I felt a little sad neglecting the tweed for this year’s Goodwood SpeedWeek. Not under the traditional name of ‘Revival’, dressing up was not required for this season’s event. I did pack one flat cap though so I was delighted to see that some had missed the memo in the paddock and the cravats were out in force at least in some areas.
It’s a weekend that misses the public horribly having, as it does, the same feeling of ‘cult madness’ that I enjoy so much at Le Mans each year. The support is generally presented with a little more ‘British reserve’ but you can’t deny the passion. Competing there is a privilege I’m immensely thankful for.
Along with Le Mans; driving 50s/60s era race cars around the circuit at Goodwood has grown into a highlight of my year. The cars are the stars but the track layout for me really makes the event. It shares the same simple charm as Monza or the original circuit at Snetterton; very fast corners connected together in sequence three braking zones to get your overtaking done. It’s a well-cut suit or well-prepared plate of pasta.
I was set up to drive three cars over the weekend. Jaguar E-Types of subtly different ages, both with Jaguar enthusiast, expert and hot shot Gary Pearson – someone who has taught me everything I, so far, know about the cars and I suspect is yet to teach me a lot of things I still don’t!
We would race together in the Stirling Moss Memorial Trophy in the pre-63 E-type and the RAC TT Celebration in a rapid lightweight ‘E’’. I would also race a ‘Swiftune’ Mini Cooper in the St Mary’s event with the ‘Mini Master’ Nick Swift. Considering my prepared drives I am not quite sure how I managed to fall so directly on my feet. It was set to be a great experience.
Friday was the day to prepare the Mini for the St Mary’s. It’s a two-part event, each part consisting of its own qualifying session and 25-minute race. The field consisted of Lotus Cortinas, our Minis, some stunning Alfa GTAs and a few Ford Falcons which seemed to completely fill the circuit from white line to white line. You’d consider it whacky races until you’d seen the driver list which is world class. F1, sports car and touring car stars fill the grid from top to bottom.
Friday would entail FP1, FP2 and FP3 plus qualifying sessions for the Mini which would be held simultaneously during 30 minutes in the afternoon. No pressure then! Luckily Nick had been kind enough to let me test the car a week before the event or I would have been on the ‘struggle bus’ extremely heavily. We missed a little power to the bigger cars but I managed to tow WTCC champion Rob Huff and qualify as the second Mini for the race.
Saturday was geared up to be the big day. Out in the older of our E-types the pre-63 car for the qualifying session in the morning. The car was absolutely mega and I may have got a little too excited as I slid the car around to take pole, punching the air in the cockpit.
The event for the pre-63 car was called the Sir Stirling Moss Memorial Trophy with the name changed this season in honour of the great man. It was a really nice idea by the Duke of Richmond who organises and owns the event. I’ve had the chance to share a few words on occasion with Sir Stirling and Lady Susie Moss. A chance to put a car on pole for a race in honour of him was a truly brilliant experience.
Next up would be the St Mary’s Trophy part one in the Mini, otherwise known as ‘my bit’ of the two-part event. One part for the owners and another part for the invited drivers. The start of the event was like something I have never seen. As a young modern driver you race in so many spec series. The difference in size and shape of the cars in the early laps of that kind of touring car race just makes it feel like complete madness. Aside from this, different cars react to different styles and I can tell you the Mini only responds when you absolutely send it. Drones followed the field above as Falcons swiped at Cortinas all barely lifting the throttle around the rapid track. It’s truly something I’ll never forget. Madness.
I got a nudge from Emmanuelle Pirro in an Alfa GTA at the start of the race but no harm done. I enjoyed a fun recovery drive from the back of the field up to ninth and for the second time in two days burst into spontaneous laughter as I crossed the chequered flag!
The Sir Stirling Moss Memorial Trophy was in the evening and before the race I was moved by a really fitting tribute to Sir Stirling. Mark Knofler is a bit of a hero of mine and I was motivated by his live performance as my team-mate Gary would be starting from pole position. The race has been quite correctly dubbed as ‘the most beautiful motor race in the world’ and the field this time did not disappoint.
Several E-type coupes and roadsters along with the beautiful Ferrari 250 SWBs among other stunning sports cars from the early 60s were competing. Gary led the race beautifully in the early stages but our challenge this time wasn’t to be, a touch with a backmarker forcing us to retire the car. It was really unfortunate but we would be able to have another go on Sunday in our fire-breathing Lightweight.
The RAC TT is the headline event of Goodwood and the race feels quick! The professionalism of the drivers is world class and the cars are balanced, fettled and tested. To compete is an honour and to win is one of the biggest challenges in historic motorsport. If the pre-63 E-type feels crisp, the Lightweight car is like driving the circuit in fast forward. In qualifying you have to catch up with it before you can really start to drive it. Lap times which would have easily secured pole four or five years ago will now be good enough to put you just outside the top 15 of the 30-car field.
I would start the race in our Jaguar from 11th on the grid after having difficulty with the car in qualifying by struggling to nail the position of the seat and pedals to my liking. We were missing a little power to the big Cobras and top six was the aim. The responsibility of dicing wheel to wheel in a piece of history is huge, alongside the potential for financial and sentimental upset if damage is done to any of the cars. You never feel that more intensely than when you are side by side in two pieces of automotive perfection during a race like that.
Nevertheless eventually your inner racer takes over and I was able to have a great stint pushing our car up to a fifth to seventh place potential in real terms. During the pit window I managed to run as high as second, pushing towards the lead which gave me a feel for what would be required if we looked to come back and win the race in the Jag. I handed to Gary mid-race who drove a great stint to repel the attention of Lamborghini works driver Phil Keen in the Sunbeam Lister Tiger who was pushing very hard in the closing stages. A seventh-placed finish, and top Jaguar E-type of several in the race, was a great reward for our efforts.
Earlier that morning Nick Swift had also managed a super performance in St Mary’s part two, setting a new lap record and boosting us up to a fifth-placed finish on aggregate in the St Mary’s Trophy and top Mini!
Setting the standard for both chassis with a lot of help from some talented friends was a result from the weekend certainly but firstly and foremostly, SpeedWeek was just incredible fun and a real driving challenge. I’m already thinking about next year hopefully with passionate folk joining us trackside to enjoy the action. See you there.
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