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6th August 2004
Goodwood Festival of Speed
Imagine a barking mad hill-climb event run in someone's back garden... which has gotten a bit out of hand. Russ Gannicott dropped in on Lord March's annual bash...
They call it flaming June…. OK, so how come the one day of the month I really want to be dry, it tips down? One of the hazards of living in England I suppose, but I shouldn't complain. I only had to travel fifty miles to the event, unlike the many others who'd covered thousand of miles to get there and were not going to allow a little rain to spoil the twelfth annual Festival of Speed.
Every June Lord March throws open the gates to his Goodwood estate and plays host to what is now considered the world's most prestigious motor sport event. Three solid days of champagne, glitz, glamour and oily rags in the most bizarre hill-climb event you'll ever see. Winding through the estate and passing across the front lawn of Lord March's stately home is a narrow track which sees the most remarkable mixture of machinery competing against the clock to be 'king of the hill'. Vehicles from the dawn of motoring to the latest F1 cars and exotic racing motorbikes battle it out in front of around 150,000 spectators throughout the course of the weekend.
This year was the first time that you couldn't pay on the gate… you had to have an advance ticket or you wouldn't get in. So despite the rain on the Saturday it was a full house and, I have to admit, the damp conditions made for some pretty interesting runs! A nice touch this year was the radio commentary. When you paid a tenner for a copy of the highly collectable programme, you got a free 'in-ear' radio which was pre-tuned to the live commentary. This was a great asset to our son Ash, as his hearing problem prevents him from catching most of the PA announcements, so this really made his day…nice one Goodwood.
One of the things I love about this event is that every machine has a significant history but the owners are not afraid to use them in anger. Obviously most of us can't imagine how you can justify throwing a priceless classic racing bike down the track, or taking the side out of half a million pounds worth of Ferrari on the wall, but it does happen and the owners are prepared to accept the risk as it becomes just another part of the vehicles racing history. Oh, to have that kind of money!
This is a going to be read by classic bike enthusiasts, so I won't bore you with details of all the classic Rolls Royces (including John Lennon's!), Le Mans cars, historic racing cars, Paris-Dakar entrants and current F1 teams and drivers who were there. We'll concentrate on the bikes.
The emphasis at Goodwood is always on quality not quantity, so the bike paddock looked a little sparse but did give you the chance to get up close to some amazing machines. When I say 'get up close', I mean it. There are no taped off barriers (unless the bikes are being worked on) and you can stick your head right in there… which I did in the case of Mike Hailwood's famous 900SS Ducati. In fact I've got a cut on top of my head to prove it! Some 'wag' fired up a six cylinder Honda right next to me and made me jump so much I caught the top of my head on the fairing! Once again this bike was being ridden by Mike's son David and it certainly sends shivers down your spine when you see and hear it running with the rider wearing his Dad's helmet and leathers.
First on the list was a Ducati 2001 998 FO1, in fact the very bike that took Troy Bayliss to Superbike stardom in the 2001 series. Following the weekend's theme of 'Old Masters and Young Chargers', it seemed most apt that the bike was being ridden this time out by Ducati and Imola legend, Paul Smart.
As previously mentioned, Mike Hailwood's 1978 900SS TT was there in all its glory.
Completing the Ducati line-up was the 999R; the homologation special which took Neil Hodgson to last year's victory and which is currently campaigned by Leon Haslam who was demonstrating it this weekend. I never fail to be amazed by the remarkable Haslam family. Since my youth, I don't think I can remember a time when there wasn't a Haslam at the forefront of racing and despite the tragedies of the past, they continue to be a genuine national treasure… long may it continue.
Once again the MV owners club put on a good display of diverse and desirable machinery, but the real stars were in the paddock. John Surtees' own five-times GP winning 1960 500 four was there in all its glory, being ridden in style by Guido Guarnieri. Wow, you should hear it!
