Two decades ago the Goodwood Festival Speed had already wowed crowds for 6 years, yet I’d not been. It still baffles be as to why. Maybe because I was a skint teenager too busy hooning around the countryside on motorcyles of questionable origin and looking for illegal raves in fields. Anyway, my mum bought a pair of tickets to Goodwood for my birthday. I get my petrol-headedness from her. She used to hang out with 1980 Formula One Champ Alan Jones back in the day, had been to Grand Prix numerous times and drove everywhere flat out in various GTi, V-tec and 16v machinery. During the 1976 F1 season she found it highly amusing to walk around London with her Durex Surtees umbrella, smiling at the tutting members of the public who thought it awfully crude.
But I didn’t take her with me to the FOS in 1998, I went with my cousin, a lads trip. Back then there wasn’t much in the way of corporate hospitality and access really was all areas. We had grandstand tickets and sat eating cheese and pickle sandwiches (fancy ones, my cousin lived by the Portobello Road) and watched in awe as the cars and bikes jumped from my bedroom wall and into life right in front of our eyes. I was hooked.
I bumped into a college friend who got me a job at the Revival Meeting a few months later. I was paid, handsomely for the nineties, to do a few minutes work and then watch all the racing, and with my staff pass I could jump all queues and get amongst the super rare metal and hero drivers and riders in the pits. Heaven. I decided there and then that one day I’d race at the Goodwood Motor Circuit and ride or drive up the hill at the FOS, no matter what. I got close thanks to working with classic car magazines and within the historic motor racing industry. Some of the pinch-me-now moments were absolutely ridiculous over the years, like boyhood dreams on Woodstock strength acid.
The closest I got to racing at Goodwood was in 2012, driving the victory parade laps in a 1933 Works Talbot 105 that’d just made second spot on the podium. We’d removed the passenger seat to save weight so I grabbed a mechanic’s toolbox and threw it in, then commandeered my friend’s very tall date to join me for the ride. She slid around on the toolbox while trying to hold onto her hat, waving at the crowds. My mate, who I’d shoehorned into a Pre-War Maserati, followed behind. Pinch.
In recent times the escalating prices of racing cars and bikes combined with the stratospheric popularity of both events meant I’d more or less given up on the idea of ticking further Goodwood dreams off my bucket list. That was until Indian Motorcycle called to see if I wanted to take their new FTR1200 up the hill at this years Festival of Speed. Initially I declined as I was due at a christening but luckily I’d messed my dates up. Fibbing to a vicar in a church would take place a week prior. I speed re-dialled Indian to make sure they hadn’t given the place away. Phew! It was mine. The only slight bind was I needed to be in the depths of Cornwall to collect a new race hauler and enjoy a long overdue holiday. No bother, this would be worth the change of plan.
I rode to Cornwall on a borrowed XSR700, stuck it in the back of my new van and drove back to Essex, glued a Bike Shed patch onto my flat track race leathers, took a Sharpie marker to a pair of old Triumph logo’d boots, grabbed my race lid and headed back around the M25 (for the 4th time that week) and down to Chichester. A place that feels like a second home.
Parking just behind the paddock I had a perfect view of the fireworks above the Goodwood ball. A bottle of Rioja later and my mind was racing down memory lane. Then I got a bit nervous. 150,000 people attend the FOS each year, paying good money to see the likes of Agostini, Stoner, Mamola, Doohan, Hutchinson & McGuinness wheelie and burnout up the tight and cambered hillclimb in front of Goodwood House. If there was ever a time to keep it upright, it was this weekend.
D-day arrived and I swanned into the Drivers Club to get geared-up. It was pissing down outside, gutted. After a roasting week I’d brought the rain. In the locker room Casey Stoner and I stood in our pants while Randy Mamola warned of the oil that Sammy Miller had just dumped all the way up the track – great! Yup, another surreal moment to add to the list. Pinch.
