THE MAN IN THE PUB

Rain or shine - it's Glorious Goodwood!

July and it may as well be October. It is raining so hard here in the Cotswolds that it looks like it’s actually raining upwards and even the cows ambling down the road outside The Amberley Inn, looking for shelter, look totally fed up.

I’m a bit depressed by it too as this weekend is the highlight of my year, a visit to the Goodwood Festival of Speed. While some may argue that the British Grand Prix is the motoring event on the UK motorsport calendar I have to disagree, as for the last 15 years, Lord March and his staff have put on a petrolhead event of staggering quality. From 1908 Grand Prix cars through to the very latest F1 racers and covering everything else in between, the FOS is motoring heaven.

I’ve made sure of a nice dry spot in the start line grandstand, but wet weather and mud are not really condusive to a good day out and as I set off in the car, I hear on the radio that the huge annual airshow at nearby RAF Fairford has been called off because the car parks are flooded – things do not look promising.

However, despite the Friday night journey from hell, Goodwood on Saturday morning is sunny and dry. The sunshine isn’t exactly splitting the paving stones but thankfully the wellington boots are not going to be required.

Walking into the estate is always the most sensible option, the country lanes were not made to cope with the traffic that the FOS creates, although being in a car may have been safer, as I am nearly run over by a young lady in a golf buggy zooming along with Allan McNish holding on for dear life. Still, if you are going to be run over then being done so by the winner of the Le Mans 24 hours would give me something interesting to tell the lads in the pub for a change.

Our dear Prime Minister announced last week that all new cars sold in the UK in 2020 should be electric toys, and all I can say is that the man has never wandered through the Goodwood Paddock – anybody who thinks a milk float will give a man as much joy as any one of the petrol burners sat here can not have a soul. The array of F1 hardware on display is truly astonishing.

Not all of Goodwoods attractions are on the track, it’s generally a given that anybody who likes cars likes ‘planes too and a treat most years is the low level flypast of (usually) a Boeing 747. Last year’s demo by Singapore Airlines brought the place to a standstill. It was so low you could wink at the hostesses, which I did. This year however we all waited with baited breath for the new all singing, all dancing Airbus 380 and frankly it was about as exciting as cheese. It whispered overhead, did a polite couple of laps and then whispered silently off. Very quiet, very dull – bring back the 747 next time please.

However, one piece of off-track action that did amaze onlookers was the twice daily ‘Cackle Fest’ on the cricket pitch. Twelve monstrous drag racers all fired up at the same time, engines on tickover for a full five minutes with occasional blasts that could probably be heard in Hampshire. It was pointless, smokey and unbelievably loud – Gordon would have hated it which made it all the more entertaining.

Amongst all the action from dozens of Grand Prix machines, sportscars, motorbikes, rally cars and a couple of NASCAR behemoths there is the icing on the cake of two runs from six of the current F1 teams – worth the entry fee alone.

No current F1 racers though, as BMW, Toyota, Ferrari, Honda, Red Bull and McLaren have all sent test drivers for the day, but they were all seemingly under instruction to go a bit mad, with Red Bull’s Sebastien Buemi winning the hooligan of the day award for his burnouts while showing that Adrian Newey’s gearbox must be made of granite.

Sadly, and for reasons that escape me, this part of the day is the one time a lot of people decide to take their seats, much to the annoyance of other spectators.

Imagine the scene. There you are, ready for the highlight of the day and you have aimless people, wandering up and down the aisle in a bewildered state, searching for seats they had left only 10 minutes previously.

So instead of watching Christian Klien give his BMW some serious welly off the start line, I have to instead look at some large, bingo-winged woman, balancing a burger the size of a small planet in one chubby mitt and two beers in the other while she squeezes her considerable frame through a row of disgruntled people to her seat.

Maybe I can offer these inconsiderate’s a little tip or two. One, buy a programme. In it you will see a timetable of events which will tell you when to stock up on food and when to go and sit down. Can’t read? No problem, when you hear the F1 cars come down the hill (you can’t miss them – they are the really noisy ones) waddle off to your seat immediately, rather than waiting until they start going up the hill. Easy.

Still – my little niggles aside, the Festival of Speed is an event not to be missed, I’ll be there again for 2009, unless the PM finds a way to ban it of course….

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