Parked alongside this beautiful bike was the new limited edition (300 only!) F4 Ago. This is a truly stunning machine and just to enforce its undeniable pedigree, who should ride it up the hill? The great man himself, fifteen times world title holder, Giacomo Agostini. Seeing events like this in your own back yard makes you feel very privileged indeed.
Honda and Goodwood enjoy a special, if not unique relationship. I believe I am correct in saying that the Festival of Speed is the only event in the world where Honda are prepared to wheel out their most prized museum exhibits, ship them half way round the globe and allow them to be run in anger. This year's stunning (and ear splitting!) line-up was;
In addition to these classics, Michael Rutter was demonstrating the current CBR1000RR Honda Plant Racing Fireblade which is a contender in the 2004 British Superbike Championship.
I have to say, one of the things that summed up Honda's approach to both this event and their racing generally was the support team they sent over. As you would expect there were the immaculately turned out mechanics and technicians with their pristine, ordered toolboxes… and then there was this other bloke. His sole job seemed to consist of keeping the red carpet (with which they'd floored their pit area) clean by using the world's smallest carpet sweeper! Every time we went past, there he was going back and forth clearing the minutest specks of dust and detritus from the floor!
Amongst the other machines on display and taking on the hill was a cracking Seeley G50 outfit piloted by the great Colin Seeley himself, a lovely 1964 BMW R50S, BMW 1000 H&M ( ridden by Herbert Deiss) and a quite evil looking Benelli TNT.
Emblazoned with a large No 1, the Foggy Petronas FP1WSB was displayed both statically and in anger up the hill by no less than the team 'boss' and the more than capable Chris Walker. This is a great sounding bike and quite unlike anything else I've heard.
Now, I have to admit, I'm not the world's biggest Moto Guzzi fan, in fact, over the past thirty years there have only been a few models that have grabbed my attention. The Mk1 Le Mans is the most obvious and of course any of the limited models built by Magni… but there again, anything built by Magni demands a second look. Anyway, this narrow-sighted view I have of Moto Guzzi has just changed… I've fallen in love! The MGS01 is one of the most stunning bikes I've ever seen. Everything about it looks right. In fact Ash and I were so impressed we had our picture taken with it -- just to put a scale on it you understand? They've hand-built around 200 of these 1256cc beauties so far and aim to have a full production version out later this year. Nice.
There were several outfits at Goodwood, including the Windle 1000. This is the British built machine with which Steve Abbot and Jamie Briggs won the 2002 World Championship title. A terrifying machine, it scared me just looking at it!
I have to say, one of the stars of the show for me was the remarkable Patsy Quick. One of the themes this year was the Paris-Dakar and a cross section of typical contenders were on show including Patsy and her monster 660cc KTM. Apart from being the 2001 women's Enduro and Motocross champion, Patsy is setting off on next New Years Day in an attempt to be the first British woman to complete the Dakar rally. I for one wish her the very best of luck!
The last bike that really grabbed my attention was a beautiful vision in silver, chrome and polished ally. It sat there looking purposeful but understated… brand new but of classical proportions. It was a Borile -- the first I've had the pleasure to see. What a fantastic looking bike; big 500cc GM single, wonderfully crafted duplex frame and state of the art mono shock and up-side down forks. This was the B500 CR which is a great credit to designer Umberto Borile, whose love of classic British café racer singles inspired him to craft this modern masterpiece. I don't know how much one of these would cost, but I'm pretty sure I couldn't afford one!
I guess the only downside to the day we went to Goodwood was, as I said earlier, the weather. Not that it affected our enjoyment; the bikes and cars still did their practice runs up the hill, the sensational air displays (including an aerobatic 747!) took place and the static displays and stalls were thronged with happy punters. The problem was it was lousy weather for taking photographs so I apologise for my rather feeble attempts at recording the event and suggest that you make sure you go in person next year and experience it for yourself!
Been anywhere nice?
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