Stars, cars and an escape from politics: Goodwood Festival of Speed 2016 highlights

Away from EU referendum fallout, the true British motor show was taking place

IT SEEMED somehow highly appropriate that the Goodwood Festival of Speed should fall in the week of the Brexit vote. There is nothing more quintessentially British than the magnificent Goodwood House. It’s home to Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign chair, a spoil of victory from the Battle of Waterloo. Lord March himself is always magnificently tailored and proudly hangs a portrait of himself wearing yellow trousers.

It’s part of why the Festival is ever more popular and why, far from being insular, it’s now an event of international significance, sponsored this year by the Germans (BMW) and headlined by American stars such as Ken Block, Keanu Reeves and even ZZ Top. It’s a giant garden party with some amazing toys and 150,000 paying guests.

Not much changes as the years go by – the aristocracy has never been a fan of revolution – but most showgoers wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s also just enough novelty each year to keep interest levels high. It has become the de facto British Motor Show and lots of manufacturers chose Goodwood to show off their new metal for the first time, such as the new Fiat 124 Spider and the Renault Twingo GT.

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Mercedes deployed Lewis Hamilton to unveil the AMG GT R in Kermit green. Boasting 577bhp, it’ll do 0-60mph in 3.6sec when it arrives in the UK next Spring.

That’s little more than a third of what the Bugatti Chiron produces. Making its debut on the hillclimb, the Chiron has 1479bhp, an official top speed of 261mph and costs almost £2M. It’s so posh it even had its own booth, slightly aloof from the rest of the supercar paddock, and was driven up the hill by Lord March himself on Sunday.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2016

There were also a few novelties for punters’ delectation. Aston revealed the one-off Vantage GT12 Roadster which is… how to put it…. not to all tastes. Much prettier and no less exclusive is the 458 MM Speciale, an extra speciale Speciale. And there was even a new Bristol. The Project Pinnacle is a BMW-engined roadster from a British company that just refuses to die.

Time was when the supercar runs were just a pose-fest but now they’re timed and there’s honour at stake in the top ten shoot out. This year the dodgy weather threw a curve ball and demonstrated the benefits of all-wheel drive. Topping the times was a Porsche 911 Turbo S in 57.63sec, outpacing a Nissan GT-R by more than 2sec. Coming home a hugely impressive fifth fastest was Goodwood veteran Justin Law in the Rolls-Royce Wraith Black Badge. The Roller outpaced not only Jaguar’s new F-type SVR but three McLaren’s, including a P1 GTR. Well done that man.

“For those who go every year, it might feel a bit like groundhog day, but the Festival of Speed remains a wonderful piece of escapism”

In the Race Cars for the Road category, a Caterham 620R topped the times against some much more exotic machinery. Completing the run in 61.76sec, it outpaced the BAC Mono by just 0.24sec.

While the road cars have become an increasingly important (commercially lucrative) part of the show, it’s the race and rally cars that are at the heart of Goodwood’s appeal. This year saw the first appearance of hybrid-era F1 cars as Nico Rosberg demonstrated a Mercedes, but it was arguably the Merc team’s previous incarnation that drew the biggest cheer. Jenson Button’s old Brawn emerged from retirement to be driven by Martin Brundle. F1’s Leicester City is alive and well.

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2016

Other crowd pleasers included Ken Block’s hooning Fiesta and a 20,000lb Kamaz Dakar truck that got seriously sideways at the first turn and nearly destroyed Lord March’s precious lawn. It’s always good to see the Le Mans cars so soon after the race too.

This is really why Goodwood is such a success. It appeals on so many different levels. If there’s a lull in the action you can wander around the gargantuan manufacturer stands – Honda’s life-sized version of a children’s toy was particularly impressive – or spend your money on all manner of motorsport memorabilia. If you really want a bedside lamp made from the gearbox internals of an old rally car, then you can probably find it in one of the Goodwood stalls.

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There’s no denying that the Festival of Speed is highly commercial – more so than ever – but it still relies on enthusiastic amateurs to add depth and colour to proceedings and there are some great human stories to be found. Paraplegic Jason Gill and amputee Mark Allen, for example, become the first all-disabled team to take part at Goodwood. On the rally stage, they drove the Race2Recovery team’s Land Rover Freelander, fitted with hand controls (below).

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2016: Race2Recovery

This was the twenty-fourth running of the Festival of Speed and its popularity shows no sign of waning. For those who go every year, it might feel a bit like groundhog day, but it remains a wonderful piece of escapism. In these trying times, the benefits of that cannot be overestimated.