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The rise, fall and revival of Goodwood as it reaches 75

One of the country’s leading motorsport historians and a key figure in the Goodwood story recalls how the circuit became such an important part of the calendar – twice

Mark Gillies ERA stalls and is passed at the start

In its heyday, make no mistake, the Goodwood Motor Circuit always occupied a very special place within the burgeoning British motor racing scene. It never hosted a world championship grand prix, but it provided a much-loved stage for the infant British motorsport industry to strut upon.

While active racing was pursued there for 18 years, 1948-66, the Motor Circuit’s subsequent test and sprint-only career saw it survive with little change – other than inevitably ‘crumbling around the edges’ – for a further 30 years, 1967-97. But then – due to the single-minded enthusiasm, enterprise and drive of the Goodwood estate-owning family’s scion, Charles March, now the Duke of Richmond & Gordon – would come Revival…

By contemporary international standards, Goodwood in period was only ‘a medium-speed aerodrome course’, yet a demanding one. Despite being laid out around the perimeter track of a wartime RAF fighter aerodrome, it was not pancake flat. It had gradient, it undulated and combined some very fast curves with tighter turns and, from 1952, its famous chicane.

Above all it occupied a beautiful setting. And as a wartime grass aerodrome its infield was not disfigured by concrete runways. Instead it was grass-green, pure-gold come harvest. Above all it promoted good racing.

Stirling Moss held that Goodwood was “of all the British aerodrome circuits the most rewarding whenever you got it exactly right”. In his opening race there, Event 5 of the 18 September 1948 inaugural meeting, his 500cc Cooper-JAP led the eight other starters from flag to flag, and he won by nearly half a minute – immense in just three, yes three, laps. Such fleeting short-distance racing had been staple fare at the pre-war Brooklands Motor Course. So that was Goodwood’s heritage.

But the British public just hungered for some fun, for any kind of sporting spectacle, and in the motorsporting sense that is what Goodwood provided. Over the following 18 years – with better funding, race distances increasing – Goodwood became a superb sporting stage, from members-only British Automobile Racing Club meetings, through nationals to internationals… and ultimately to frontline qualifying rounds of the world sportscar championship, 1958-64. So how did RAF Westhampnett, site of the Goodwood Motor Circuit, make that transition?

Moss was the standout star of the inaugural 1948 meeting

Moss was the standout star of the inaugural 1948 meeting

Photo by: Motorsport Images

With Brooklands lost to wartime development, through 1946-47 there was nowhere permanent to race on the British mainland. Freddie Richmond, the ninth Duke of Richmond & Gordon and owner of the Goodwood estate, was modest, creative, entrepreneurial… and a lifelong motoring enthusiast. In 1930-31 his brief race-driving career really had been stupendously successful – three major races, three race wins!

He later headed the go-ahead Junior Car Club, a parallel organising body to the much older –more conservative – Brooklands ARC. The immediate post-war recession featured intense austerity. Freddie had the crushing responsibility of saving his family’s Goodwood estate. But like all those other motorsporting enthusiasts, he longed for racing’s return. And as a prominent and popular figure, he could do something about it.

It proved fiendishly complicated, but he diplomatically danced his way through (and around) stiflingly centralised bureaucracy. He loyally backed Junior Car Club (JCC) secretary John Morgan in organising the first significant post-war international race meeting on British soil, at St Helier, Jersey. And as minor clubs pioneered aerodrome racing at Gamston and Brough, Morgan then sought permission to inspect similar sites as potential venues for higher-profile ‘onshore’ motorsport.

That experimental inaugural meeting of 1948 was followed by three through 1949. The pace accelerated – six dates in 1950. On Easter Monday 1951 the sport’s first world champion driver, Nino Farina, wowed the crowds with his works Alfa Romeo Alfetta

During this search, wartime RAF fighter pilot Tony Gaze suggested Freddie Richmond should look no further than his own estate’s ex-RAF Westhampnett perimeter track. “Bless my soul,” he said. “What will the neighbours say?” But the seed was sown – that track was ideal.

