HARRIS AT THE GOODWOOD REVIVAL: PH LIVEBLOG
Harris relives an epic TT battle and how he earned a cigar from Lord March's butler
We'll be updating this rolling blog as the weekend progresses - stay tuned!
Last update: Sunday, after the TT
No other event has the potential to suffer from over hyping in quite the same way as the Goodwood Revival. But for all the chat and pomp, all it takes is five minutes of a Spitfire swooping to 50ft on Lord March's front lawn to realise that this three-day spectacular is the real deal.
I became a mouth-breather for those five minutes. A Spitfire looping and diving is one of the most impressive piston-engined displays. What a machine.
I am racing in the RAC TT Celebration and the Fordwater Trophy. The two cars couldn't be more different. In the Fordwater I'm a beautiful little Alfa Giulietta Sprint with just 1,300cc and the sweetest chassis. In the TT it's the one-off Lister Coupe with 3.8 litres of Crossthwaite and Gardiner Jaguar straight-six. My team-mate is Touring Car legend Anthony Reid and, yes, I'm feeling the pressure about that one a little bit!
The weather's a bit mean-spirited right now, but as a Goodwood virgin, I just cannot believe this event. It's all about the attention to detail, which really does border on the obsessive. The drivers' area is a vast re-creation of a Fighter Command mess, complete with vast drawing room area! I've never seen anything like it.
Two qualifying sessions today. Lots of milling about in the paddock ogling stunning machinery. And probably not too much time looking at the three 250 GTOs parked right behind the Lister. I mean how do you hustle your way past something worth £30m?
The thing about the Goodwood motor racing circuit is its speed. Even in a little 1,300cc Alfa you find yourself hurtling around the place at large speeds and it takes a while to understand just how open some of the radii actually are - I'm a novice here having driven the track several times but never raced on it.
Qualifying for the Fordwater Trophy was a touch daunting seeing as the stunning little Veloce was parked next to a pair of Ferrari 250 Tour de Frances, both of which are in the same race!
Even in a flyweight Italian, brake wear is the main concern here, so I tried to be as easy on the drums as possible, and this was helped greatly by the fact that from the chicane to St Mary's the driver doesn't need to use them! No word of a lie, Madgwick is a lift, as is No Name, only then do you push reasonably hard on the middle pedal. The concept of staying away from the stoppers for pretty much half of one of the world's fastest circuits cannot fail to make a driver grin.
The motor doesn't really work below 5,500rpm, 7,000rpm is your limit and it has five closely-stacked gears. Rather disappointingly, in the dry there is more mechanical grip than you really want, so for the race I think we might bung a little more air in the rear tyres. We start the race in 21st position and pray for rain.
On a side note: the rear styling of the Sprint does look remarkably similar to the 250 TDF when parked side-by-side. Never noticed that before.
The main event was the RAC TT, with co-driver Anthony Reid starting the first of the two 25-minute practice sessions. In typical BTCC style he muscled his way out of the paddock and was quickest on the timing sheets for the first few laps in traffic with a 1:29.5 before the gorgeous AC Cobra of the Bryants posted a very rapid 1:26.3 lap.
Anthony responded with a 1:26.9 for P2 and that's where we stayed until we swapped drivers and I had my first look at this place from behind that vast Lister bonnet.
I managed one corner before seeing a red flag!
Some poor soul had suffered a suspension failure in a Maserati, so we trudged back into the pits, nobody more frustrated than me because I really only have potentially 10-15 laps across both sessions to prepare for the race. The officials stopped the clock, but I was the penultimate car in the pit lane and it meant silly traffic for the remaining 12 minutes.
But what a circuit and what a car! Oversteer pretty much wherever you want it, sensational feel through all of the controls and great brakes - you just have to manage the initial weight transfer though. Getting used to the sheer speed of Fordwater and the run into Woodcote wasn't easy, but I felt comfortable after the third lap could then push. My last lap was a 1:29.4, much of it stuck behind a very wide lightweight E-Type (can't believe I'm actually typing that). So I think we're on the money. Would just love to have a clear lap now! In reality, when you have Anthony as your team-mate, you kind of know who will set the qualifying time.
We were just pipped into 3rd spot at the end by Le Mans legend Nicolas Minassian in another Cobra, but that's still a front-row starting spot if we can hold position after today's third qualifying.
Still can't quite believe I'm doing this!
After the Freddy March last night I went for a wander in the paddock: is there anything more beautiful than old racing cars splattered with water and lurking under strip-lamps?
Wish us luck.
And it was all going so well. The car was fantastic, the drivers appeared to be on the money, and then the oil pressure light gave an insidious wink. Chief mechanic and general legend Vernon was starting the motor in preparation for the 11.55am qualifying session and shut it down immediately, but mechanical instruments don't lie so the inquest began.
The main culprits were the oil pumps, the fear being that the engine could have ingested something if one of them had disintegrated. The investigation continues as I write this. Bloody motorsport.
We missed the second qualifying session, but only dropped one place on the final grid - the Jean Alesi 250 GTO/64 nipped ahead of us by 0.08sec. Again, I never thought I'd write that - so we are placed fourth on the grid because you don't have to complete both sessions.
