The Greatest Show On Earth: A Weekend At The Goodwood Revival
Seventy five years ago today, on the 18th of September 1948, Goodwood Motor Circuit opened it gates.
Located around two hours’ drive south of London, the circuit was formed using the perimeter road of a World War II airbase. The track itself is around 2.3 miles long, and has a need for power due to several high speed straights. Goodwood Circuit is well known for many reasons. It’s where the late, great Sir Stirling Moss achieved his first ever victory, and it’s played host to Formula One races and high-profile endurances. It is also where Moss ended his career, and where Bruce McLaren tragically lost his life while testing his new M8D Can-Am car.
Goodwood Circuit ceased all competitive motorsport events in 1966 due to the high speeds being achieved, but it reopened its doors in 1998 for the very first Goodwood Revival – an event that celebrates the facility’s rich racing heritage. Since ’98, the Revival has been a highlight on the international motorsports calendar, attracting some very special cars – many of which raced here in period – and some of the world’s greatest drivers.
This year’s event was my first time attending, and I made the most of it by being present for all three days. After a long weekend spent at the 2023 Goodwood Revival, I have to confess – I’m now totally addicted to it.
One of my main worries on the lead up to the event, was what I was going to wear, as the organisers request that everyone be dressed in pre-1966 attire. But as the weekend coincided with a heatwave here in the UK, the dress code was relaxed slightly. That said, many patrons and everyone taking part made an effort, which was a real spectacle in itself.
Entering the circuit on the first day felt like stepping back in time, except I did not arrive in a DeLorean DMC-12 with a Mr. Fusion fuel system and a flux capacitor. At 8:00am, the event came alive: tyre pressures were checked, mechanics made final adjustments to engines, and fuel tanks were topped off. Some cars were push-started on the tow road.
The busy paddock bathed in soft morning light was a photographer’s paradise, so I could not let the opportunity go to waste.
The first action on track each day was a motorcycle parade, with over 200 bikes from as early as 1900 ridden around the circuit.
Friday was qualifying, and some of the first four-wheeled machines to hit the track for the 2023 Revival were sports cars from 1952 to 1955. The Freddie March Memorial Trophy is an hour-long race in the spirit of the nine-hour endurance races that were contested at Goodwood Circuit in period. The qualifying session saw two drivers share the seat time in each car for 25 minutes, setting the grid for the race at dusk.
Everything from Aston Martin DB3s, to Jaguar C-Types and Ferrari 340 MM lined up for the main event. The C-Type co-driven by 2009 Formula One world champion Jenson Button led the race until mechanical problems forced its retirement.
The next race of note was the St. Mary’s Trophy, which celebrated the foundations of what we today know as touring car racing. This race saw drivers such as Tom Kristensen, Marino Franchitti and Rowan Atkinson to name a few take to the circuit in pre-1959 salon cars. This was one of the most fascinating events of the weekend for me, as tiny Austin A35s raced alongside huge Ford Thunderbirds. It was definitely not an equal race, but that’s what made it unique. Watching a BMW 700 fight for the same racing line as a Mk7 Jaguar was both exciting and scary.
Of all the races on the programme, the Lavant Cup for Ferrari GT cars from the 1960s was the one I was most looking forward to. Think 250 GTO, 250 GT Breadvan, 330 GTO, 250 GT SWB, 250 LM and others. During the race on Saturday, a silver 250 GTO driven by Karun Chandok had an engine failure which locked the rear wheels and caught on fire. Thanks to Karun’s skilful handling, he managed to take the car off track, park it up and get out safely. I was fortunate enough to catch up with him following the incident, and he was still happy to have just been at the wheel of such a valuable car (the last 250 GTO sold for over US$70m).
The most exciting race of the weekend took place on Sunday, when the skies opened during the Royal Automobile Club TT Celebration for closed cockpit prototypes from the 1960s. This was a contest between brute force and light weight – AC Cobras locking heads with Jaguar E-Types amongst other cars – that would have been thrilling enough had it not rained. The race started dry, and the AC Cobra piloted by Marino Franchitti created an 11-second lead going into the halfway driver change. But when the pit lane opened, the rain bucketed down at the back end of the circuit, causing some drivers to lose control of their cars. An E-Type went off the circuit, and while the driver was getting out of the car, the Bizzarrini 5300GT came off at the same location and went straight into the barrier. The race restarted after a red flag, but due to the damp track, the Cobras struggled to put their power down. The E-Types, meanwhile, were built for these conditions, and as such two Jaguars overtook the lead Cobra to take first and second when the chequered flag dropped.
Being a Porsche nutter, I also quite enjoyed the Fordwater Trophy which comprised of early 911s and 901s. As the sun set, this race was a sight to behold.
The 2023 Goodwood Revival weekend celebrated a few things, including Lotus and the genius who was Colin Chapman. At the event, I saw the first Lotus ever built by Chapman and several of his Formula 2 cars take to the circuit alongside his famous Formula 1 machines.
The other notable celebration was in remembrance of Carroll Shelby on what would have been his 100th birthday. The track was invaded by AC Cobras, GT40s, Shelby Mustangs, Aston Martin DB3s, DBR2, DBR4, and a Sunbeam Tiger Le Mans Coupe to name a few. All these cars were either engineered by Shelby or raced by him. Drivers even wore American Stetson hats for the special parade.
The final celebration saw Sir Jackie Stewart drive a lap around the circuit in his title-winning Tyrrell 006 from 1972.
I spent three full days at Goodwood Circuit for the 2023 Revival, and enjoyed every minute of it. The noise, the smell of fuel, the excitement in pit lane, spectators in their unique attire, and best of all the cars and their drivers – it all resulted in an event I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I really hope I can be a part of it for years to come.
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