Motoring: Don't write off the older models just yet...

Now in its seventh year, the Festival of Speed is gathering momentum. By John Simister

SUMMER, LORD March's front garden, Goodwood House, Sussex. People picnicking, sipping white wine, soaking up the sun. A Formula One McLaren- Mercedes hurtles past in a bid to be fastest from one end of a Goodwood drive to the other. Incongruous?

Not at all, because this is the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Now poised for its seventh outing, the festival is, over its three days, probably the most popular motor-sport event in Britain. Yet there are no car races, just blasts up what is described as a "hillclimb", although it's not exactly steep.

It's what goes up the hill that's important, historic racing-cars driven by historic racing-drivers. Stirling Moss will be there in a 1950s W196 Mercedes Grand Prix car. Sir Jack Brabham will drive a 1966 Brabham-Honda Formula Two car. Jackie Oliver will drive the Ford GT40 that won the Le Mans 24 Hours twice, the second time in 1969 when he and Jacky Ickx, who'll also be there, shared victory.

It's a grand reunion for wheelmen from all over the world. We'll see Phil Hill (world champion in 1961), David Coulthard, Tony Brooks, Rubens Barrichello, John Surtees, and Mika Salo. Rene Arnoux and Patrick Tambay will be reunited with Renault's pioneering turbocharged Formula One cars, including the first F1 turbocar from 1977, while McLaren test-driver Nick Heidfeld will be in the 1998 championship-winning McLaren MP4/13.

Actually, it hasn't quite been a summer idyll these last two years. In 1997 it poured, causing lawns to turn to mud and expensively shod spectators to squelch along in bare feet. Last year was more clement, but there were still some showers. So, by the law of averages, this year should be sunny.

The course doesn't look challenging, but from the driving seat it takes on a different tone. I drove it in a Lamborghini Diablo SV last year, as part of the road-going supercars class, and the start-line marshal warned me that an earlier runner had dropped oil on the first, damp, bend. So I just eased off to save embarrassment in front of thousands of spectators. More character-building was The Wall, further up the track, where many spectators can't quite see. The track has a vicious downhill kink at this point, and if you enter the kink too fast the wall is what you hit.

The proper drivers will have had practice runs, of course, and also far outscore me in bravery and skill. But the most spectacular drivers of the day will almost certainly be two kings and one queen of the rallying world. Colin McRae will attempt the day's fastest run in his Ford Focus rally car, Richard Burns will do the same in his rival Subaru Impreza Turbo, as will Michele Mouton, the only woman to win a world championship rally (San Remo, 1985), in her 600bhp Audi Quattro S1. Will they be quicker than the McLaren? Goodwood is a great leveller.

This is a festival of anniversaries. Honda is celebrating its half-century, and has emptied its museum to bring along some of its 1960s Formula One cars, including the RA300 in which John Surtees won the 1967 Italian Grand Prix. He'll drive it again at the festival. America's Indianapolis 500 race is 90 years old, and there'll be a fine gathering of historic "Indy" cars flown over, plus their drivers.

It's 50 years since the Le Mans 24 Hours restarted after the Second World War, and around half the 180-car entry is made up of Le Mans racers from the 1920s onwards, including around 25 past-winners. And Audi has several milestones to mark, including 90 years of the Audi name, and 100 years since August Horch began one of the companies that later made up the Auto Union (whose cars were renamed Audi in the mid-1960s).

The festival's theme is so wide-ranging it almost isn't a theme at all. But "Year One to Formula One: a millennium of horsepower" is a good excuse to cover practically everything. So we'll see races for recreated Roman chariots, early steam cars and bicycles, and examples of fast cars and motorcycles through this century.

There will also be the Cartier design competition for old and beautiful cars, to be judged by a panel including Sir Norman Foster, Muriel Gray and Robbie Coltrane.

Friday 18 to Sunday 20 June, at Goodwood House, near Chichester. Tickets on the day cost pounds 10 for Friday, pounds 20 for Saturday. Sunday must be pre- booked, and costs pounds 25. You can also pre-book the other days at a discount, or buy a complete weekend ticket for pounds 40. Call 01243 755055 or fax 01243 755058

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