THE MAN IN THE PUB

A day in the country

There aren't many things to tempt me away from the pub of a weekend, a Grand Prix of course will do it, but we've not had one of them for a couple of weeks now. However every year for the last 10 I have journeyed to West Sussex to visit Goodwood House. Back in 1993 car nut Lord March thought it might be wizard wheeze to have racing cars blast up the drive of his country pile just for the sheer hell of it. Around 10,000 other people thought this was a good idea, and so the Festival Of Speed was born. I went to my first Festival in 1994, and having seen Martin Brundle scream past in his twitchy McLaren Peugeot MP4-9, with nothing much more than a little white picket fence between me and him - it is fair to say I was hooked. Added to the fact that the paddock was open to mere mortals and (shock horror) the drivers actually seemed to enjoy mixing with the fans, the die was cast for what is now one of the highlights of the UK's motor sport calendar.

These days the Festival is huge and it is no longer a case of just turning up on the day and buying a ticket. In the course of the weekend the event now pulls in around 100,000 people - per day. If you want a seat in a specific grandstand then you need to make plans six months in advance. It takes about two years on the waiting list to join the Goodwood Road Racing Club, which has a nicer grandstand and hospitality.

Being a creature of habit, I always have a seat in the Startline grandstand. Rather stupidly I parked at Molecomb and so had to lug my beer container halfway across the county to get to my seat, by the time I got there I was sweating like Tony George on the morning of the United States Grand Prix. But at least, unlike the US GP, this would be worth the effort.

Here at the start, is where you will see the ‘burn outs', although since the organisers have stopped timing modern F1 car runs (following a very nasty accident some years ago) some drivers will stop and start all the way up the hill to amuse the crowds. Each year, the Festival has a theme, and this year it was "Racing Colours - National Pride and Culture". In truth the themes are pretty much irrelevant as the format is more or less the same. You have batches of cars going up the hill one at a time in set groups including (deep breath) F1 cars from the past 60 years (a huge selection this year included Ayrton Senna's 1993 Donington winning McLaren MP4-8), Indycars (a personal highlight being the massive and beautiful Penske PC20) World Rally Cars, Touring cars, DTM, plus representatives of Le Mans and NASCAR. All of this for a ticket that costs less than a Friday practice admission for Silverstone.

The main event is the modern F1 machinery, which has two runs a day. Sitting at the start, you can hear the cars coming down the hill to do their bit. It is at this point that the grandstand fills, which is a bit of a pain in the derriere as I would rather see the F1 cars coming down the drive rather than some big bottomed lady with an even bigger ice box struggling to get past me. Here is a hint folks: Buy a programme. On the first page it tells you what batch is driving and when, that way you''ll be in your seat on time and not in my way.

By the time the first F1 car comes to the line (Franck Montagny in the stunning Renault R24) everybody is ready for the off. Either Franck does not know what is expected of him by the crowd or Flavio has told him to be careful with his baby, but the Renault tester takes off from the start and drives right up the hill. It's is impressive to see an F1 car not in its natural habitat but we fans want to see a bit of hooliganism. Taku gives the BAR Honda 006 a truly massive amount of revs at the start and he is off like a scalded cat, traction control well and truly off, the tyre smoke fills the grandstand. He then stops after the first corner, and does another lunatic start. He does this several more times with the crowd going nuts. However, this is not enough for our hero, so he proceeds to do a series of doughnuts in front of Goodwood House. Then for good measure he does some more on the grass. Whoever makes the Honda gearbox would probably weep at the sight of the abuse Sato is giving it, but amazingly it holds together. All of the other drivers in this batch apparently wanted to outdo Takuma and entered into the spirit of the day. Notable lunatics include Darren Turner in the McLaren Mercedes MP4-19 (he also drove his Aston Martin - fresh from the previous weeks Le Mans 24 hours). Young Red Bull tester Neel Jani would have made Herr Mateschitz cringe at the caning he gave the RB1, but it was the normally sensible Olivier Panis in the Toyota TF104B who came closest to Sato's level of madness. How Olive managed to keep going in anything resembling a straight line is anybody's guess. Traction control off, foot flat to the floor, driving through an avenue of tree's is just a little bit brave - or mad.

When he was let off the leash ex-Tyrrell star, the likeable Ukyo Katayama chose to have the motoring equivalent of a mental breakdown, doing things to a very valuable Toyota Supra GT car that again made me wonder if the gearbox was made of granite.

If this all sounds a bit crazy and pointless, well I guess it is. I'm sure it sends the eco-bunch into a state of apoplexy (so it must be a good thing then) but it is also the most fun you can have with your clothes on. My ticket for the 2006 Festival will be bought the day they go on sale, and with tickets now limited in an attempt to make sure everybody gets a good view, I suggest you to do the same and enjoy quite an amazing day out.

Rob Sinfield also writes for www.GrandPrixDiary.com

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