Goodwood from the driving seat: a novice's view

Saturday 1pm
I arrive at the Goodwood camp site. I have nowhere particular to be for a couple of hours, but I head straight into the festival for a wander.

Camera loves Jag. It does not love Riggers
Camera loves Jag. It does not love Riggers
Wow. This place gets more like an outdoor motor show every year. In 2012 it looks like somebody's lifted the contents of an entire hall of the Geneva motor show and dropped them wholesale into a field in Sussex. Except it's better than that, because motor shows don't have racing cars of every creed and colour tear-arsing though the middle of them.

"It's like a funfair, only with cars" Sebastian Vettel tells the festival commentator, describing his first taste of the FoS. You're not wrong there, Seb - heck, the Mini stand even has dodgems.

Saturday, 3pm
Time for a brief chat with touring car aces John Cleland and Rob Huff, both of whom are driving Chevrolets up the hill (a Camaro and a Corvette Z06). There's a genuine camaraderie between these two that reminds you professional motorsport is still all about passion, even in these days of corporate line-toeing - Cleland jokes that Huff was 'a bit rubbish' when he started out in touring cars, while Huff has a gentle dig about Cleland's crash at the FoS back in 2008. In among the banter and hero worship (I grew up idolising Cleland and Huff is just, well, a damn fine WTCC driver) there's a bit of advice, too - watch out for Molecomb (the off-camber left-hander) being the main point.

Astra VXR drive was not to be...
Astra VXR drive was not to be...
Saturday, 3.30pm
Crikey, signing on as a driver at Goodwood is weird. Normally when it comes to sign-on at motorsport events (especially sprints and hill climbs) it's a case of queuing up to present your credentials in a draughty shed. But this is Goodwood, so you sign on at the drivers' club, which you access via a red carpet and a be-bouncered gate. For anybody used to the more earthy nature of grass-roots motor sport it's a surreal experience.

Saturday, 6.30pm
Sadly my first-ever run up Goodwood Hill (set to be in an Astra VXR) is cancelled, following a crash by a Gumpert Apollo. Any miffed-ness is put into perspective when we hear the passenger has had to be taken out on a spinal board. I later learn she's all right, albeit unable to drive for a week.

Group 44 E-Type is the stuff of dreams
Group 44 E-Type is the stuff of dreams
Still, it's an opportunity for the Vauxhall to try out a PH smiley or two for size.

Sunday, 8.45am
So. As fate would have it, my first ever run up the fabled hill climb is in a unique racing Jaguar E-Type. A car with hand-cut slick tyres and a reported 450hp going to its rear wheels courtesy of a V12 fed by four Stromberg carburettors. And when I wake up at half-past five in the Goodwood camp site I find it is raining. Hard. Gulp.

My nervous excitement barely abates when I arrive in the Cathedral Paddock and am squeezed into the deep bucket seat by Jaguar Heritage chap Dave Withers. The side of the roll cage pressing hard into my shoulder reminds me that this a car I do not want to hit a hay bale in, while the ferocious bark from the four side-exit exhausts (two either side) remind me that this is a car with a lot of poke. And, on a damp track, not a lot of grip.

V12 is extraordinarily loud
V12 is extraordinarily loud
After what seems an interminable wait, we trundle up to the start line, a marshall points me in the direction of the green light, and I'm off. The wheels spin on the damp surface all the way through first and second gear, and the roar from the exhausts is almost overwhelming. I have no clue whatsoever how much grip the tyres will offer, so I brake hilariously early for the first few corners - especially the treacherous off-camber Molecomb - but that does at least allow me to accelerate earlier.

And what an experience accelerating in the Group 44 car is. There are only four gears, which would lead you to expect relatively long gearing, but such is the power of the V12 (combined with the 5000-ish rpm limit recommended by Jaguar) that I get comfortably into fourth as we reach the top of the hill.

Chubby bloke poses next to pricey Nissan
Chubby bloke poses next to pricey Nissan
Then that's it. In a minute or so it's all over. But I've managed to get up without embarrassing myself, and I've learned that Bob Tullius's 1974 SCCA racer is a truly wonderful machine. Plus I get to drive it back down the hill again. Brilliant.

Sunday, 1pm:
Having had an hour or so to enjoy the sights and sounds of the cars running up the hill, it's time to go again, this time in the awesomely wacky Nissan Juke R. Oddly, I've had to go and sign on again, as this car is in the Supercar class, which this year actually requires a full race licence - whereas driving the Jaguar only needed a sprint/hill climb permit.

My passenger for this run is the 18-year-old Jake Hill, who's been racing since he was 15 and already has 20-or-so victories to his name. "It really is quite oversteery" he tells me, politely but firmly suggesting we keep the ESP on. He'll get no argument from me.

Juke R cuts an unusual figure
Juke R cuts an unusual figure
The upright Juke R couldn't be more of a contrast to the Jaguar. It pulls away from the line with little fuss, but immediately the boost from its twin-turbo 485hp V6 flings it forwards, and I'm grabbing away at the column-mounted gearshift paddles. Pitching it into the first corner there's a little wiggle from the rear. Its short wheelbase and relatively tall stance make it dartier than a GT-R would be and I'm genuinely glad of the stability control, as there's certainly very little room for error here.

It's a chuckable little thing, though. Kind of like you'd hope a modern Group B homologation special might feel, and gives me enough confidence to keep the throttle open all the way up the last part of the run. I don't have any idea what sort of time I've done and no, I doubt it was quite as special an experience as Monkey had in the Porsche 962, but it raises more than the odd smile. It certainly draws plenty of admiring glances from the crowd on the way back down though, even with a tyre-smoking GT500 Mustang wheelspinning its way along behind us.

Wacky Juke feels almost like a rally car
Wacky Juke feels almost like a rally car
Sunday, 6pm
Time for the off. It's been a fun two days and - even more than the obviously awesome opportunity to drive some genuinely cool metal - a reminder of precisely why Britain is a Mecca for car fans. Because everywhere I've been I've met knowledgeable, friendly and passionate car people. Forget the Olympics. The Festival of Speed is my sporting highlight of the summer.

Comments (22) Join the discussion on the forum

  • y2blade 07 Jul 2012

    bow fantastic.

  • Striple 07 Jul 2012

    herebebeasties said:
    How low is that front splitter!!!

  • jason61c 04 Jul 2012

    The mighty Arqiva! Thats who I work for, I wondered who was doing the RF this year as it wasn't the normal company.

  • Super Slo Mo 04 Jul 2012

    jason61c said:
    MMMM... who were you working for as we were the host OB?
    Arqiva. 3d and 2d radiocams.

  • herebebeasties 03 Jul 2012

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