Why the weather can't ruin the Goodwood Festival of Speed

Despite the rain, and a lack of interest in motorsport, Sean O'Grady has a blast at Goodwood
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The Independent Online

Fond as I am of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and the enterprising Earl of March on whose estate it is held, I'm afraid that my enthusiasm for this year's event was marred by the weather. When you find yourself spending most of an afternoon in a Nissan hut (no pun intended) drying out your socks, drinking tea out of a polystyrene cup and nibbling a Tesco fruit shortcake biscuit you can't help feeling that some of the festival's more glamorous excitements have passed you by.

Indeed they did – the Edwardian grand prix cars, I think, and some fine old motorbikes. I'd have liked to have seen them, but not at the cost of contracting trench foot. Having never been to Glastonbury, and being too young to have seen action at Ypres, I'm sure that the Goodwood sludge was a mere facial mudpack by comparison, but it was no fun. I'm too old now to pretend to myself or anyone else that getting pneumonia is cool.

That said, there were certainly some attractions that were almost worth getting soaked to he skin for. There was a first glimpse of the McLaren Mercedes SLR, for example, which somehow combines scissor doors and a convertible bodyshell (carbonfibre is probably the answer to that little conundrum). I ought to declare an interest at this point and mention that I was granted some corporate hospitality from Mercedes-Benz, but this in now way affects my admiration for the £350,000 roadster and my determination to put it through its paces as objectively as possible as soon as possible. (I've driven the coupé version, which was a bit of a handful – I'd go for a Suzuki Swift Sport if I were you.)

Then there was the stuff of anorak dreams. The Bugatti Royale, let us mention, was once also the stuff of plutocrat dreams. There they were, two or three of some of the most valuable rare cars in the world, all with their straight-16 engines gleaming their unfeasible beauty. Only 300bhp from a 12,763cc engine in 1931, you know. Opening the doors of the 1957 Toyota Crown that marked Toyota's entry into motorsport was also a special moment for me. I'd never seen this classic – if that's the word – " in the metal" before, and it was interesting to see the weapon the Japanese used to drive the British out of Far Eastern and Australasian markets half a century ago. We could also see their weird personal transport concept cars, a cross between a Segway and a bathchair (below). My, how Toyota has grown.

I ought also to declare that being at Goodwood put me into a bit of a minority. Not being into celebrities or motorsport that much I was unfazed by the presence of a smattering of A-list celebs and indeed so many greats of the racing world – Jenson Button, David Coulthard, Emerson Fittipaldi, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir John Surtees and Damon Hill, though I acknowledge their immense talents. That even includes their valiant attempts to ride pushbikes up the hill in a modernised "milk race". It also even includes the rally stars – to my mind the more entertaining end of the motorsport spectrum – such as Petter Solberg and Chris Atkinson, with rallying past masters, including Colin McRae, Carlos Sainz, Hannu Mikkola and Stig Blomqvist .That is with once exception – Lewis Hamilton. Like David Beckham he has the sort of star quality that can draw the previously apathetic (i.e. me) into a sport. There was real, genuine affection for Lewis at Goodwood, and his climb up the hill, much interrupted to wave and enchant the crowd, was the warmest moment of a wet weekend.

All of which might beg the question as to why someone as blasé about motor racing as me would even want to go to Goodwood. I'm sorry to say that every year I go along in the hope that they'll repeat a particularly fine stunt they organised afew years ago – getting a South African Airways Jumbo jet to do some aerobatics, an airborne hippo doing ballet. I'd pay a lot to see that done again. The only other rational answer – apart for the addict's need to sate himself on fresh metal – lies in being among a throng of people who you know share your a passions and, comfortingly, are probably even more anal about them than you are. People who wear flip flops in the mud.

As I write this a press pack for the 2007 Goodwood Revival Meeting lands on my desk. This is actually more my thing, because there's even more old stuff there and it's aless unrelentingly petrol-headed event. Plus everyone goes around in period costume, so it's like stepping back in time or onto the set of Heartbeat. I hope it doesn't rain.

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