britain but one of the biggest in the world.

It attracts the world's best historic and modern drivers and cars to blast up the driveway of Lord March's Goodwood Estate.

It has become so popular that more than 180,000 people attended during the four days this year. The popularity now extends to the automotive industry, with every leading manufacturer spending big for a presence.

It has become such a large event that it has added a concours d'elegance, called Style et Luxe, an alternative sports showcase that includes motocross and BMX, a junior show, an air display and an off-road rally course.

Last year it even added a motor show, in effect replacing the London show, and had stands from most of the world's leading motoring brands.

Among the 27 brands at this year's show were Audi, Bentley, Toyota, BMW, Nissan, Alfa Romeo, Chevrolet, Ford, Land Rover, Lotus and Jaguar.

The main attraction, however, is still that blast up the hill.

This year there were entries spanning 1907 to the present, with seemingly every famous and defunct brand represented. Ferrari, Ford, Delage or Chaparral - you name it - were there.

But it's not just the mechanical stars that make the festival so special; there are human stars, too.

Thanks to clever planning, the festival rarely coincides with the big races, leaving the stars of formula one, IndyCar, Le Mans and motorcycle racing free to join the party.

The big names this year included Australian Mark Webber, Lewis Hamilton, Nigel Mansell, Stirling Moss, Bruno Senna and even antipodean heroes Jim Richards and Paul Radisich.

Celebrities with a passion for speed turn out as well. This year's cameos included TV comedian Jay Leno, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, survivalist Bear Grylls, Apple designer Jonathan Ive and model/actor Liz Hurley.

This year's festival celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 and the technological revolutions in motor sport. That meant some of the wildest and wackiest racing cars ever made were pulled from museums around the world for another flat-out blast.

Cars such as the Lotus-Pratt & Whitney Indycar, which housed a gas turbine engine under its wedge-shaped body. Or the Chaparral 2J, which used a snowmobile engine to power a pair of fans that sucked the car to the racetrack.

These sorts of cars are usually confined to the history books but Goodwood gives them a chance to live again.

The future wasn't forgotten, though. Modern cars such as the efficient but fast Le Mans-winning turbo diesel Audi R18 and Nissan's prototype electric Leaf racer got to strut their stuff, too.

Last year, YouTube sensation and world rally driver Ken Block made his Goodwood debut with some tyre-smoking runs in his Ford Focus rally car.

Not only was he back this year but he inspired Lord March to open the hill climb to as much tyre torture as possible. Even the F1 drivers did burnouts.

That meant most of the drivers spent the weekend focused on giving the crowd a thrill with some doughnuts or burnouts instead of worrying about a fast time.

In today's sanitised world of motor racing, the Festival of Speed is a fantastic throwback to a time when the sport had a more carefree attitude.

I'm sure Arie Luyendyk enjoyed the festival as much as the man next to him.

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