Now we just need to see if the car is able to start the race. I'm just praying it does. The flag drops at 2pm, and I'm driving the little Alfa at 9.30am, but right now it's the Lister I'm thinking about.
Sunday morning wasn't bleak, but it was tense.
Crosthwaite and Gardiner, alongside mechanics Vernon and Stephen, did an amazing job to fix the Lister's oil pumps working late into Saturday night, but we were still racing into the unknown. Somehow the car's owner managed to persuade race control to let the Lister run an installation lap immediately before the Fordwater Trophy formation lap with Anthony behind the wheel.
The oil pressure was good and the motor felt just as good as it had on Friday. We were back in the race.
I was driving the little Giulietta Sprint Veloce in the Fordwater, so had the slightly bizarre opportunity to stand next to both cars in the holding paddock before we moved onto the circuit.
It was pretty clear from the start of the race that the Alfa had lost some power between Friday and Sunday - I managed a decent start in 21st place, but by the time we reached the first turn, I was penultimate and then last before No Name! I managed a small dice with some chap in an AC Ace who had clearly never seen the circuit before, and other than that just trundled around staying out of people's way. My times were five seconds off qualifying pace!
It was a lovely place to be, but I'd be lying if I said that gaining my first ever genuine last place finish and being lapped twice in 25 minutes was what I wanted from racing in front of such a large crowd.
So I really wanted to go well in the TT.
Missing second qualifying for the TT wasn't such a big problem for us in terms of start position - we remained fourth on the grid, on the best side of row two. The problem for me was the lack of running. Yes, the Alfa gave me a decent chance to look at the circuit (it was flat from the chicane to St Mary's!), but I'd only completed seven laps of the circuit, including the out and ins in the Lister, and I was starting the race. Oh, and I hadn't practiced a standing start before. But Anthony had been incredibly helpful talking lines and strategy, so I didn't feel too worried. We knew the car was good.
The green flag lap gave me a practice start, which seemed fine - 4,500rpm and a slipped clutch did the job. Then followed the slowest, most irritating warm-up lap. So slow we couldn't get heat into anything and then it was the race start. Staring at a £20m Ferrari. Life is strange.
My recollection of events is, I'm sorry to admit, a little hazy. I was probably a fraction of a second late on the initial getaway because the starter's flag was right in the A-pillar's blind spot, but didn't seem to lose too much ground. Piling into Madgwick on cold rubber in that kind of a gaggle was something entirely new, but you know what, you're racing and not thinking about the cars at that point. The first lap was pretty silly, very close quarters and made me feel about as alive as I can remember feeling.
The lead Cobra was holding us all up a bit, which made for some pretty outrageous racing - having a lightweight E-Type fling its way up inside you at No Name at 100mph is pretty alarming, but there wasn't any contact until the Alesi Ferrari clattered an E-Type at Madgwick - I was about five yards behind when it happed. It looked completely surreal - in the way only a £25m coming together can.
Thinking cap now on, it was clear that the Lister was running beautifully, had a great, slight oversteer balance and was quicker than the Cobras through No Name, Madgwick and especially Woodcote. Under power the American cars just disappeared. But the best chance of the race for me was after the first Safety Car. No racing is allowed before the start finish line, but the leader tried to back everyone up, so we all split behind him, ending up four abreast over the line and I had a great run into Madgwick, jumping from fourth to second.
Following the lead Cobra was just awesome. It was laying two black lines through Fordwater at 125mph! But the crude chassis just couldn't cope with the technical sections and Woodcote was clearly the least risky place to try and pass. This I managed, only to get way too heavy on the throttle and pull a big slide on the exit of the chicane, soil my undercrackers and lose the position again. I eventually did get by, but can't remember if it was next lap or the one after!
I was called in for the driver change just as the safety car was deployed, which looked like perfect timing, but didn't actually help us that much. We actioned the sub-10 second pit stop we'd practiced many, many times and Anthony headed out into the spitting rain.
What happend in the second part of the race will probably haunt me forever, but whichever way I look at it, I think we would always have struggled to win the race. Anthony drove beautifully in heavy rain, he held a constant gap of around 10 seconds to the Bryant Cobra, but what none of us spotted was the astonishing pace of the Aston Project 212 driven by Simon Hadfield. He suddenly began tearing chunks of time out of Anthony, the heavy, soft Aston looking visibly faster than every other car on the circuit. Sadly including us. I was just pacing around the back of the garage unable to watch.
On the penultimate lap, he came by, but Anthony thought it was a lapped car un-lapping itself, realised what had happened and then tried to chase him down. The Lister was too skittish in the standing water though and the dice ended with the Lister brushing the tyres. He somehow managed to get going again and still cross the line in second place.
So I'm sitting here now with mixed emotions. This was a special experience, and second place earns you a cigar from Lord March's butler, which is all I really wanted from the event. I mean, how cool is that?
But we went racing to win, and we just failed to carry out the plan. That's pretty painful knowing I will almost certainly never have the chance to do it again.
But what an honour, and what an event. Suspect I'll remember it for some time
Race photos: LAT Photo