There are certain events that as a discerning petrolhead you have no choice in attending, and The Goodwood Festival of Speed is one such event that simply must never be missed. It’s as easy as that. To not only spend a weekend in the grounds of the fabulous Goodwood House, home of Lord March, but to then also get to experience some of the true greats from every era and genre of motorsport, literally race some of the most incredible machines ever created up the most famous hill climb course in Europe, is something that cannot be sufficiently explained in mere words.
This year was my third trip, née pilgrimage, to Goodwood and my excitement levels went beyond overload when I received one of those emails. No, not the sort from an ex girlfriend saying “We need to talk”. This was an email from the people at Rolls Royce Motor Cars inviting me to spend the day at the Festival as their guest. Well, it would be rude not to, wouldn’t it?
Flying into London on the Friday night, I decided to have a relatively early night as I would be starting my Saturday at the awe inspiring Rolls Royce Factory. It’s hard to know what to expect when you arrive at the imposing yet modest front gates, as the factory is hidden from view from the surrounding roads. Progress down the perfectly paved drive, past the manicured lawns and what meets you is more like an ultra-modern art gallery than a car factory. I’ve only just stepped out from the car and already this place feels magical. Almost endless walls of plate glass surround me on three sides, yet I could hear a pin drop in the clear morning air.
As I walk through the front doors, I’m met by one of RR’s representatives who greets me by first name as if I’m an old customer returning. This, I will later find is the kind of attention to detail that makes Rolls Royce the brand it is, without being overbearing. After a brief tour of some of the facility I’m told that my driver is ready to take me to the Festival whenever I wish to depart. Walking out to an immaculately polished Rolls Royce with a driver holding the rear door open for you is something that I must admit, is a very nice feeling. He greets me with a “Good morning, Sir.” and as I sink into the most comfortable seat you could imagine in a car, the door is silently closed for me. We haven’t even pulled away and already my day has been made.
My car pulls away with an almost imperceptible sound, next stop Goodwood. As you can predict with an event of this size traffic can be a real problem; but to my added surprise my car slips down along a private road that appears to be reserved for VIP’s, competitors, dignitaries and me. Within minutes we arrive at the event and my door is once again opened for me. I’m starting to get used to this.
As I walk through the first section of paddock, I am met by some of the most amazing cars driving past me to head towards the track. A Bentley Blower from 1929, an original Ford GT40 racer, Nick Mason’s stunning Ferrari 250 GTO and the bonkers Toyota Tacoma belonging to Rod Millen which held the record up Pikes Peak for fourteen years. Part of the magic of Goodwood is the ability to get so close to all of these exquisite vehicles and to be able to soak up the sights, sounds and smells over an entire weekend. Just how the team here manages to amass such a variety of machinery each year, never ceases to impress me.
Following a couple of hours wandering the paddock areas and catching some choice action on track, it’s time for lunch. Today I won’t be eating from one of the many onsite catering vehicles (chip vans), instead I will be sitting down to lunch with Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the CEO of Rolls Royce. Naturally. Over lunch the open and friendly Mülller-Ötvös discusses numerous topics such as, their ongoing success and careful monitoring of their growth to some of the more bizarre anecdotes of ‘special customer orders’. Interestingly when asked about the future direction of the brand, particularly from an environmental perspective, he says that they have no plans to further develop alternatively powered cars due to a general non-interest from their customers. They did develop a pure electric Phantom, which they showcased to many customers but almost none saw a need nor desire to have one. It’s through conversations like this that you discover that it is extremely important to Rolls Royce, to know exactly what their customers’ needs, wants and desires are. Yes, they may be a luxury brand but it’s reassuring to know that there are sill companies out their that really value their customers opinion.
Over desert I chat with RR’s Corporate Comms Manager about the event at Goodwood and exchange opinions about some of the different cars both modern and historical that are going up the hill at full chat behind us. At this point, he asks whether I’ve been up the hill before to which I ruefully say “No, but some year maybe I will”. Then without a moments hesitation he says “Not a problem, we’ll take you up after desert.” Just like that. No “We’ll see if we can organise something’’, no “Maybe”, just like we were ordering another glass of water, I’m going up the hill. My rubber arm seems to have clearly evolved into a highly elasticated arm.
A short walk through the moving motor show brings us down to the start line, where we pass effortlessly through the various security cordons and as if by magic, I am suddenly standing less than ten feet from the start line watching competitors like John Surtees and Kenny Roberts trundle past me on their way to prepare for their runs. This is beyond surreal. Spending the next thirty or so minutes, watching such an eclectic mix of vehicles burn off the start line at Goodwood is a memory that I know will remain with me forever. It also helped that the runs I watched contained some of my real favorites too.
Once the last F1 car has screamed away I’m ushered towards the Course Director’s Rolls Royce Ghost for what surely must be the best guide to take me up the hill. We glide past Goodwood House at a healthy pace, yet even in ‘race conditions’ this Rolls Royce feels like the most calm and serene place for miles around. It was pleasantly bizarre to be looking out of the window at such a colossal motorsport event as Goodwood whizz by in near complete silence. A beautiful juxtaposition.
As we arrive into the top paddock we see all the drivers and riders milling around chatting to each other. This small paddock area is where everyone is held, until it’s time for them to go back down the course and return to their respective paddocks. Jam-packed grandstands surround this area where fans get an opportunity to get autographs and to simply see some true legends up close. Its also an excellent chance for me to be able to get a real proper close up look at some of the machinery. This is the kind of thing that makes this event just so magical. I’m peering into the cockpit of Sebastian Vettel’s Red Bull F1 car while I can still smell the heat from its run just minutes ago. I turn around and do the same with Niki Lauda’s 1974Ferrari F1 car.
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All too soon and its time for me to return back down the hill, but not before Seb treats us to some properly loud doughnuts. We waft down along the course and I’m given some real nuggets of information by the Course Director John Felix about the event and all that goes into making it happen. Naturally I do this while also recording the drive on my iPhone for posterity.
As my incredible day draws to an end, I’m once again ensconced in serenity for my trip home, in a sumptuous Rolls Royce and I try to process just all that I’ve experienced today. To say that Rolls Royce, as a brand, and its people, know how to give a truly magical experience would be an incredible understatement and an injustice. My limited time with them has reinforced my existing opinion, that they are a very unique marquee that others can merely aspire to try to replicate. But won’t.
I would loved to have done it all again the following day, but the remainder of my weekend was set to involve Monte Carlo, private helicopters, Ferraris & Duesenbergs. Buts that’s another day’s tale….