May 17, 2024

Linkage Mag

Geared for the Automotive Life

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Closer to Heaven — Inside the 81st Goodwood Members’ Meeting

By William Lansbury for Linkage magazine

Although up at dawn, I was still late and stuck in a traffic jam. I didn’t mind because I was surrounded by lovely old Austins, Rovers, MGs and even a few 1950s Rolls and Bentleys on the way to The 81st Members’ Meeting at Goodwood.

The Members’ Meeting, held in April and presented by Audrain Motorsport, is a weekend of historic motor racing offering the enthusiast a full experience of racing, on-track displays, music and even fireworks.

Image: Kieran Cleeves/PA Media Assignments, courtesy of Goodwood

There are over a dozen races and lots of on-track displays from Edwardian racing cars, Can Am sports cars, Formula One — and making a debut this year, motorcycle sidecars.

Racing drivers are jolly types, happy to explain exactly how they have vanquished their fellow competitors. Sidecar racers are different — they aren’t like the rest of us normal types.

This was the first time I’d seen sidecars in action. The idea is that the driver drives and the passenger jumps from side to side to change the balance of the bike through the bendy bits, and all this insanity happens an inch off the ground at 160 mph. I’d be terrified and hanging on for dear life, but after the event, they look like they have had a sedate drive to the local supermarket and managed to get a particularly good deal on tea bags.

Image: Kieran Cleeves/PA Media Assignments, courtesy of Goodwood
Image: Ben Whitley/PA Media Assignments, courtesy of Goodwood

Motor racing is like a ballet, the cars describing graceful arcs as they four-wheel drift, their engines providing the orchestra. At Goodwood you can get really close to this music, in the paddock and out on the circuit. I recommend the left-handed bend called St. Mary’s. From here you can get up close to the action.

I found a gap in my timetable and decided to enjoy a spot of lunch. Although there is food available all around the circuit, I decided to eat in a re-creation of the Great Hall from Hogwarts School, complete with masters in gowns and pennants and armorial shields hanging from the ceiling.

After lunch there was more on track action, with a demonstration of the hugely powerful Can Am sports racing cars. Later, Gerhard Berger blasted around the track in his 1989 Formula One Ferrari. Races at this event are named after famous drivers and riders. The last race of the day was named after illustrious racer Gordon Spice.

This was a two-driver race for saloon cars from the 1970s and early ’80s. As it started at 6:45 pm, the cars raced into the dusk with the aroma of an English spring rising from the damp earth. The Edwardian carousel thumped out tunes as the headlights flashed past the pits. I wonder if this is as close to motoring heaven as you can get? 

Image: Kieran Cleeves/PA Media Assignments, courtesy of Goodwood

As the race ended I became aware of a syncopated drumming, I assumed someone was having a party but it was a Brazilian street band. As they were being followed by a precession of tweed-covered race goers, I stepped in line, trying to emulate some of their rhythmic moves. The band led us through trees lit by fairy lights to an area with lots of places to buy food and where various other bands performed energetically. I watched the crowd jumping about, which shows the Goodwood race fan is young at heart. The day was brought to an end by a truly spectacular firework display before the crowd melted away.

Image: Kieran Cleeves/PA Media Assignments, courtesy of Goodwood

Sunday offered an incredible program of racing. I thought I’d beat the crowds and get there really early but thousands of others had the same thought. I picked a spot on the roof of the pits, which is a great place to watch the race starts. It’s also a great place to survey the paddock, which looks beautiful with its blossom trees and historic racing cars.

William Grover-Williams — the first winner of the Monaco Grand Prix — was celebrated in an all-Bugatti race, and Niki Lauda was also celebrated by an on-track display of his championship-winning McLaren. 

After another lunch at Hogwarts, I watched from the chicane, where you can see the concentration on the faces of the drivers. This is a place for ear plugs — cars blast by at full song, using all of their revs. 

After the last race a tranquility descends. Spectators wander around the paddock to drink in the last of their weekend, and as they make their way back across the fields to their cars, content and happy, they imagine they too could drive these cars.

When the last transporter leaves and the gates of the circuit are shut, the fox and the badger reclaim their territory and sniff the damp earth of an English spring.  — William Lansbury