Though I’d certainly heard of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, I hadn’t really appreciated the sheer size and scope of the Festival until visiting it with Montblanc earlier this month. The latter has partnered with the Festival of Speed for the first time this year and in addition to contributing watches to award to winning owners and drivers, was also a timing partner for the event. During the afternoon on Sunday, July 2nd, in a moment of quiet between deafening passes of cars passing within a few feet of the viewing stands, I said to Montblanc’s CEO, Nicolas Baretzki (who replacedJrme Lambert as Montblanc’s CEO last year) “I had no idea how huge this event was.”
He laughed. “Neither did I,” he said.
The Festival is a four-day motorsports event, the centerpiece of which is the timed Hillclimb race which takes place on the grounds of Goodwood House, located south and west of London in West Sussex. Goodwood is the hereditary seat of the Dukes of Richmond who have used it as a residence since the first Duke of Richmond acquired it in 1697 (the house was completed around 1600).
The Festival of Speed is the brainchild of the heir apparent to the title,Charles Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March; Lord March is the son of the present Duke of Richmond, Charles Gordon-Lennox. He may also be the only English peer to appear in a video game; you get an invite to the Festival of Speed from Lord March at one point, in 2013’s Gran Tourismo 6 (in which you can also drive at Goodwood).
Lord March (who made a name for himself as a photographer of some note before taking over his duties as Earl of March at age 40 as family tradition dictates) started the Festival of Speed in 1993 as a way of bringing motorsports back to Goodwood, whose racing circuit had been a notable course in the UK for non-championship series Formula 1 racing in the 1950s and ’60s. Many famous drivers competed there including Roger Penske, Stirling Moss, and Bruce Campbell and like many tracks tragedy has visited the Goodwood Circuit as well; it was the site of Bruce McLaren’s death in 1970 when he lost control of his M8D.
The Festival Of Speed began as a single day event and over the years has grown to four days with an astonishing turnout. Over 200,000 fans attend over a four day period and as it generates so much visibility many modern manufacturers debut cars there as well. Major parts of the event are the parade of supercars (this year the new Bugatti Chiron was present in blue and black) as well as the Cartier “Style et Luxe” exhibition of vintage cars which this year showcased, among others, Aston Martin, a collection of unusual Fiat 500s and a fascinating group of Stanley Steamers, Stanley having been an early maker of steam powered automobiles.
Thanks to the length of the Festival of Speed and also partly due to the fact that roads going in and out are few and small (traffic congestion is a real headache) many choose to camp over on the grounds of Goodwood House and the Festival is a real family event, with budding motorsports fans eagerly dragging their parents to see favorite cars and even drivers.
Many choose to avoid the roads entirely; Mercedes Benz brought some guests in cross-country in G class SUVs and as there is a working aerodrome on the grounds, many guests arrived by helicopter. (There is usual an aerial component to the Festival and this year on Sunday afternoon, prior to the Hillclimb fans watched a display of aerobatics from an RAF Eurofighter Typhoon.)
This year’s event was dedicated to former F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone and a number of F1 greats past and present were there, including current F1 champion, Nico Rossberg, who delighted fans by doing donuts on the Hillclimb course in front of the reviewing stands (and showering those nearby with dirt and grass which seemed to bother no one at all) in his 2016 Mercedes Petronas F1 car. If being dirtied up by the reigning champion F1 driver while simultaneously suffering permanent hearing damage isn’t petrolhead/gearhead heaven I don’t know what is. That the Hillclimb course is a combination of Lord March’s driveway and a service road doesn’t seem to bother anyone either.
However the founding event of Goodwood and still the major timed event of the Festival is the Hillclimb. Cars spanning a century of production participate, and this year covered an amazing range of vehicles including a number of single seat Grand Prix automobiles.
One great fan favorite was the 28.5 liter/1730 cubic inch Fiat S76, one of two prototypes built by Fiat in 1911 and which were capable of an astonishing-for-the-time top speed in excess of 135mph. The car is nicknamed “The Beast Of Turin” and was first driven post-10-year-restoration at Goodwood in 2015. Also flames shoot out the side when you drive it, an automotive feature I think we can all get behind.
This year however the winner was a somewhat more recent car: a Group CJaguar XJR-12, driven by Justin Law with a winning time only 1/100 of a second faster than the following car. F1 cars by the way no longer compete in the timed Hillclimb, or “Shootout” as Goodwoodians call it, due to safety concerns; one part of the course near the finish is a turn with a higher-than-your-head wall of dry-laid stone on the inside, which is a very unforgiving surface.
During the Festival, Montblanc took a cue from car manufacturers and also showed new-for-2016 products including theTimeWalker Chronograph in red gold and the TimeWalker ExoTourbillon Minute Chronograph Limited Edition 100.
We discussed this watch when it was first released at the 2016 SIHH, it caught our interest then thanks to the combination of complications but also thanks to the construction of the tourbillon. The Montblanc Exotourbillon watches all have in common an unusual tourbillon that has no cage. This should not be confused with a flying tourbillon, which does have a cage, but no upper tourbillon bridge; the flying tourbillon was invented around 1920 by Alfred Helwig at the watchmaking school in Glashtte.
In addition to providing timing services for the Hillclimb, Montblanc also provided watches as awards. Justin Law was presented with a Montblanc Timewalker Chronograph Automatic. The theme of the Festival in 2017 was Peaks of Performance Motorsport’s Game-Changers which was a celebration of cars that were so revolutionary they required motorsports rules to be changed. As part of the Montblanc Game Changers Competition on the Goodwood website and on its Instagram channel, the 1986 Metro 6R4 won the competition as favourite Game Changer car and the owner Adam Keeler was presented with a TimeWalker Chronograph Automatic featuring a special engraving.
Montblanc presented a collection of 20 “Game Changer” cars and the winner by popular vote was a 1986 Metro 6R4 Group B rally car. Group B cars were some of the most powerful rally cars ever built, and the rules imposed few design restrictions but the category only lasted 5 years from 1981 to 1986 because the cars simply got too powerful and dangerous. The current owner,Adam Keeler, was also presented with a TimeWalker Chronograph Automatic.
The sheer size and complexity of the Goodwood Festival of Speed is impressive; its location, plus the fact that it’s an annual standalone event rather than something on any particular race calendar, probably have a lot to with the fact that it’s maybe a little underreported (at least in the US) but if you’re a car nut and can get over to the UK in the first week in July (and yes, you can get back in time for the Fourth) I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Despite the fact that it’s on a duke’s estate it’s a very relaxed, informal environment all around and the Festival goes out of its way to make sure everyone has a blast. Paddock areas are open to all comers and there are so many different vantage points from which to view the action that no matter where you are, there’s generally something exciting to see.
There’s a sampling of some of the cars that were present in the gallery down below (you can also watch the whole Hillclimb shootout) but it’s only a fraction of what was there; we saw everything from Stirling Moss cruising along in a 300SL, to a Ford Funny Car on the course. F1 is a feeding frenzy of watch brands and for good reason but for something (very) different from the drop-dead atmosphere of Pebble Beach or the millisecond high tech world of F1, the Goodwood Festival of Speed seems a great choice for Montblanc.
Find out more about the Goodwood Festival Of Speed right here.