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Goodwood Hunting: Why You Need to Go to the Festival of Speed

Editor’s Letter

After a couple hours of the old hurry up and wait, we're getting close. The track is just a stone's throw away now. Our helmets are on, and the air-cooled, 3.8-liter flat-six in the 964-series Porsche 911 is humming out back, ready to roar.

Then the word comes down: A Lamborghini Huracán GT3 has gone off spectacularly, shunting itself into several bales of hay and momentarily turning the Lambo race car into a wedge-shaped threshing machine. The driver's OK, but it's going to be a half-hour or so before we're able to go up the hill at the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed in West Sussex, England.

So we wait some more. I'm riding shotgun with Chris Harris, who I'm finding is a bit of a celebrity over here in the U.K. Harris has made a name for himself as an auto journalist (he has contributed to Automobile in the past) and ace driver who has become a YouTube star thanks in part to his fast and sideways style. He's also eminently at home at Goodwood, having run the 1.16-mile hill-climb circuit numerous times, and he has the helmet stickers to prove it.

Part new-car extravaganza (it's become the de facto British auto show), part concours, Goodwood is all glorious automotive noise, fury, and tire-smoking histrionics everywhere you turn. And just about every car in attendance, from the new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata to the flame-spitting Fiat Beast of Turin, which attempted a land-speed record in 1911, goes tear-assing up the Goodwood hill, aka Lord March's driveway.

The sheer diversity of vehicles scattered about the grounds is astonishing. There are Formula 1 cars, jet-powered motorcycles, NASCAR trucks, and vintage cars of all shapes, sizes, eras, and brands—many with seven-figure price tags. The array of activities is just as astonishing: rally and off-road racing courses, jet fly-bys, and appearances by living legends young and old, this year including MotoGP superstar Valentino Rossi, Jackie Stewart, and Richard Petty. Roughly 150,000 spectators spread out like locusts over the Goodwood Estate's grounds during the weekend. Lord March himself also gets in on the fun. He personally wrestled with the Beast of Turin and its 28.5-liter engine, got a wild ride with Ken Block in the 800-hp Hoonicorn Mustang, and drove Petty's famed 1970 Plymouth Superbird.

Mazda was this year's Goodwood title sponsor, and it brought along several of its all-time great race cars, including the famed No. 55 787B that won the 1991 24 Hours of Le Mans (Mazda is still the only Japanese automaker to score an overall win there) and, of course, the MX-5, which I had a chance to drive on the nearby Goodwood race circuit and later in Scotland. (It's as good as advertised.) The centerpiece on the grounds was a massive, 120-ton steel masterpiece by Goodwood resident artist Gerry Judah, in which a 787 and the Mazda Vision Gran Turismo fiberglass model twirl 130 feet into the sky.

Now, though, the track has finally been cleared. We hop in the right-hand-drive Porsche, and Harris fires it up. Far from your typical 964, this 1991 911 has been "reimagined" by Singer Vehicle Design and is pushing some 360 horsepower. Harris is in love with the hand-built, carbon-fiber-sheathed car and Singer itself, so much so that he's signed up to work with founder Rob Dickinson and company on a future project. (Stay tuned to next month's issue for our complete report on Singer and a drive of its latest restoration of a new 4.0-liter-powered car.)

As we pass the start line, I learn firsthand that Singer's creations are much more than just static showpieces. In British parlance, this car is "proper mad." Harris buries the throttle, and the flat-six erupts as he whips the car past the first treacherous right-hander. After that it's all a blur—the grandstands, the hay bales, the stone wall—as the glorious wail of the 3.8-liter fills up the hand-crafted cabin. Before I can get my bearings, we're at the top of the hill, and Harris is showboating for the crowd. On the way down, it's burnout after burnout as the throngs lining the hay bales roar their approval. It's the anti-pretentiousness of it all that strikes me as we do yet another burnout, and the track workers smile and wave. No stiff upper lips here.

I realize the term "bucket list" is thrown around loosely these days, but after attending Goodwood for the first time, I can say without reservation: Get it to the top of your pail, pronto. It's more than a true car guy or gal could ever hope for. What automotive events have you crossed off or do you still have on your personal bucket list? Let me know at letters@automobilemag.com.