Motoring: Motor racing's rapid rewind

Some of history's greatest race cars are gathering in Goodwood for a quick trip back in time, writes Gavin Green
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The greatest collection of historic racing cars ever seen in Britain gathers at Goodwood this weekend for the fifth annual Festival of Speed - the motor-sport equivalent of Royal Ascot. And it's not just great old cars with which the crowd of almost 100,000 will mingle. Numerous ex-racing champions, including Jackie Stewart, Stirling Moss, Sir Jack Brabham and John Surtees, will be there, in most cases to drive. Unlike modern racing circuits, invariably characterless autodromes, Goodwood allows the spectators and the stars to mix: there is no segregation and there are no officious marshals patrolling wire fences to keep fans away from precious, overpaid drivers. In most cases you can touch the cars. In some cases, you can even sit in them.

The collection of cars is worth many hundreds of millions of pounds. There are so many great cars scheduled to appear but, for me, the most amazing will be a brace of Auto Unions. These monstrous 1930s' German GP racers, along with 600bhp Mercedes cars, dominated racing before the Second World War. The Auto Unions and Mercedes-Benzs were partly bankrolled by Hitler, to prove the superiority of German engineering and know-how. These Master Racers swept all other cars aside. They are awesome machines - fast, noisy and beautiful in their bare aluminium clothing (from which they earned the tag "Silver Arrows"). Goodwood will be the first occasion since the war that the Mercedes and Auto Union cars will compete against each other. It is a major coup for the organiser, Goodwood owner Lord March.

The Auto Union will be driven by Hans Stuck, ex-F1 star and son of the pre-war Austrian driver of the same name (the other Auto Union, owned by the Deutsche Museum in Munich, will be a static exhibit). The 1937 Mercedes W125 that competes against it will be driven by ex-motorcycling and F1 world champion John Surtees. There will be another 1930s Mercedes racer, on hand as a static exhibit.

Goodwood celebrates a host of anniversaries this year, not least the 40th anniversary of the first win by a British car in a world championship GP. It happened at the British GP at Aintree in 1957, when dental student Tony Brooks and Stirling Moss shared the driving of the Vanwall that triumphed over the Ferraris and Maseratis. Both Brooks and Moss will be at Goodwood, to drive Vanwalls up the hill.

Goodwood, however, must hold mixed emotions for Moss. The old racing circuit, adjacent to the grounds of Goodwood House, which opened in 1948 and closed in 1966, was not just the scene of some of his greatest wins; it is also where he very nearly died in a massive shunt. Moss opened this year's festival, when he drove a Mercedes 300SLR - identical to the car in which he won the 1955 Mille Miglia sports car race, arguably his greatest win - up the hill yesterday, the first day of this year's three-day event.

Apart from the Auto Unions, the other great coup for the organisers was to persuade Texan racing recluse Jim Hall to bring three of his extraordinary Chaparral sports racing cars over from America. Hall's Chaparrals were the most advanced sports racers of the 1960s; they pioneered aerofoil wings, semi-automatic transmissions and "ground effects" - all part of 1990s motor racing parlance. Hall's cars were so advanced that rivals had them banned. Hall, in utter astonishment and disgust, broke one final lap record and then retired his cars for good. They have not been seen since. The most amazing is probably the 1970 2J "sucker car", which used a small separate engine to suck the car down on the road, to generate extra grip. Hall himself will drive this car at Goodwood.

There will be more than 30 gorgeous Ferrari sports cars, on hand to celebrate Ferrari's 50th anniversary; current star Eddie Irvine will also be there to race up the hill in a two-year old F1 car. Other modern GP cars at Goodwood include this year's McLaren-Mercedes and Jordan-Peugeot, and last year's Williams-Renault, as driven by Damon Hill. Ex-BBC commentator Jonathan Palmer will drive it at Goodwood. Jaguar C-type and D-type racers from the 1950s will feature in abundance. Star Jag is probably the actual D-type that won the 1957 Le Mans 24-hour race in the hands of Ron Flockhart and Ivor Bueb. It was Jaguar's finest ever motor sporting moment.

Much older still are the cars competing in the Brooklands class. It's 90 years since Britain's, and the world's, first purpose-built motor racing course was finished at Brooklands, near Weybridge, in a massive operation funded by car enthusiast and Surrey land-owner Hugh Fortescue Locke King. It even involved diverting the River Wey in two places. Two thousand Irish navvies were employed and 200,000 tons of concrete were laid in an operation that, in today's money, cost pounds 9 million. The circuit closed just before the last war, and was never re-opened.

Original Brooklands cars thundering up the Goodwood hill include the ex-John Cobb 24-litre Napier-Railton that holds the Brooklands perpetual lap record - an average speed of 143.44mph, recorded in 1935. Also competing will be the old aero-engined racer known as Babs, which killed its driver, JG Parry Thomas, when it crashed at Pendine Sands in Wales in 1927 in pursuit of the world land speed record. It was finally exhumed in 1969, and painstakingly rebuilt.

Add Indianapolis racers from America, numerous motorcycle world champions on various marvellous two-wheeled machines, the world's most powerful- ever racing car (the 1973 Can Am racing Porsche 917/30 - good for 1,100bhp) and much, much more. Great cars, great drivers, great atmosphere, great location.

The Festival of Speed, held at Goodwood House near Chichester, continues today and tomorrow. Entry: Saturday pounds 20, Sunday pounds 25. Children up to 12 free.

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