Trying out some classic cars as part of Goodwood’s Revival Racing Experience

Great British Life: Goodwood ClassicsGoodwood Classics (Image: Jayson Fong - Form&Function Int'l)

Motor racing began at Goodwood in 1936, on the hill climb course still used at the annual Festival of Speed. The racing circuit was developed just after the war and opened in 1948. Right from the start, the circuit weaved a rich history in motorsport legend with Stirling Moss taking a victory on the first weekend of racing in a class that was later to become Formula 3. Since that day, the likes of Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Fangio and Jackie Stewart all tested themselves and each other around the 2.4 mile track.

Famous corners such as Woodcote, Lavant or St Mary's, the scene of an accident that ended Stirling Moss's international career, will make the motorsport fan shudder with anticipation. Such was the association of Goodwood with speed that Donald Campbell tested the Bluebird land speed record car on the track shortly before taking it to Australia where he broke the record in 1964.

In a story that resonates with the current debate about our only current Formula 1 track, Silverstone, the increasing speed of the machinery in the mid-1960s led to track safety regulations that would have forced track modifications to reduce the speeds at Goodwood. The owners did not want to modify the track and as a result, the last race meeting for 30 years was held in 1966 and the circuit fell into disuse. What may have seemed a travesty at the time became the lifeblood of the circuit as the 30 dormant years effectively sealed this classic track in a time capsule. In 1996, the 11th Duke realised the value of the track as the only classic circuit remaining in its original form in the world. The venue has gone from strength to strength since re-opening and is now a shining beacon of nostalgia for the classic period of motor racing. Early in this second lease of life for the circuit, the Goodwood Revival meeting was born; a three-day festival held each September that celebrates the racing cars and motorcycles that would have raced in the circuit's earlier period.

Great British Life: Goodwood ClassicsGoodwood Classics (Image: Jayson Fong - Form&Function Int'l)

It was into a world of heady nostalgia, petrol and rubber that I rolled as I passed beneath the famous Goodwood Motor Circuit sign and into the tunnel to the pits. Goodwood offers a Revival Racing Experience and I was here to try my hand behind the wheel of the circuit's fleet of classic cars. From period advertising to authentic racing overalls, the track exudes the essence of the period. Ten dream machines were lined up in the pits: a Lotus Cortina, Mk II Mini Cooper, Porsche 912, Alfa Romeo GTV, Lancia Fulva, MGB Hardtop, Mk 2 Jaguar, Ford Falcon, Austin A40 and a BMW 1800 Ti. I had the choice of four and was finding it difficult to choose.

After a briefing in the Jackie Stewart building it wasn't long before I was in a retro helmet and rolling down the pit lane at the wheel of a gruff-sounding Austin A40 with my heart thumping in anticipation. Thankfully, a team of experienced driving instructors is part of the experience and as the green light glowed and I was waved forwards, mine urged me to put my foot down and head out onto the wide circuit. After a tentative start, I gained confidence in the car and pushed hard with an ever-widening smile accompanying the roar of the engine and the squealing of straining rubber. Three laps passed in a blur of adrenaline.

The Mini Cooper was a favourite amongst the group, with a couple who had flown from Kuwait for a Sussex holiday especially for the experience particularly enjoying the go kart-like handling. Personally, I absolutely loved the MGB, a de-tuned race car with a sure-footed chassis and roaring powerhouse under the bonnet.

The instructors seemed to love the infectious atmosphere of the pits as we bubbled with enthusiasm for the cars and the track. Jody Fannin, in charge of the Mini Cooper today but more often paid to be behind the wheel of a BMW GT car racing on famous circuits around the world, summed it up when I asked him why he loves driving these much older cars. "Because it's great fun!" he chuckled. I'll second that. I'll be back!