Featured: The 78th Goodwood Members' Meeting And The Magic Of Hardcore Historic Racing

The 78th Goodwood Members’ Meeting And The Magic Of Hardcore Historic Racing

By Virgiliu Andone
October 19, 2021
6 comments

Photography by Virgiliu Andone

The grounds and the Goodwood Circuit itself possess a distinct charm, and the events held here offer a familiar and reliable guarantee of a weekend well spent among live-action nostalgia. This small and simple but hallowed track laid atop the Chichester countryside has been a source of enjoyment for decades upon decades, and for generations upon generations of the people who faithfully line its edges.

But despite its unique identity, this place manages to morph itself between the three major events that it hosts—the Revival, Festival of Speed, and this, the Members’ Meeting—s0 that each one ends up having a distinct personality. Although it is the lesser known of the lot, there are supernaturally cool forces at play at the Members’ Meeting, and I would argue that the racing that takes place therein is the most pure, and the trophies are fought for the hardest.

The race weekend is structured as a tournament between four rival noble houses, each one with its own team and a coat of arms to fight for. The mediaeval feel is apparent beyond this fun contrivance, but not in fancy dress party sort of way. It’s a contest held with utmost gallantry, worthy of its heady allusions. As the battles between the houses are mostly held on track—the weapons being some of the most spectacular cars to hit the tarmac—there is also a clear recognition that winning almost always requires some magic in addition to talent. It’s right before your eyes when you witness a daring overtake or when you incredulously exhale with relief after a magnificent save. At the very least, I think anyone who’s been here would agree that the lap after lap display of skill and gumption is spellbinding.

Under the color shifting leaves of late autumn and the notoriously capricious weather, I was treated to some of the most memorable displays of racing I’ve seen on a circuit that I’m no stranger to shooting. The fastest lap of the weekend was set by Andre Lotterer, the three-time Le Mans winner whose abilities are clearly translatable to any car you sit him in. Behind the wheel of the blue #40 Ford GT40, he gathered pace in the closing stages of the Gurney Trophy, closing in fast on the two evenly matched GT40s up ahead in a display reminiscent of the Ford effort in France back in 1966. Running out of laps to catch the cars in second and third, he missed the braking point before the Woodcote corner, coming up from the very top speed on the Lavant straight and sent into a Dervish of a spin. Engulfed in tire smoke, the whole scene unfolding in apparent slow motion, sending hearts into throats and putting pits in our stomachs as we watched, transfixed. Miraculously, he just missed the wall. Unfazed, he kept his foot down and coolly went on racing, having somehow lost no positions after this mishap. All this in a car that blew its engine a day earlier—this is not the parade lap variety of historic motorsport.

And the off-track activity was not devoid of its own magic, either, from the Harry Potter-esque Great Hall, with its oversized coats of arms proudly displayed above each section, to the Members’ Market with its colorful characters,to the Members’ Meeting fire pots that served as conversation gravity wells. Whether you were an Aubigny, a Methuen, a Torbolton or, as in my case, a Darnley, you could also win points for your team at various competitions, to give that little extra push for overall victory. I really wish photography could be included in the scoring, as my axe-throwing abilities did not earn much on their own…

But let’s get back to the cars and the racing. Besides excelling in both cases, the Members’ Meeting also grants a lot more insight into what it takes to compete compared to most events modern or vintage, seeing as everyone in attendance is given paddock access. You are always in the middle of a story here. Drivers and mechanics, owners and fans congregated around the precious assemblages of alloys and exotic composites, simply taking in the sights and sounds or else performing their best acts of engine whispering to extract the maximum performance ahead of the green flag. These extremely valuable machines see some very real action, battling each other no matter the weather.

And this year the mother of all rains hit the track just as two of the race groups least suited to such conditions were running. The Edwardian monsters, cars from the dark ages of the automobile, the oldest one being 117 years young, on their skinny tires, threw spray into the air from their wide-open wheels, their drivers left completely exposed to the elements. Such cars are incredibly hard to drive quickly on a sunny day, let alone through endless grey rooster tails of water. Right after them were the big-engined American entrants of the Pierpoint Cup, likely designed with the Californian sun in mind, not the hydroplane-inducing turns of a British track under a deluge. With vintage wipers and fogged out windows, the roaring V8s cared not about the conditions, engaging in side by side tails out racing even though it was only a qualifying round.

As night fell on Saturday, the circuit drivers took a well deserved break. It was time for rally drivers to shine, with their endless rows of hood-mounted spotlights sending luminous streaks through the descending fog. The spectacular course made its way from the paddock onto the start line, through the chicane and up to a Woodcote making a cameo as a makeshift hairpin, then back out for a hairpin and a narrow passage through the trees. It was an incredible show of car control, channeling all the typical traits of a special stage experience.

Later in the weekend, lithe machinery took over the track for the motorcycle races, the only ones where you will see overtaking in the chicane, with some riders almost touching the wall as they leaned into the curve. Not to be outdone, the four-wheeled Formula Junior classes filled the grid with their delicate and nimble chassis. As small as they are, the joy of winning is just as immense as in the bigger classes, so it’s only natural that in the Gerry Marshall trophy, touring cars from different classes were intertwined, giving the smaller displacement tin tops the chance to fight with the big engined ones with much more even odds, although it was always just a matter of time before a Camaro disposed of a Mini on the Lavant Straight.

If racing was a beauty contest, it would be very hard to beat the entrants in the remaining races, as Ferrari GTs battled those from Jaguar and Porsche, with Cobras, Astons, and Lotuses all in for a piece of the action too. As if all this was not extraordinary enough, there was also a display of some of the most significant Gordon Murray-designed cars, including the new T.50, one of Ayrton Senna’s F1 McLarens—driven by his nephew, Bruno Senna—and a swarm of Jaguar XJR 15s.

We will have to wait for next year’s Members’ Meeting to see the thousands of daffodils that usually make up the background of the event typically held in springtime, which politely declined to make an appearance in the middle of October. But the colorful trees and some brave late-season hydrangeas that held their own against the encroaching cold more than made up for it. As this year’s edition got postponed from its usual dates, it means we are only six months away from the next one when things are back on track, fingers crossed.

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Henry ross
Henry ross

This is great, love the way it was held. Dubai is the place where you can witness such events. When living in Dubai for a visit Retreat Palm Dubai is the right choice one must go for.

Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson

You’ve got a great eye @Virgil Andone !

wiviwol947
wiviwol947

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Abdul Khalifa
Abdul Khalifa

Motorcycle races and wheeled formula races add charms to your weekend. Nice photo by the way on the article. Thanks for the post.
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Joanna Cox
Joanna Cox

By the way, if the race had not been stopped, then Giancarlo would not see victory: the engine on his car caught fire exactly at the moment when Fisichella parked his car in the pit lane after an early finish.

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