The glorious Goodwood time-warp

This was Britain's greatest track, back in the era when racing was fast, furious and above all, fun. Now, those days are back. John Simister reports
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This is how motor racing used to be. I'm at the Goodwood Motor Circuit, near Chichester in Sussex, and I'm strapped into a 1964 Mercedes-Benz 300SE saloon. Every time the owner and driver Stewart Imber arrives at a bend, he somehow senses the point at which the rear wheels want to overtake the front, steers into the slide and drifts the big "fintail" Merc to the point when I wonder if we'll ever go straight again.

But we always do. The grass, the bank, the chicane walls get perilously close, but we stay on the track. Every curve is a balancing act of skilful slides and corrections. It's what racing cars did in the 1960s, when power comfortably exceeded grip and the four-wheel drift was the cornering technique. Today, it's all about grip and pin-sharp accuracy, and cars don't really slide any more. No wonder the Goodwood Revival race meeting is so popular.

The Mercedes will race in the St Mary's Trophy saloon-car event, usually the most crowd-pleasing of the 16 races over the weekend. It's a two-parter, the first on Saturday with the owners driving, the second on Sunday with famous drivers at the wheels of the Ford Mustangs, Lotus Cortinas, Mini-Coopers, Hillman Imps and other notable saloons of the 1960-66 era. This year's Revival weekend runs from Friday 31 August to Sunday 2 September.

It is, simply, the best, most magical historic motor-racing meeting in the world. Why is it called the Revival? Because it celebrates the revival of the Goodwood Motor Circuit, which re-opened for historic racing in September 1998, half a century (to the day) after the former Westhampnett airfield was first used for racing.

The circuit closed in 1966. For the next 32 years it was used, ever less frequently, for testing and car-club track days. But the current Earl of March, enthused by the success of his Goodwood Festival of Speed, set about restoring the track, whose buildings had been the models for the original Scalextric accessories.

On its re-opening, the track looked almost exactly as it did in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, it is used for track-day events throughout the year – and, of course, for the annual Revival.

There are races for every type of car that ever raced at Goodwood up to 1966. That includes Formula One cars, sports cars, tiny 500cc Formula Junior cars, motorcycles and, most significantly, cars that could have competed, and in many cases did, in the famous Tourist Trophy – Ferrari 250 GTOs, the Aston Martin DP project cars, AC Cobras, Jaguar E-type lightweights, even Chevrolet Corvette Stingrays.

The Tourist Trophy, or TT, is a one-hour race on the Sunday, with two drivers for each car. Many famous names, past and present, take part. Sir Stirling Moss is the best known of them. He has a dark affinity with Goodwood – it was where the first part of his racing career was ended with his 1962 crash.

Other notable TT drivers will include Derek Bell, Richard Attwood, Jackie Oliver, Brian Redman, Lyn St James (from US Cart single-seaters), Sir John Whitmore and Desiré Wilson, the only woman ever to win a Formula One race. You'll be able to see, and maybe talk to, other famous names who will be around Goodwood for much of the weekend. Jackie Stewart, Tony Brooks, Sir Jack Brabham, Jacky Ickx and John Surtees are likely to be there, and Roy Salvadori, famous British sports-car and saloon racer of the 1950s and 1960s, has a track parade each day of his past cars and rival drivers in his honour.

There will be a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Ford-Cosworth DFV F1 engine, which won its first race in 1967, in a Lotus 49 driven by Jim Clark. It went on to be the most successful F1 engine in history, and was also used in sports-racing cars. Twenty-five DFV-powered machines will take to the circuit on each Revival day.

Unlike many modern race meetings, Goodwood lets you get close to the cars and drivers. You'll need to buy a pass in advance to get into the main paddock area, and gentlemen have to wear either a tie or period racing attire, but there'll be plenty of cars outside the main paddock because it can't hold them all.

But what's this about a tie? Part of what makes the Revival special is that you're encouraged to wear period clothing. In fact, you feel a bit out of things if you don't. For the men it can be a suitable sports jacket and slacks, or something more adventurous such as a forces uniform. For ladies, the scope is huge: a 1950s film-star look, a 1960s Mary Quant-lookalike mini-dress, anything glamorous and retro. There's a Revival Market with stalls selling all kinds of fashion accessories.

Mingling with the crowd will be actors and actresses role-playing cameos from half a century ago. Spivs will try to sell you watches and nylons, mods and rockers will be moved on by "police", and the Home Guard will try to keep hostile forces at bay.

Glamour girls will play at being fashion models in the pit-lane, while Laurel & Hardy, Marilyn Monroe and George Formby will put in regular appearances. A fleet of Glam Cab Ford Cortinas, as featured in Carry On Cabby, will ferry VIPs around, pursued by reporters and photographers. The whole time-warp promises to be the world's biggest vintage fashion event.

New this year are an art deco car showroom full of classic Ferraris, and the Freddie March Spirit of Aviation concours d'elegance for pre-1967 aircraft. Freddie March, the present Lord March's grandfather, was a keen aviator as well as the founder of the circuit; the airfield within the circuit is still in regular use.

The Revival always features vintage aircraft. This year 30 or so will be gathered, including the oldest airworthy Spitfire Mk1a, the Vickers Vimy from the Brooklands Museum, a Douglas DC3 Dakota that flew on D-Day, and one of just four Tipsy Trainers left in the world.

No vehicles made after 1966 should be seen at the circuit. The same is true of the nearest spectators' car park, reserved for cars made in or before 1966. If you own one, be sure to take it.

The Goodwood Revival is my favourite motorsport event by far. The racing is as fast, frantic and exciting as any you'll see. The cars may be old but that doesn't stop them being raced hard. It makes modern Formula One seem an oddly one-dimensional, self-obsessed place.

And, with a glint in his eye, Lord March relishes the Revival's undercurrent of less politically correct times: "It's a pro-smoking event [his lordship doesn't smoke] and there's lots of noise. All the things you're not allowed to do any more."

Tickets by advance sale only. Call the ticket line on 01243 755 055, fax 01243 755 058, email or visit