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Race Car Heaven at Goodwood


How British but to stroll through the magnificent Goodwood grounds to the sound of a modern day Formula 1 engine playing the National Anthem through the exhausts at 18,000 revs.

The shrill notes may have been played through a naturally-aspirated French V10 Renault engine’s exhaust, but the championship-winning team has a
technical base in England and is staffed by many Brits.

Totally appropriate for the 14th running of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, there was a cheer from the crowd each time the 800 horsepower Renault R25 Formula 1 car delivered “God Save the Queen”.

Renault was a star of the 2006 show, celebrating 100 years of Grand Prix racing in a manner that reinforced the French marque’s staying power when
it comes to motorsport.

Goodwood is now something of a British institution, like Ascot, Henley or the Derby. The occasion has yet to emulate the status of the Trooping of the Colour but these things take time.

It’s 70 years since Freddie March first held a hillclimb in Goodwood Park. He won the event in his Lancia, and his grandson, the current Earl of March, rekindled the spirit with the first annual Festival of Speed in 1993.
Nearby Goodwood circuit has been a place of triumph and tragedy. Stirling Moss almost lost his life there when he crashed at an Easter meeting in 1962, and eight years later Bruce McLaren died there testing one of his CanAm sports cars.

Freddie March founded the Goodwood track in 1948 but the venue was closed to racing in 1966 when the new 3.0-litre Grand Prix cars were regarded as too fast for the circuit.

The Festival was born out of frustration by Lord Charles March as he endeavoured to re-open the circuit in 1991. That took seven years’ negotiation, so the Festival of Speed was born before the first revival race meeting could be staged in 1998.

In some ways, the Festival is a victim of its own success. The inaugural event attracted 25,000 spectators but now a capacity 150,000 patronise the three-day show.
To avoid the crowds this year, I went to the Friday practice day but the place was still packed with a record turnout that seemed more like a Saturday or Sunday.

The extravaganza is no longer so much a rush up the hill from the stately home in the West Sussex countryside, but a parade of motorsport history. It’s also the only real opportunity for the general public to get up close
to Formula 1 cars past and present.

Festival favourite Rene Arnoux, a former GP star and Grand Prix Masters driver, was at a Renault reception to help launch this year’s event where Lord March praised the French car maker for its long-time involvement
in the sport.

“It’s an incredible achievement to win at the start of that century and the end of the century and it fits perfectly with our theme for 100 years of Grands
Prix,” he says.

Yet it all started so badly when Marcel Renault, a co-founder of the Renault car company with brothers Louis and Fernand, was killed while racing in the
1903 Paris-Madrid event.

Louis vowed to never compete again in motorsport, but reneged in 1906 for the first ever Grand Prix at Le Mans.

Appropriately, the 12.9-litre Renault AK 90CV won in the hands of Hungarian Ferenc Szisz who had once been Marcel’s mechanic.
The first motor race to carry the grand prix nomenclature was actually at Pau in France in 1901, but the 1906 Le Mans event has long been regarded as the first proper Grand Prix.

There were 32 cars entered from 12 manufacturers and the two-day epic covered more than 1200 kilometres on a 100km road course near Le Mans.
A replica of the 100-year-old AK 90CV was at Goodwood where it joined the modern day 2005 model Renault R25 Formula 1 car in demonstration
runs up the hill.

Heikki Kovalainen, the 24-year-old Finn who is a member of the Renault Driver Development Programme, drove the R25. Like Giancarlo Fisichella, Heikki was making his debut at Goodwood.

Restorer John Brydon, who built the AK 90CV without any contemporary detailed drawings of the original, says “the anniversary of the 1906 Grand Prix is arguably the most important event in the history of motor racing and it is fantastic to recreate that race at an event as prestigious as Goodwood.”
A replica four-cylinder, water-cooled 12,892cc engine developing 95 horsepower at 1400rpm was built for the car, but the original power unit was on display beside the car in front of Goodwood house. It still wore the build stamp date April 1906.

Renault says the 100-year-old two-seater race car had a top speed of 150km/h, used 40 litres/100km (just over 7mpg) and weighed 985kg.
Bruno Senna, nephew of the legendary Ayrton, was on hand to drive the 1985 Lotus Renault 97T that took Ayrton to his first ever Grand Prix victory.
Bruno (22), who took an early lead in the 2006 British Formula 3 Championship, has driven an F1 car before.

He demonstrated a 1986 Lotus 98T at the Brazilian Grand Prix two years ago, and describes the experience as scary. “Those cars have a lot of power and they just snap on you very easily,” he said.

At times over the past century Renault has endured a bumpy ride. Yet along the way the company has picked up six constructors’ titles and five drivers’ championships.
Nigel Mansell’s Festival first this year was in an early Lotus but it was in a Williams-Renault FW14B that the Englishman is best remembered. Fourteen years ago he won nine of 16 races with this car in a dominant season that signalled the start of a supreme run for Renault.

Damon Hill warmed hearts by demonstrating a 1967 Lotus 49 Cosworth Ford Grand Prix car, still in the traditional green and yellow Team Lotus colours. The Lotus 49 (the first racing car to use the classic Cosworth Ford V8 engine) earned so much success for Damon’s famous father, Graham.
Nico Rosberg in Jackie Stewart’s 1969 era Matra MS8 and Jackie Stewart in a much newer Williams FW28 added to the spice.
NASCAR legend Richard Petty was over from the USA, and members of the McLaren Trust arrived from New Zealand.

If you wanted more contrast, six world rally championship teams were among the cars tackling an adjacent Forest Rally stage, a new feature for Goodwood.
The Richard Burns Foundation to help people fighting against serious illness or injury was raising money by auctioning passenger rides with rally greats like Colin McRae, Marcus Gronholm and Markko Martin.

At the Bonhams auction within the Goodwood grounds, the number plate M1 fetched 331,500 British Pounds, a world record and the equivalent of more than $NZ 1 million. It was bought for a six-year-old but sounds more like a way to avoid the British Inheritance Tax.
Even if you never bothered with the Formula 1 machinery, Goodwood offered plenty. Splendid Jaguar D-Types, Aston Martins, the Le Mans-winning Audis and the debut of the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano V12 were among the treasures. The line-up of historic racing cars, like the Grand Prix Audis from the 1930s, the bulbous green Vanwall from 1958 and world championship-winning Cooper-Climaxes from the 1960s, were estimated to be worth more than $NZ60 million.

Yet how can you put a price on much of the inspired machinery aired at an event like Goodwood that celebrates the automobile? 

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