On 9 July 1948, the RAC’s own new circuit on the former aerodrome at Silverstone was named as the venue for a grand prix in October. Simultaneously the JCC announced that it hoped to use “the airfield situated on the estate of chairman, the Duke of Richmond & Gordon and intend to concentrate on a revival of the extremely popular Brooklands type of meeting. The provisional date is Saturday, September 18…”

And so the Goodwood Motor Circuit emerged. As racing there developed, the BARC – initially under Morgan – was always cash-strapped, reliant upon benevolent sponsors. But he – and Freddie – found them.

Races of just five laps were an early norm, three-lappers common, 10, 12 or 15 laps “really rather daring”. But for many the social scene would prove as important. Goodwood’s weather was usually good. Its rural access roads might have been confined and traffic often jammed and slow, but the pubs and restaurants along the way were great.

Freddie Richmond, the Duke of Richmond and Gordon (right), was the key player in bringing motor racing to Goodwood

Freddie Richmond, the Duke of Richmond and Gordon (right), was the key player in bringing motor racing to Goodwood

Photo by: Motorsport Images

That experimental inaugural meeting of 1948 was followed by three through 1949. The pace accelerated – six dates in 1950. Morgan ensured towering names would star. On Easter Monday 1951 the sport’s first world champion driver, Nino Farina, wowed the crowds with his works Alfa Romeo Alfetta. In 1952 new world champion Juan Manuel Fangio would attend, only to be outshone by meteoric new British talent Mike Hawthorn in a brand-new, homegrown – Goodwood-developed – Cooper-Bristol.

A single motorcycle meeting was held, in April 1951, but the riders found the course too wide and ‘easy’ for their road racing tastes. They suggested raising walls on the inside of the corners to render them blind, “in the interests of rider development”. Motorcycles would not return to race at Goodwood until Revival, in 1998.

Through the early 1950s the likes of Moss, Hawthorn, Tony Brooks, Peter Collins, Stuart Lewis-Evans and more built their fabulous generation of world-class British drivers. Jim Clark and his Formula 1 Lotuses followed, as did seven-time motorcycle world champion John Surtees’s introduction to four-wheeled racing, in March 1960, in a loaned Ken Tyrrell Formula Junior Cooper.

Meanwhile serious-level sportscar racing had become a Goodwood feature, initially with Morgan’s BARC Nine-Hour races of 1952-53 and 1955. Jaguar’s works team regularly led, broke, and left victory to sworn rival Aston Martin.

The RAC Tourist Trophy adopted Goodwood as its home from 1958-64, Aston Martin (again) winning the first two editions, clinching the FIA world sportscar title there in 1959 – despite famously igniting their leading car when refuelling; never mind…

Moss had won the 1958-59 TTs. He added two more, for GT cars, in 1960-61 driving his Rob Walker-liveried Ferrari 250 GT ‘SWB’s. Ferrari 250 GTO wins followed for Innes Ireland (1962) then Graham Hill (1963), before Hill won again in an open 330P prototype in 1964.

In Formula 1 terms, early-period Easter Monday and September Goodwood meetings had seen progressive advance for BRM, Connaught and Vanwall, notably versus Maserati, before Hawthorn took the coveted Goodwood Glover Trophy for Ferrari in 1958. The Goodwood-developed rear-engined new-wave from Cooper swept the board to 1960. After the legendary double world champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Clark and Lotus won the last contemporary Goodwood F1 race on Easter Monday 1965 – with BRM newboy Jackie Stewart sharing fastest lap – a new three-litre F1 class took effect for 1966.

Moss and Brooks won the Tourist Trophy round of the world sportscar championship at Goodwood in 1958 aboard an Aston Martin DBR1

Moss and Brooks won the Tourist Trophy round of the world sportscar championship at Goodwood in 1958 aboard an Aston Martin DBR1

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Now that posed a problem. The potential speed of those new cars – adding to that of such unlimited-capacity sports-racers as the latest Lotus 30 and Lola T70, plus the Goodwood-developed Ford GT40 – seriously troubled Freddie March. Funding was fraught, insufficient to finance work potentially necessary to keep his circuit ‘safe’. He decided to close his motor circuit.

