Goodwood Revival 2021: Going Back In Time Again, After A Long Year Of Waiting
Photography by Alex Lawrence
The golden rules of attending a party are: don’t be the first to arrive, and never be last to leave. It seems like simple social logic to follow, but when you’re excited about going and finally having such a great time, it can be a wrench to stick to that etiquette.
The party of the classic car season has just wrapped after three of the best days to be anywhere on the planet in the last 18 months. The Goodwood Revival 2021 has been the perfect shot in the arm—pun intended.
From the minute you park and kill the engine your hands are already shaking with giddiness. You’re as likely to park next to a rat rod as you are a Rolls Royce. The fields surrounding the Goodwood Motor Circuit become a heady mix of motoring that could constitute car shows on their own.
At the event proper, the sights don’t immediately compute, and it is with slight bewilderment that you can watch an oil-stained mechanic getting out of the driving seat of an Aston Martin DBR1 while the passenger is immaculately coiffured in tweed, hunting cap, and brogues—you may rightly wonder if you’re still somewhat asleep.
A gruff, bearded, and tattooed biker excitedly hugs a teddy boy rocker, happily back-slapping each other for having finally arrived here. We’ve all finally made it. You can feel adrenaline in your system because Revival is back. We’re all back. Well, nearly all.
The travel ban inconsistencies means that some of our European and further afield brothers and sisters could not be here this year, and they need to know, they were missed. Attendance was still high however, and making our way in through the gates and towards the paddocks this past weekend, the crowd only grew with each step. Some staples of Goodwood were here; the comedic roadwork’s repairing the pit lane while having a cup of tea and playfully heckling the passersby while posing for pictures, with the marshals having their morning safety briefing behind them. As I walked across the circuit, the buntings were blowing in the breeze, I caught the eye of a marshal as I passed this idyllic scene. The unspoken look says it all: At last.
Crews, drivers, and the Revival staff were heading off to their respective areas of the circuit for the day’s work, but we all seemed to pause as we passed the Sir Stirling Moss exhibit. The uncovered nose of 722, the 1955 Mille Miglia-winning Mercedes 300 SLR, insured for a cool £100m, was almost overlooked and ignored by many who are drawn to the white striped nose of the 250 SWB instead. It is with reverence that I stood and read Sir Stirling’s handwriting on the front of the car.
“We did it together my thanks + affection Ciao, Stirling Moss”
Fitting words not only from Sir Stirling to the car and his co-driver, but something that I would humbly like to echo to everyone involved in making the Revival weekend happen this year.
With engines firing into life, oil and fuel lace the atmosphere with the familiar scent of motorsport, and brings me out of my reverie and reminds me that there is still work to do. At the top end of the main paddock, a 1938 Alfa Romeo 308C revs in unison with a 1936 ERA B-type R11B. The throbbing noise breaking the morning silence with gusto. Walking down towards the aerodrome, I passed Jaguar E-Types being fiddled with next to a resting Aston Martin DB4GT. Looking left, a line of Ferrari 250 GT SWBs—including the Interim Berlinetta—have amassed a sizable crowd. How one can work on these cars with such an audience peering over your shoulder I’ll never know.
A powder blue 1964 AC Cobra sat on axle stands nearby, being prepped for Jenson Button and Alex Buncombe to race on Sunday. A few rows down, the snake eyes of another Cobra—piloted by Martin Brundle—glared out menacingly, intimidating its competition. My unfiltered brain made my mouth utter, loudly, “This place is nuts.” A common thought for many, surely.
And it holds true no matter which part of the venue you found yourself in over the weekend. There was also the Stardust Casino, hangars full of aircraft, the Earls Court exhibit containing a homologation display, and on through to the new Radford 62 car gleaming in a JPS livery. Add to that the always-popular Mini Cooper paddock, the single-seater section, more Lolas and Ford GTs than you could keep track of, a world-record-holding polished aluminum Spitfire, and on, and on, and on. And that’s still not even the half of it.
Crossing past the Earls Court studio building, I found myself in another Mini Cooper cluster, a vintage garage display put on by BMW, the shed containing some Barry Sheene tribute bikes, a sandy beach equipped with deck chairs and ice cream to rest and cool off with, but I managed to keep on moving, otherwise it’s easy to get caught up spinning in circles of indecision.
The next visage on my path included a 1929 Bentley 4½ Litre with red, brush-painted fender tips carrying the Thunderstruck livery on the engine cowling. Brian Johnson of AC/DC was at the wheel, naturally. Sitting behind that was a small pool of red Aston Martin Ulsters. Lining the edge of this paddock on one side were a group a 1.5-liter Grand Prix cars from 1961-1965, which sat adjacent to a 1956 Ferrari 500 TRC that was being warmed up nearby a Maserati 300S. In between them were an Aston Martin DB3S, an Austin Healey 100S, and a Jaguar C-Type waiting for their turns on the circuit.
