PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND - If, according to one dictionary definition, a ghost is the soul or spirit of a dead person that can appear -- in visible form or other manifestation -- to the living, then I believe in ghosts.
Offered as proof this past weekend, here at the Earl of March's palatial estate some 100 km southwest of London, were hundreds of manifestations on display -- loud, ferocious and often priceless, two-wheeled and four, historical and new. And an adoring crowd of more than 150,000 petrol heads endured sweltering heat and a blazing sun to see them perform.
All it took to trust in the other-worldly was an abiding conviction that these machines -- most built before the age of super-computers, design by committee and marketing studies -- were the embodiment of the blood, sweat, genius, ingenuity, bravery and sacrifice of the individuals, many long dead, who originally constructed and raced them. The fact that a good number were being piloted by legends of motorsport added to the zeal.
The event was the 20th annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, a three-day extravaganza of the automobile and motorcycle as mechanisms of speed and competition. Called the largest and most diverse classic motorsport event in the world, it took place on the vast grounds belonging to Charles Henry Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March and Kinrara.
Although not the only attraction, the hillclimb -- a timed 1.8-km journey up what is essentially the twisting driveway to and past Goodwood House, his Lordship's family residence -- was the primary focus of the crowd's attention.
One by one, according to age and classification, the machines assaulted the course with a blend of speed (sometimes) and noise (constant).
In deference to the vehicle's mechanical condition -- and value -- (one would be hard pressed to replace the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that meandered up the hill for less than $25-million), some drivers took it easy, while others, playing to the crowd, put pedal to the metal (or, in the case of the hotrods and dragsters, performed great, smoky burnouts). Always a crowd favourite, Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton did doughnuts.
And the cacophony -- pick your choice of music; the banshee shriek of a 1960s Honda Grand Prix motorcycle, the wrath of God from a Chevy V8-powered Shadow Can-Am race car, the mellifluous tones from a 1920s Bugatti Type 35 or the modern equivalent and far more deafening holler of Hamilton's F1 car -- and everything in between: NASCAR stockers, Indianapolis race cars, Trans-Am cars, vintage and modern rally cars and endurance racers from the 1930s to this year's Le Mans-winning Audi R15 e-tron Quattro. (I was particularly mesmerized by the flowing aerodynamics and deep burgundy shade of a 1938 8C 2900B Speciale tipo Le Mans, one of Alfa Romeo's immaculately restored museum cars.)
Alfa was one of only a number of manufacturers that trotted out rare artifacts from their respective museums, often to honour some motorsport milestone. Celebrating 50 years of the 911, Porsche had examples of each of its seven generations present at the festival. Joining this selection was an impressive lineup of historic Le Mans veterans from the Porsche Museum collection in Stuttgart, Germany -- the 911 GT1-98 and the 935/78 "Moby Dick," the 1987 962 and the 936 Spyder. As for new, the $845,000 918 hybrid sports car attracted an appreciative crowd.
Celebrating two significant motorsport victories -- the 30th anniversary of Hannu Mikkola becoming the first Audi driver to clinch the World Championship title in the Rally quattro A2, and the 25th anniversary of winning the Trans-Am title with its 200 quattro sedan -- the company had both cars on display.
Jaguar's selection of heritage cars included a record-breaking XK120, which was once driven for seven days and seven nights at an average speed of more than 100 miles per hour; a D-type; the Group C XJR-9 that won Le Mans in 1988 and the one and only XJ13 in existence -- a thunderous 5.0-litre V12 endurance car developed for Le Mans but never raced.
BMW brought, among others, the BMW-powered Brabham BT52 that Nelson Piquet used to win the 1983 F1 World Championship and the BMW V12 LMR that won Le Mans in 1999. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, McLaren showcased everything from its 12C Spider and P1 sports cars to the M8F Can-Am car of Denny Hulme to the M23 grand prix car of Emerson Fittipaldi, the MP4/4 of Ayrton Senna, and the MP4-13, which Mika Hakkinen took the 1998 Drivers' and Constructors' championships (this car, with driver Nick Heidfeld in the cockpit, also established an unbeaten 41.6-second record up the hill at the 1999 Festival of Speed). Oh, yes, and the F1 GTR that won Le Mans in 1995. And so it went.
Judging by the dust plumes billowing with every turn of the wheel, rally masters were having huge fun at the Rally Forest Stage near the hillclimb finish line. When not haring through the woods to the delight of the crowd that had trekked (or rode in wagons towed by monstrous tractors) to the top to see them, these cars were in their own special paddock area to be admired. Contenders from some of the top works teams such as Ford, Subaru and Peugeot were on display, along with fire-spitting 500-hp Group B cars of the 1980s, including Audi's Sport Quattro, Lancia's Delta S4 and Peugeot's 205 T16; limited-production Group 4 icons such as the Lancia Stratos and Alpine-Renault A110, and less modified saloons, such as the Escort RS2000 that represented the era before purpose-built rally cars.
Other paddocks throughout the estate included the Formula One Paddock (self-explanatory), the Cathedral Paddock for historic and modern race cars and motorcycles, and the Supercar Paddock, for the latest hyper-exotic machines.
But some of the most stunning and desirable cars were spread out on the lawn of Goodwood House, as far removed from the din as possible. As part of the Cartier "Style et Luxe" competition, this concours d'elegance celebrates -- as described -- "the beautiful, the imaginative and the innovative in automotive design, a tribute to the talents that produced the great cars." The competition comprises approximately 50 cars in 10 classes representing the history of motoring. From the regal majesty of 1929 Bugatti Type 41 Royale (a car that could match the Ferrari GTO in value) to the curvy sensuality of the 1968 Lamborghini Miura to the sinister presence of the 1938 Phantom Corsair, this rolling stock of gold bullion was divine representation of just some of the headline vehicles that have been on display over the past 20 years of the Festival of Speed.
Try as I did to take it all in, the Festival is simply overpowering in size and scope, so kudos to the Earl of March and the army of organizers involved for creating the world-class event. There is literally something for everyone who is a motor head and has an interest in racing history. More importantly, for those of us who believe in ghosts, it is most reassuring to know they are very friendly indeed.
Not every car is renowned nor every driver a legend, but that doesn't make their stories any less interesting. I came across John Bright, a rather affable Brit, changing out of his racing suit after running a 1968 Howmet TX up the hillclimb. The car, owned by a wealthy German who has an affinity for race cars that ran with Gulf Racing livery, is maintained and driven by Bright in England. What makes the U.S.-built Howmet noteworthy is that this sports prototype endurance car with a well-documented history (Le Mans, Sebring, Daytona, Brands Hatch, Watkins Glen, etc.), if mostly unspectacular results, is turbine powered -- specifically an Allison C250 helicopter engine that puts out 440 horsepower when running on aviation gasoline.
While weighing only 140 pounds, the engine's biggest detriment, says Bright, is incredible thirst; under racing conditions it goes through the contents of its 100-litre fuel tank in just 40 minutes. Also, the engine directly drives the rear wheels -- there are no gears or clutch. The problem, Bright says, is that there is no engine braking under deceleration, which means greater wear on the brakes.
As for Bright, this Festival of Speed was his first as a driver, which, he says, was "a big thrill -- huge." And, like others, the significance of Goodwood is not lost on him.
"[The Festival] gives you a good chance to run cars like this that would never be seen anywhere else."
-- Postmedia News