It had performed its function. For him it was mission accomplished. The home industry was firmly on top.

Only six more Goodwood race meetings were held, Easter Monday 1966 for Formula 2 (dominated by the latest Brabham-Hondas), a Whit-Monday national featuring one-litre Formula 3 ‘screamers’, and four BARC Members’ Meetings. The last – the 71st in the series launched in 1949 – was run on 2 July 1966. Its seven-race programme closed with a five-lap handicap, won by Dickie Metcalfe in his Lola-Climax Mk1 sportscar.

Several options seemed feasible. The infield aerodrome had been reinstated for civilian flying from the late 1950s, and now Freddie March’s son Charles – to succeed as the 10th Duke – had the Motor Circuit maintained for test and occasional timed-sprint use, plus such events as the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Motor Show Test Day.

Interest in the Festival of Speed soared through the following five years. Part of its instant allure was the variety of its entries and entrants. Its free-public-access paddock allowed all to enjoy the personal contact with cars and stars that we recalled from Goodwood’s heyday

He dismissed more lucrative notions of abandoning the entire site to gravel extraction – and we owe him. So Glorious Goodwood in the motor sporting sense effectively slumbered through the 1970s-80s. In testing terms it became a virtual second home for constructors such as Brabham, McLaren, Lotus, Lola, Gulf-Mirage, March and Surtees, plus Tyrrell, Williams, the racing tyre companies and myriad more.

Then in 1992 Freddie Richmond’s grandson, Charles, Earl of March, was given responsibility for the family’s estate. Its valuable equestrian dressage event had just lost its sponsor. In considering some alternative, the long-held ambition to revive Goodwood’s motorsporting activities occurred to him.

Back in 1935 Freddie had run a one-off Lancia Club driving test and hillclimb meeting at Goodwood house; a fun day for friends and fellow enthusiasts. Now grandson Charles March developed the idea of reviving that event, perhaps as an RAC British Hillcllimb Championship round.

RAC track inspector Derek Ongaro approved the notion. Charles then joined his near-neighbour Michael Pearson, in sharing a Ferrari on a classic car tour in France, organised by Adrian Hamilton. In a chateau hotel bar one evening Charles expounded his hillclimb idea to classic car auctioneer Robert Brooks and this writer. We were sceptical of the public impact even a championship hillclimb round might have, then Robert suggested: “Run it for great classic racing cars, and we’ll get everyone we know to enter!”

Charles March, the current Duke of Richmond & Gordon, was instrumental in securing Goodwood's return as a motorsport venue

Charles March, the current Duke of Richmond & Gordon, was instrumental in securing Goodwood's return as a motorsport venue

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Within a few days of returning home, RB called me, announcing: “We’re going down to see Charlie March at Goodwood.” And in discussion there with Charles and his great friend, motorsports broadcaster and writer Rob Widdows, the form of what became the Goodwood Festival of Speed coalesced.

Former Ford PR chief Walter Hayes had volunteered Aston Martin as the new venture’s first sponsor. Brooks Auctioneers became its second. I drew up an invitation list of over 100 great cars (and drivers) I’d love to see. The first Festival was then held in 1993. It took off from there…

Interest soared through the following five years. Part of its instant allure was the variety of its entries and entrants. Its free-public-access paddock allowed all to enjoy the personal contact with cars and stars that we recalled from Goodwood’s heyday. We saw it as an antidote to Bernie Ecclestone-era Formula 1’s policy of paddock exclusion. After a few years avid Goodwood supporter, drummer Nick Mason, would respond to the question, “What should we change to progress?” by writing, “The paddock is a complete zoo – but don’t ever change it”.

From the inaugural FoS of 1993, Charles was encouraged by enthusiastic and wholehearted support from Moss, and from Surtees, Jack Brabham, Barry Sheene, Giacomo Agostini, Mick Doohan, Wayne Rainey, Stewart, Phil Hill, Damon Hill, Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and so very, very many more.

