Goodwood Revivals Past, Present - and Future - Derek Bell Column - December 2012

14th March 2013

It takes a particular kind of individual to convey an idea with absolute clarity. I admit I didn’t really know what to expect when I attended the inaugural Goodwood Revival back in 1998. The circuit holds a particular place in my affections as it’s where I made my racing debut in ’64, so the opportunity to compete there again wasn’t to be missed.

Lord March did a fine job of charming and cajoling the powers-that-be into allowing track action to return for that one September weekend. And with that hurdle vaulted, he set about twisting arms and calling in favours to realise his vision of quality grids and a period look. What he and his team accomplished was a heady mix of authenticity and artifice that raised the bar for what we have come to expect from a historic festival.

All of which came into focus in the run-up to this year’s 
event. September began with the wonderful Chelsea AutoLegends. 
I have come to enjoy this because it’s stylish but also somewhat informal. Held in the Royal Hospital Gardens, it offers visitors the chance to ogle some amazing cars in a lovely setting, yet it’s within a few minutes’ walk of a bus stop or tube station. To have such an event in the heart of the nation’s capital would have been unthinkable a decade or so ago – at least one that is so widely supported.

Fast-forward a week or so, and I was back in London as chief judge for the sun-baked Salon Privé held at Syon Park. This, too, was a wonderful event with a garden party atmosphere; one that contrasts automotive icons from the past with modern-day supercars to winning effect. It’s beautifully presented and I imagine that going forward it will become a permanent fixture. From there, it was on to the Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance, an event held in association with this very magazine. I take my hat off to the organisers for obtaining permission to use the Queen’s residence for such a show. That in itself was a coup, but the array of cars on display was something else including the Bentley's, both modern and historic, with the Embiricos making a rare appearance. This was the first-ever running of the concours and, such was the reaction from car owners and the paying public, I imagine it won’t be the last.

Which leads us back to Goodwood. Memories tend to blend and blur, and I find it amazing that 2012 marked the 15th running of the Revival. What’s more, I have competed at every one of them! Back in 1998, I was even honoured with the Spirit of Goodwood award, which floored me. Somehow, each year it gets better and better, and you really do feel as though you are appearing in an old Pathé newsreel. It’s quite unlike any other race meeting, that’s for sure.

Each Revival manages to surpass the previous one, and I admit I love the fact that everyone gets so into it: the chaps get suited and booted, and the ladies are invariably dressed to the nines. Those attending who don’t get into character, who don’t make the effort, are the ones who really stick out. As for the circuit itself, drivers love it because it’s free-flowing and requires real skill to master. Most classic circuits have been hacked about and reconfigured, and Goodwood is one of the few tracks suited to the old stuff; there are no nadgery second-gear chicanes or suchlike.

For the 2012 Revival, I had the pleasure of sharing Jon Shirley’s Ferrari 250GTO in the RAC TT Celebration race. Jon’s an experienced pilot in historics, but I think it would be fair to say that competing at Goodwood for the first time was an eye-opener. Anyone new coming into the Revival will have preconceptions, and when they’re out in Friday practice with Martin Brundle, Jochen Mass and other ‘name’ drivers, it soon becomes apparent that these guys mean business! But Jon found his rhythm and got faster each time he went out.

At the opposite end of the scale was the Jaguar Mk1 I raced in the opening instalment of the St Mary’s Trophy saloon thrash. The car has belonged to Tony Williams for aeons, and his son Grant races it brilliantly. He probably has the best car control I’ve ever seen, and we have teamed up to win in the past. Sadly, this time around the gearbox lost its oil while I was driving on the Saturday. But, typically, Tony tore back to deepest Wales to pick up another ’box, and Grant was able to win part two on Sunday.

The 2012 Goodwood Revival was a triumph, yet in so many ways it remains the yardstick by which other, ostensibly similar, events are judged. As for where His Lordship goes from here, I think back to what I said after the first meeting back in 1998: ‘Charles March had a dream and we are now part of that dream.’ Keep dreaming, Charles.

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