Group C Legends At The 73rd Goodwood Members’ Meeting
Photography by Jayson Fong
The 73rd Goodwood Members’ Meeting is an event that looks to revive the spirit of early British Automobile Racing Club (BARC) competition. However, spectators at this year’s member’s meeting were also treated to high-speed demonstrations from one of the most popular classic racing series to re-emerge in recent years: the heart-pounding machines of Group C.
These machines had been purpose built to be fast, with speeds on the Mulsanne Straight during the 24 Hours of Le Mans to exceed 200mph (321 km/h). Testament to this obsession with outright performance is the record for the highest speed ever achieved by a sports racing car in competition: a staggering 253 mph (407 km/h) set by a WM P88-Peugeot in 1988.
My heart beat definitely stepped up a notch as I made my way up to the pit wall at Goodwood last weekend: idling just a few feet away were some of the most heroic cars from the golden era of Group C racing.
For those of you who remember this insane period in motorsport, you will not need to be reminded of the astonishing abilities of these endurance beasts. Before they came into sight around the chicane, I was also reminded of something else that made the Group C era special enough to contend with Formula 1 viewership: variety. From the high-pitched scream of the V10 Peugeot 905 Evo that swept up the top 3 places at Le Mans in 1993 to the V8 bellow of the bright pink Spice-Cosworth SE90C, it was the ability to know which car was coming around the bend that helped to make the series so interesting.
Now, standing along pit straight with only 5 inches of concrete separating me from them, I can report that the view at the Goodwood Circuit was as close as you could get without being in the cockpit. Peering down the line, everyone along the wall was also eagerly awaiting the arrival of the supersonic jets which had just departed from a scattered standing start.
When they arrived we certainly knew it. The distant engine notes quickly transformed into a frightening whirlwind. The world around me felt like it was being inhaled as the cars made their way up the straight…and almost as quickly as it had been taken in, the world felt like it was hurled back into place as they crackled and popped down into Madgewick corner, a fast and sweeping right-hander.
This experience continued for lap after lap as the demonstration went on and was made even more spectacular (and simultaneously terrifying) when the cars arrived in packs of three or four—this meant very little room was left between the concrete that shielded us from them.
As intense as it was, the drivers of these iconic machines were definitely doing something right. There was not one person along the wall without a smile on their face and further down another spectator waved and cheered enthusiastically whilst also yelling encouragement as, once again, the jets flew by.
How were the drivers? It would be hard not to trust one of the world’s best endurance racers: legendary five-time Le Mans Champion Derek Bell was happily reunited with his Porsche 962 from 1988, a very original car that had retains its Kenwood livery with a chassis and engine number to match. When the chequered flag finally came out, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed that the 10 minute demonstration had come to an end so quickly.
Stepping back into the safety of the pit garage with my heart finally slowing, I realised just how blisteringly fast these cars are, especially impressive considering how they’re put together.
Group C represented a time in racing just before the pursuit of pinpoint accuracy in every component was necessary, and when computer-aided design programs were in their infancy. For the most part, manufacturers were very much constantly evolving experimental projects that married human design and ingenuity with advanced mathematics.
While the sight of a low-slung Group C racing car is always an event, seeing these caged tigers at Goodwood really did make me wish it was possible to turn back the clock enough to watch these speed demons duke it out back in the late ‘80s.