It took years to attract some, but nearly all were then so well received by the knowledgeable Goodwood crowd that they would return: Nigel Mansell, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Fernando Alonso, Jacky Ickx, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Rick Mears, Danny Sullivan and more – folk hero Jim Hall, King Richard Petty – gracing Goodwood. Stars with their cars became an enduring theme.

Among great manufacturers, Aston Martin’s launch sponsorship was followed by Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Renault and – again – still more. FoS evolved towards becoming a replacement London Motor Show, but this time moving, in full, flowing action – looking back, providing a spectacular shop window for the present and previewing what may come.

For me there have been two most satisfying FoS factors of all. Parents in the paddock introducing themselves, and their small children, and saying: “We were brought to the Festival when we were kids, and now we are bringing ours to enjoy what we enjoyed.”

And one time when a mum standing at the assembly area barrier asked me if Sir Stirling might sign her young son’s autograph book, I walked across to the great man and asked him if he’d oblige. Of course he did, immediately, talking to her and her boy at the fence. And as he turned away she said, “Thank you so very much for that” – and Stirl smiled and said, “Oh no, not at all my dear, I should thank you. Because today this is my office, and this is my day job…” That was what Goodwood had provided.

Hill was among the star attractions when the Festival of Speed launched in 1993

Hill was among the star attractions when the Festival of Speed launched in 1993

Photo by: Motorsport Images

But best of all, FoS has always embodied the competitive edge that has made 130 years of motorsport so compelling. The Indy 500 winners were staying at the House and Charles provided a massive jigsaw puzzle in the lounge for his guests’ casual amusement. For some, solving the puzzle rapidly approached a competitive obsession. Who would win?

By day three the contest was intense. It came down to the last few pieces. Click, clack, aaaghh! The final, clinching piece was missing. Then Mario Andretti walked in. He briefly studied the near-complete puzzle, rummaged in a pocket, found what he’d secreted there some days before and clack! “I win!”, he declared. Real racers never lose it.

Meanwhile the promotional exposure of FoS was deftly steered by Charles March towards one ulterior objective, the reopening of the Goodwood Motor Circuit. As his grandfather had found in 1947-48, navigating a way through red tape, massaging planning support proved an absolute minefield.

After many months of complex work and negotiation, Charles finally received a telephone call telling him that his applications were to be approved. He tried to call his closest associates to spread the news, but none answered. My telephone rang, it was Charles: “Doug!”, he enthused, “I’ve got to tell somebody but nobody else seems to be at home. We’ve got it! We’ve got our permissions!” Ignoring the fact I was maybe fifth in the queue, I was thrilled too. “Now we’ve really got to get to work!” he declared. So all his people did.

When Derek Bell urged the crowd, “Don’t go out of those gates over there, because outside there’s the real world. Stay here and relish what we’ve all enjoyed so much”, there was barely a dry eye

And in 1998 the Goodwood Motor Circuit was restored, in discreetly modernised form, with brand-new pits and paddock replacing the old upon the original site, and with the entire course lined by freshly raised prime viewing spectator banks. And that September, 25 years ago, the inaugural Goodwood Revival Meeting suddenly was upon us.

It was a kind of dreamtime motorsporting ‘Woodstock’ Festival, and when at that inaugural’s race control-roof prize-giving sometime Goodwood track marshal-turned-multiple Le Mans-winning racing driver Derek Bell urged the crowd, “Don’t go out of those gates over there, because outside there’s the real world. Stay here and relish what we’ve all enjoyed so much”, there was barely a dry eye in that Indian summer dusk.

Since then, FoS, Revival, the Goodwood Members’ Meeting have all become part of our motorsporting fabric, recalling the past, celebrating the present, previewing the future. And that, we hope, is what 75-year-old Goodwood motorsport is all about – a vibrant expression of all that’s simply best in life itself.

The Revival began in 1998 and has been a staple of the British motorsport scene since

The Revival began in 1998 and has been a staple of the British motorsport scene since

Photo by: Jeff Bloxham / Motorsport Images

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