Stars and their rides still high on Goodwood speed

The classic motor-racing event is still the best introduction to the sport, writes Pink Floyd's Nick Mason

My old friend Charles March decided to hold a hill climb at his Goodwood estate, using the main road through the Park as the track, in 1993. I'd known Charles since he worked as a photographer on a shoot where my company, Ten Tenths, was supplying the car, and he knew of my enthusiasm for classic racing machinery.

That first Goodwood Festival of Speed was as much an exercise for Charles and his friends as anything. It was thought that if a few thousand paying members of the public attended, then the event would be judged a success and that it might be possible to stage a similar event in the future. Damon Hill was to drive his father's Mk II Jaguar, John Surtees a pre-war Mercedes, and I brought along a Ferrari. James Hunt was due to drive his championship winning McLaren M23 for the first time in sixteen years, but tragically he died a week before the Festival.

Over 25,000 people visited the event over the two days. Traffic in the roads around Goodwood House was congested for miles, and the crowds in the paddock were making it difficult to get the cars out on to the hill climb. So it was much more of a success than anyone anticipated and I'm pleased to say it has continued. This week 150,000 will come to Goodwood. It has now expanded into two events - the Festival of Speed and the Revival meeting, which is held in September.

The Festival is about hill climbs as well as the display of famous cars and the presence of celebrities, whereas the Revival event is much more about circuit racing. The hill climb features cars from the 1890s to contemporary teams' machinery; the revival has cars from the 1920s to the 1960s. This year at the festival those old Bugattis and Alfas will be seen in the company of 21st century Renaults, Williams, BAR and McLaren machines. A lot of effort goes into getting it right. The great thing about both events, but especially the Festival of Speed, is the way the public have a much better chance of getting close to the drivers and cars and have their photographs taken and collect autographs in a way they can't at most other meetings.

For the drivers and owners there's a lavish Ball with an excellent band (although Pink Floyd haven't yet played Goodwood).

The Goodwood Festival is the best introduction to racing you could possibly have. Enthusiasts bring their cars along, of course, but makers such as Porsche also take historic models for demonstration runs.

I have only missed one year of the Festival and have been to all the revival meetings. I've driven all sorts of cars at Goodwood: a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO; a 1979 Lola T297; 1961 "Birdcage" Maserati T61. My wife Annette and my daughters Holly and Chloe enjoy competing at Goodwood.

This year we'll be taking three cars: the Ferrari T3 in which Gilles Villeneuve won the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix (and which will be driven by his son, Jacques Villeneuve); a Porsche 962 that competed at Le Mans in 1990; and a 1926 Type 35 Bugatti. When I watched the Ferrari in 1978 it looked like the ultimate racing machine. Two decades later I was taken aback to hear a mechanic at Goodwood call it "the old girl", but it has retained its quintessential Ferrari character - the crisp box and the engine sound are extraordinary.

Porsche dominated Le Mans through the 1980s with the 956 and its successor the 962. These cars were extraordinary, not just because of their successes, but also because relatively large numbers of private customers could buy and race the cars, with a Porsche support team providing the back up. The one that will be at Goodwood was bought new from Porsche in 1990 and delivered to Richard Lloyd just in time for its debut at that year's Le Mans. It still has the pink livery it was treated to as a result of a sponsorship deal with a Japanese sports clothing manufacturer. Driven by John Watson, Allan Berg and Bruno Giacomelli, it finished 11th overall, despite problems with the brakes and overheating. Bruno will be driving the car again at the Goodwood Festival.

My wife will be driving the Bugatti T35, one of the classic blue tapered-bodied racers from the late 1920s. It wasn't like that when I found it lying against a ramshackle chicken shed some years ago, but a five-year rebuild means that it is back loudly on song.

The Bugatti has a straight-eight engine of 2,292cc with a non-syncromesh gearbox and the rather solid brakes. Suspension on the rear is via a live axle and quarter-elliptic leaf springs. It is a pure racing car. It only does three miles to the gallon if pushed hard, and the plugs have to be changed depending on the type of driving you are planning. It is also unspeakably noisy, traumatising cows and sheep in its wake, as I once found out when severely reprimanded by an apoplectic farmer - I had foolishly stopped, mistaking his gesticulations for the sign of an enthusiast.

I think we can be sure that all the waving will be by enthusiasts at the Festival. In all events, I will enjoy watching my wife take control of this Bugatti, a glass of champagne in hand to toast her Goodwood success.

The 2004 Goodwood Festival of Speed is held from 25 to 27 June. For more information contact the ticket office: 01243 755 055 or visit www.goodwood.co.uk

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