GOODWOOD REVIVAL, 03 SEPTEMBER 2004

NOT SO GLORIOUS GOODWOOD IS STILL A WONDROUS AFFAIR.

Every September the historic racing world turns its attention to the three days that make up the Goodwood Revival Race meeting. Not only is Lord March’s annual party the biggest event of the year it is also quite unique combining an extraordinary race programme with the theatre of a period show and a wonderful circuit.

Since this event was conceived by the Earl of Larch and his team the event has gone from strength to strength with an ever more impressive collection of cars – comfortably the best field anywhere in the world – and new features and air displays. The Spitfires and Mustangs were very active this year as usual putting on their amazing displays regularly every day and topped off by the flypast of the only working Lancaster bomber. The attention to period detail continues to astound and for those lucky enough to receive an invitation period outfits are the order of the day.

The 2004 version recognised the career of Sir Jack Brabham as well as celebrating the 75th birthday of Sir Stirling Moss (sadly restricted to a wheelchair for the weekend after recent back surgery). Tribute displays of a remarkable, not to say very valuable, collection of Jack’s cars were held twice each day with the man himself driving his championship winning Repco-Brabham of 1966. All sorts of cars took part ranging from the 1970 BT33 F1 car of his last racing year all the way back to a fearsome looking midget dirt track racer that was flown specially from Melbourne for the occasion.

This year’s collection of celebrity drivers was better than ever. How about Rene Arnoux, Patrick Tambay, Tiff Needell, Tony Jardine, Nelson Piquet Jr., Allan McNish, Perry McCarthy (alias “Stig”), Jochen Mass, Bob Bondurant, Tony Dron, Gerry Marshall and of course the two “Sirs” for a selection? In addition there was the cream of the historic racing scene including Barrie “Whizzo” Williams, Simon Hadfield, Willie Green and Frank Sytner.

For our small team the event was rather fraught as we only had the entry confirmed 14 days before the flag dropped for the first race and only got to see the car three days later. A special mention must be made of the remarkable Ean Pugh who just like last year saved our bacon by generously lending a car from his collection for the occasion. There are very few Ean’s around and he has my heartfelt thanks for this gesture.

The car in question was a fearsome beast all told. A 1964 Crossle Sports racer does not sound much. However when you realise that this was basically a 1600cc chassis used to having a Lotus Twin Cam in the back that now found itself with 550 bhp of Chevrolet V8 you should get some idea of the problems!! The car had not raced for several years since being run with wide cut slicks on 15” wheels. For Goodwood though such modern devices are strictly forbidden and a return to period Dunlop L section tyres was required. Unfortunately with the time schedule involved we could only manage 13” wheels (thank you Bob Birrell for the loan of a pair) and the wrong size rubber on the back – too small of course.

The ever faithful Don Haldenby burnt the midnight oil to get the car ship shape and ensuring that it was running and safe. Testing was out of the question and all we could manage was a run on the Leconfield runway the day before departure.

The car was entered into the last race of the weekend, the Whitsun Trophy. A race for big bangers the organisers did not disappoint collecting no less that 9 Ford GT40’s including the Le Mans car of former winner Jackie Oliver and the recently purchased version of McLaren designer Adrian Newey. Throw in a sprinkling of Ferrari Le Mans racers, three McLaren Can-Am cars, two Lola T70 spiders and a pair of Lotus 30’s and you get the picture. Surviving the race intact was a more realistic ambition than challenging for victory.

Held in very hot sunshine the practice session was my first time driving the car around a corner and the experience proved pretty worrying. However, this was mainly due to the huge oil slick deposited on the racing line by Frank Sytner who had holed his sump – there is a lot of oil in a wet sumped Chevrolet! The track was treacherous to say the least and at least two cars crashed before the session was red flagged and abandoned (Frank receiving two points on his licence for ignoring the black flags). As I was more interested in preserving Ean’s pride and joy I took no chances and for the first time ever I found myself on the last row of the grid – confident however of doing something better in the race.

The trouble in practice was of course only a taster of what was to transpire in the race itself. Holding the revs at 5000rpm I dropped the clutch and aimed for a gap on the outside of the grid. Away like a rocket I got no more than 30 yards before going into the back of a stationary GT40 who had been broadsided by a Ferrari Dino. There was no crunch however and only the rather weather-beaten nose of the Crossle had a couple of new battle scars to show for the encounter.

Undeterred, I carried on in the confusion and found myself embroiled in a furious dice with the green Ferrari 250LM and the extraordinary looking Corvette Grand Sport having its first race after a £1M rebuild. Although this battle was destined to be a short one it did reveal that the Crossle was much quicker than predicted and indeed has the potential for be much faster. The brakes are great, the power plentiful and the handling better than I would have anticipated. A re-worked throttle and loosened up clutch along with proper tyres would make a dramatic difference as these are nothing more than problems of long term storage that effect any racing machine.

Just how quick the car might have been remains a mystery as the first race was soon red flagged to clear away two beached cars. As we formed up on the second grid I had great plans that involved a sneak up the inside along the pit wall. As the flag dropped the getaway was better than I had anticipated and suddenly found myself alongside the yellow Anthony Bamford owned Ford GT40 driven by Willie Green. As the Crossle belongs to another I decided that discretion was definitely the order of the day and let him go into Madgwick. On the run down to Lavant all was well but then disaster struck! As the power was applied for the back straight there was a sudden noise and loss of power. All the gauges were normal but again I thought respect for another mans car required a graceful early retirement after less than one lap.

Only four laps later the fun continued as Willie Green’s GT40 assaulted the beautiful Brabham BT8 of Duncan Dayton – or was it the other way around? It depends who you ask but what is certain is that both cars were badly damaged and out of the race which was red flagged after only five laps.

So we returned home rather chastened and disappointed but once again thankful for the privilege of taking part in what must be the best historic race meeting anywhere in the world. Two days later a new 50p bolt had replaced one that snapped, the exhaust manifold was secured and the engine restored to full fitness – very frustrating. Maybe next year will bring better luck and a finish.

In the meantime many thanks are required. To Ean Pugh of course for taking a chance on trusting me with his car – very few people are willing to do this. Chris Davies is Ean’s long suffering and hard working man in Wales who tends an extraordinary collection of cars. At a moments notice he had the car ready for collection despite being in the middle of a Brabham re-build. The equally long suffering Don Haldenby produced a well prepared car that failed because a simple bolt snapped – most unfair on him after all his last minute work.

 

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