I queued for my run with Dougie Lampkin, a bloke on the new Brough Superior, the new Arc Vector and journos on a bunch of bikes that looked like they’d have more grip than the Indian’s flat track inspired Dunlops – Find out about those here – No time for heroics so I stabbed at the TFT dash and selected rain mode. The marshal gave the thumbs up and I dumped the clutch. The traction control cut in and dulled the FTR’s 123 horsepowers, considerably. I snicked second, then third and pinned it between the tree lined start straight in a slightly transcendental state. Was I actually doing this? Turn 1 reminded me I was. The track was greasier than Danny Zuko’s hairpiece and the FTR slithered and squirmed, even with the rider aids. The TC light flashed like a disco strobe as I tried to at least look like I knew what I was doing, acutely aware that with F1 cars and GP bikes sharing the same Tarmac, the crowds would barely hear the fully baffled and road legal FTR, let alone be impressed by my lack of wheelies and burnouts.
I’ve seen a thousand runs up the infamous hill but the track feels nothing like it looks on TV or from the grandstand, the corners come at you really fast and appear from behind massive hay bails and flint walls. And the crown in the road is like a mountain. I made it to the finish-line unscathed and giggled like a schoolboy as I slowed into the collection area. TICK! That just bumped a few cool things down the top 20 on the bucket list.
I chatted to Dougie who let on he’d stalled on the line and found it really hard to wheelie on the ice-like surface. Which made me feel better about myself. Rolling back to the Supercar Paddock (where Indian’s spot was) I dutifully returned waves to the marshals and spectators. I could get used to this.
My second run wasn’t due until the much later in the day so myself and Steve from Indian hung out, chewed the fat and wandered through the paddocks geeking-out at the cars and bikes. I’ve pretty much seen everything when it comes to motorsport, a bold statement but it’s true, yet I still grinned and pointed at loud things and had my phone out like a first timer. That’s the beauty of Goodwood, no matter how seasoned you are, if you’re a petrolhead the hairs on your neck rise to the occasion.
It continued to piss down all day but the clouds just about became continent for the final run. And as it turned out I would be the last person up the hill for 2019. Usually last place isn’t a good thing, but to me this was extra icing on the cake. Even if the crowds had dwindled a bit.
I turned rain mode off and waited for the signal, gunned the throttle to about 5,000 RPM and let out the remainder of the clutch. Bollox! I’d been holding the bike on the rear brake and was aiming for a rapid drag start, but I’d forgotten to turn the TC off. The FTR tried to unleash its might but the rear Dunlop was having none of it. The ECU kicked-in and numbed the launch. Once up to speed I tried to find a line between the damp patches and onto the array of kinks that are arranged in a sort of straight. Third, fourth pinned I glanced down while going under the bridge, 89MPH. “Right, fuck it, I’m going for the ton”. I left the taps on, snicked fifth and saw 106MPH before realising the next left was actually preceded by an off-camber and very moist right. Bugger. I threw the anchor out and was suddenly very glad of the electronics as they assisted in controlling the girthy FTR’s desire to jump the hay bails and head off for a choc-ice.
Once sure I’d scrubbed enough speed and felt far enough over to the right I tipped left, where I found the Arc Vector more or less parked in the middle of the road, with a man from Visordown aboard a BMW S1000RR alongside. With 10 million torquenewtons at his disposal the Arc rider was vying to stay upright aboard one of their pricey prototype machines. I figured the start marshal had been keen to wrap up proceedings and released me a bit early. I found a gap and zipped by, gunning it between the flint maze and on to the finish line.
No records were broken and more importantly neither was the Indian. On the way back down the hill the years of loitering around the pits paid off, I snuck through a gap in the bails, under a rope and wiggled through the upper paddocks to the 20th Century Racing garage and killed the FTR’s engine. The secret squirrel route would save at least an hour of loading time.
Back in my van I wriggled out of my leathers and popped an ice cold beer. These experiences don’t just happen on any old Sunday.
Big thanks to Indian for a fun weekend, and to my mum for a gift that kept on giving. Yes, I made up for the snub in ’99 and we both had a great day in 2001.
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