What began as a modest meeting of motor sports enthusiasts in rural West Sussex, England has transformed into one of the world’s largest automotive events, sort of petrol-powered Woodstock.
This past weekend’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, was marred by weather rough even by UK standards. Yet, with the typically stiff British upper lip, more than 250,000 folks braved a mix of blustery heat, chilling rain and near hurricane-force winds for the 30th anniversary gathering at the 12,000-acre estate of Lord Charles March.
The Festival of Speed has changed dramatically during the past three decades. Recent gatherings have taken on a much more commercial tone than in the early years, with dozens of automakers setting up stands and displays, and fields of carney-style food vendors. But those who braved the weather — and traffic backed up for hours — were amply rewarded.
Hundreds of performance vehicles, some from the earliest days of motorsports, others only recently retired from the Formula One track, jostled for space before setting out for a run up Goodwood’s circuitous Hill Climb — which, the rest of the year, serves as the driveway to the Duke of Sussex’s Great House.
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One of the big draws is the chance for the gathering crowds to swarm the paddocks where the cars are set up and given a final tune before the races begin.
Those expecting to see ancient machines running wheel-to-wheel — as happens at other classic events, like the Monterey Historics, at Raceway Laguna Beach — might be a bit disappointed. At Goodwood, one car after another takes its turn up Goodwood Hill. Some drivers approach the task timidly. You have to think twice about risking a near-priceless Blower Bentley, after all. But others approach the run as if this were the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Croatian EV startup Rimac nabbed the all-time record for a production vehicle this past weekend, making the run up the hill in a mere 49.32 seconds with its new Nevara hypercar.
Simply landing a slot on the program delivers bragging rights for a manufacturer, and there were a number of new vehicles vying for attention, amidst the classics this past weekend. Porsche brought out its new 357. Ford launched the Mustang Mach-E Rally, a first-ever off-road version of its electric SUV. British startup Ineos took a run up the hill with its new Quartermaster pickup.
Ineos also displayed the new Grenadier SUV at its stand alongside the track, one of its PR executives telling TheDetroitBureau.com, “This is the last automotive event in Europe that brings everyone together the way auto shows used to.”
Indeed, while the line-up of new models debuting at recent auto shows has steadily dwindled, there was a veritable tsunami of introductions at Goodwood this year. There were mainstream manufacturers like Volkswagen, Nissan and Hyundai — the latter rolling out the 641 hp all-electric Ioniq 5 N.
And upscale brands were in high profile as well, names like Aston Martin and Maserati, the Italian marque celebrating the final run of its V-12 engine with two special editions: the Ghibli 334 Ultima and the Levante V8 Ultima. McLaren, meanwhile, celebrated its 60th anniversary at the event.
And, in a recognition of the massive transition reshaping the auto industry, festival organizers set up Electric Avenue, an area aimed at highlighting the shift to battery-electric vehicles. In one surprise move, Tesla set up a large stand, something it hasn’t done at conventional auto shows in more than a decade. Rolls-Royce, meanwhile, focused its entire display on its first-ever EV, the Spectre.
In early years, the Goodwood Festival of Speed was a relatively exclusive event. But if you could manage the ticket and parking fees, the event has been open to everyone in recent years. And even with the rough weather, preliminary numbers suggest that attendance set another record.
Even then, there were plenty of opportunities to go people watching. That included an array of the world’s most famous race drivers, some, like Jackie Stewart, who had driven these race cars when they were new. There were actresses such as Emma Corrin and Rowan Atkinson, the latter a serious driver in his own right. He blasted up Goodwood Hill behind the wheel of Toyota’s hydrogen-powered Gazoo Yaris GT.
“It’s such a diverse set of cars that comes through this event, there’s something for everybody,” said Darren Palmer, the head of EV product development for Ford.
When you’re running a four-day motorsports gathering in the UK gathering hundreds of thousands of visitors, things are bound to go wrong. Saturday’s events were canceled due to winds gusting well over 40 mph. The very first Hyundai Ioniq 5 N crashed into the hay bales on its way up Goodwood Hill, and a classic Jaguar lost a wheel during its run, injuring at least one person watching from the sidelines.
But even as he ducked into a stand to get out of Friday’s torrential downpour, Rob Simken said he wouldn’t even have thought about staying home. “I grew up coming here with my parents,” he said. “I just love cars, and this is the best show in England. Every year it just gets better.”