Fanfare for the fan belt

Festival's lesson for Formula One
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The Independent Online
Few people can lay claim to having been disturbed by the legendary American driver Dan Gurney racing one of his Eagle Weslake Grand Prix cars in their back yard, but the Earl of March and Kinrara, Charles Henry Gordon Lennox, can. Two weeks ago Goodwood House in Sussex reverberated to the echoes of motor sport history in the fifth annual Festival of Speed.

More than 100,000 spectators flocked to enjoy the emotional reunion of legends such as Stirling Moss and Tony Brooks with the Vanwall in which, 40 years ago, their British Grand Prix victory provided the first for British drivers in a British car at such a level.

Hans Stuck drove his father's prewar Auto Union, and the champions Phil Hill, John Surtees, Jody Scheckter and Emerson Fittipaldi mingled in the crowd, who also saw Johnny Herbert, Eddie Irvine, Eddie Jordan and Carlos Reutemann piloting a variety of glamorous historic racing cars and bikes up the hill outside the stately home where, as a boy, Lord March had driven his own go-kart.

The festival explodes many myths, chief among them that spectators can no longer get close to the action at motor racing. At a time when Silverstone is obliged by FIA, the sport's governing body, to erect fencing to keep fans away from the paddock at the British Grand Prix, which will attract 150,000 at the weekend, Goodwood allowed them not only to see their idols, but to speak openly with them, just as Silverstone's Coy's Festival will later this month.

At last year's British Grand Prix Herbert was nearly fined for signing autographs in the wrong place. "It's awful," Lord March said, "having to sign autographs through the fence. One of the things about motor racing is that you feel perhaps most fondly towards the time you went between, say 12 and 20. And by offering a programme from 1897 to 1997 one is giving everybody their own bit of nostalgia."

He is cautious saying so, but the festival has consciously been designed for spectators. It is a social event, the garden party that the British Grand Prix once was before commercialism ran rampant. "Certainly, being able to go into the paddock and have a chat with the likes of Stirling Moss or Emerson Fittipaldi, is all part of it."

The punters actually felt welcome, which is probably the greatest secret of its spectacular success. "The other most important factor is something that I don't think we really brought to it, and that is the general feeling about Goodwood and motor sport. Goodwood took all the atmosphere and good feeling of Brooklands." He laughs. "I like to feel it's still lurking around here, somewhere."

The festival is also an affirmation of the human side of Formula One, which is so often obscured by fiscal considerations, and it has enticed the likes of McLaren and Williams to send cars regularly. "F1 people were scooping children and sitting them in the cars. I hope that's partly why the F1 guys come, because they enjoy it, being able to interact with the crowd. I hope they feel that they are part of something that perhaps they need to be doing. And want to be doing." To meet Ron Dennis there is to see the real enthusiast behind the preoccupied professional who runs McLaren at grands prix, where winning is all that counts.

Next year the Sunday will be a ticket-only affair, for reasons that might surprise those weaned on F1. "The last thing I want to do is have criticism levelled at us that we are just cramming people in and they can't see. We went to a lot of trouble this year to increase the viewing for general spectators, and opened areas up the hill to complement the grandstands. What I don't know, of course, is how many people didn't come because of the wet. But we had 100,000 tickets out there. Children got in free, so there were probably closer to 120,000 over the three days."

Very serious figures, given the weather, and food for thought for the motor sport barons, to whom television is everything. Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone are always invited. "Max didn't make it this year, though I know he wanted to come, and we've had a very good dialogue with Bernie. He has never been, but I always ask him."

It remains to be seen, with preoccupation over flotation, whether F1's powerbrokers heed the festival's message that sometimes the best way to look forward is first to look back.