Going through this paddock, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve just gone even further back in time. Behind a rope fence, Battle of Britain Spitfires were being fueled and prepared for their first flight of the day. And to add even more to the period feel, there was a tented display opposite of the airmen and flight crew. Inside of which the crews were smoking pipes while discussing the sortie and weather. Land Rovers were being worked on nearby, and the ground crew was inspecting the trolleys of ordnance. It’s all contrived, obviously, but the effort and scale of it all makes it feel more real than you might expect. It’s basically a big costume party, but it’s the best one going.
Next to all of this was the shopping area. Displays of everything from the artwork of Paul Howse through to stalls offering period haircuts and outfits unfurling their wares. While it was all beautifully laid out, it was a long haul from the epicenter of the real action. After the morning’s air-display, and a hot rod track parade, it was time for the first hot laps of the circuit as official practice got underway.
In a flurry of sound, a few incidents, and some excellent lap times, the first race of the day began at 6:20pm. Previously known as the Kinrara Trophy, this year’s aptly named Stirling Moss Memorial Trophy ran into the sunset in a fitting and sentimental tribute to the great man.
The close battles on track were characterized by two E-Types crashing out in the final 20 minutes. One of them was the most successful—and longest running—competition E-Types of all time. Alex Brundle, son of ex-F1 racer Martin, had taken the 1962 ex-Robin Sturgess car out of the race. As he was taken to the marshals post, he looked quite down in spirit, simply stating, “Dad’s not going to be happy.” That race was ultimately won by the DK Engineering team in their Jaguar E-Type under the last light of the day.
The lure of alcoholic refreshment on the way back to the car park was strong, but the following day would see a majority of races happening for real, and with another unseasonably warm and sunny day forecast, the beers would have to wait.
Saturday’s racing action started with the Grand Prix and Voiturette cars that raced between 1930 and 1951. If you weren’t already fully awake by 9.45am, this lot helped. The ensuing motorcycle race led to the fan favorite all-Mini-Cooper-S race. Same cars, same 1293cc engines, different drivers. From Jochen Mass to Romain Dumas, the field was peppered with recognizable drivers from F1, WEC, the BTCC, and beyond. In other words, it didn’t disappoint. Putting on a very entertaining reminder that rubbing is racing, the swarm of Minis was one of the most fun to watch all weekend, three-wheeling over apexes and tradition liveries with each other. Nick Swift and Andrew Jordan took out the top step cigars by the time the ruckus ended.
Brian Johnson may well have been loud back in his heyday, but it was nothing compared to the thundering soundtrack provided by the Lotus-Ford 30 driven to the win by Phil Keen in the next race. It would be no surprise to hear that some spectators left more deafened than they arrived after witnessing the tremendous velocity and soundtrack these monsters produced out of the final chicane. To applaud these pilots and cars is rightly done, but we should also give thought to the mechanics and teams behind the scenes. One such team at Lanzante were one of many. During Friday morning’s official practice, their GT40 had been involved in an incident with a Lola-Chevrolet and said Lola had gone completely over the Ford. The rear damage was significant, but the team set to work and through the night had hammered and beaten the GT40 back into race-ready shape. All seemed to have gone to plan until the gearbox had a fault at the start. Galling for the team who, in typical motorsport fashion, were crestfallen for a while but resolved to return stronger next time.
As the day’s final flag fell, signaling an end to the Saturday races, driving suits were swapped for smart suits and dress gowns for the Goodwood Ball. You could sense that the party was now in full swing at this point, and the crowds lingered over the road watching Grease at the cinema, singing along to the songs in full cheer, generally just not wanting to go home quite yet.
As Sunday began, the hangovers were clear to see. The drizzle of rain that had been dancing on and off the forecast had begun to fall. For a morning that offered a lot of two-wheeled action, it proved quite tricky.
The first race of the Chichester Cup, with front-engined Formula Juniors originally raced between 1958 and 1962 saw a couple of them shortened in length. Thankfully the drivers were unhurt, but it is never nice to see a racing accident, exciting as they may be in the moment. Soon, motorbike riders were also headed into the grass as the rain became heavier and the period tweed was buried beneath the Gortex of necessity.
By the time it came to the feature race of the TT where Jenson Button had qualified with Buncombe in third, the crowd for the weekend had swelled in anticipation. The names of Mass, Lotterer, Pirro, Dumas, Attwood, Brabham, and Brundle had clearly enticed the crowd to put up with some wetness.
A poor start for Button saw him drop to eighth before some handy pace on the greasy surface pulled him back to third ahead of the driver change. Lotterer had uncharacteristically lost it into the tires opposite the pits, and the subsequent safety car came at a less than advantageous time for Button/Buncombe to swap. Dropped down the order, racing resumed, but a gearbox issue saw them ultimately retire. The smiles though, were just as huge as ever, and we can fully expect to see Button return now he’s had a taste of Revival racing.
That race’s win was taken emphatically by Oliver Bryant and Darren Turner in their AC Cobra. The final contests, along with the whole Revival weekend, were soon completed and the chance to have that long overdue beer was calling stronger than ever. The sun was setting over this grand party, but there was still time to relish the last few moments. While I was debating the next step, the sun dropped from beneath the clouds. Many had left already. I saw the golden light and remembered the golden rules. Time to leave, for now.