Goodwood Festival of Speed: Dreams are made of this

For 40 years John Simister imagined driving one of world's rarest, most revered racing cars. Then it happened
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's a fantastic event. The Earl of March opens the driveway up to, and past, the family stately home at Goodwood to all kinds of competition cars past and present, plus drivers of similar celebrity. There are timed runs, tortured tyres, and fabulous mechanical music. There is nothing else quite like it in the world.

There are also displays of cars as art and beauty (one of this year's eight themes in the Cartier Style et Luxe display was "Modernism on the Move: Coachbuilt Fantasies of the Streamlined Age", including a fabulous 1938 Phantom Corsair and a cute 1938 Skoda Monte Carlo Coupé). There is a grand ball on the Saturday evening (Steve Winwood played this year). And, most important of all, the public can get right up to the racing and rally cars in the paddocks and mingle with the owners and drivers in between tyre-smoking runs up the steepening hill.

Let objectivity go hang. The Ford GT40 is my favourite racing car, ever. I made slot-racer models of it when I was young, I followed every nuance of its career, I jumped for joy when it had its finest hour (4pm, 19June, 1966) when seven-litre GT40 MkIIs finished first, second and third at Le Mans as Ford proved that, having been rebuffed in its attempt to buy Ferrari, it could beat the Italian company instead. For this year's 40th anniversary of the win, Ford has recast its long-serving GT40 race-car demonstrator - owned continuously since 1966 - as a replica of the black car with silver stripes driven to Le Mans victory by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon. And on Goodwood Friday I drove it up the hill, as fast as I dared, and a very large box gained a very large, gold-plated tick...

I'm first out of the paddock in my batch, just me and the car. I can easily convince myself I won Le Mans four worryingly short decades ago. I am Bruce McLaren, I am set to pound around the Le Mans circuit for a total of half a day at speeds well beyond 200mph. I'm learning the semi-sequential ZF gearbox's right-handed gearshift, memorising all the switches and dials, bracing my left foot for the very heavy clutch. Down to the start, loop round, and Nigel Mansell in a Formula One Lotus will shortly be on my tail. This is fantastic, a dream come true 40 years after it took root. I go as fast as dare, because I can't miss the chance. Over the brow, through the bends, revving hard in third before snatching fourth just before the finishing line...

I've just blasted a proper GT40, in the most famous colour scheme, up the Goodwood hill. Now I can die happy. But, as if the GT40 wasn't enough, on the Saturday I wrestled with the most potently slithery car I've ever had the good fortune to experience. In 1975, American Bob Tullius won seven out of 10 Sports Car Club of America races, thrashing the Corvettes and winning the championship with the Jaguar-based car his team developed itself. Today the Group 44 car belongs to Jaguar's Heritage Collection - Tullius would quite like to buy it back - and, fitted with new front brakes and new racing tyres, it arrived at this year's Goodwood Festival...

I've been warned to insert earplugs, and now I hear why. The tiniest dab on the accelerator spins the back wheels in a sidestepping slither. By the third or fourth corner the rear wheels grip better, enough to throw up some amusing quirks. The crowd enjoy this run, judging by the waves on the way back down...

Next up was the Saab Aero. We saw it at the Geneva show back in March, a fantastically futuristic machine with a cockpit roof which powers up and forward and a giant single piece of wraparound glass for a panoramic view. Its twin-turbo, 400bhp V6 runs on bio-ethanol, it has four-wheel drive... and it does just 30mph, because it's a concept car and bits might fall off...

At the start we move to the trackside to let other supercars past: we're slow so shall run last. We have to move again to let a giant tank-track Wacky Racer through, on the tail of Penelope Pitstop and Peter Perfect. Then disaster strikes. A microswitch connector in the bonnet fails, preventing the roof from opening or closing. Then the battery goes flat...

Still, at least I experienced this piece of the future for a short time, and I wouldn't have been able to see where I was going anyway. I saw it ascend the hill the next day. It looked fabulous. As was the whole Goodwood Experience.

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