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With a starting grid of 28 of the world’s rarest and important historic racing cars, collectively valued at around £150million, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the race would be purely processional. A few staged laps of careful driving with the cars safely returning home at the end of the weekend, to spend the rest of the year cossetted in a climate controlled garage somewhere in deepest England. But this was Goodwood, the Revival, which has a reputation for highly competitive racing no matter the value of the participants.
A 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO’s , 4 250 SWB’s, and an ultra rare 330 GTO, lined up together with a Maserati Tipo, 7 AC Cobra coupes, a number of E type Jaguars for the TT Celebration Race, one of the highlights of the weekend. The race included a driver change half way through, with one driver a handy amateur, the other a seasoned professional from the world of Touring Cars or F1. We had some of the best ‘seats’ in the house and were standing on the pit lane roof, literally watching meters from the start line as the flag dropped and a wall of noise hit our ears. F1 noise levels. Insane.
Everyone covered their ears as these amazing cars launched off the start line to a backdrop of spectators all in period dress filling the grandstands. Was this was exactly like it must have been in the sixties? Well, apart from the hundreds of iPhones and digital cameras that were being held aloft. The low level cloud of smoke and exhaust fumes soon dispersed and our attention turned towards the last chicane at the beginning of the long finish straight, to catch a glimpse of who would emerge as the race leader. It was obvious quite quickly that this was a two car race, with two Cobra’s taking a substantial lead, but the rest of the field certainly weren’t easing up. Every time a car passed us it was going full gas, and the nearby giant TV screen confirmed that these cars were being pushed to their limits, sliding around the corners inch perfect.
Caught on camera we saw a car going off, either being hit by another competitor or because the driver found the limit of his ability. Hitting the tyre bank hard and ripping a lot of the body work off quickly bought out the safety car, and all but one car dived into the pits. Our view from above was perfect to witness the two minutes of carnage that followed.
We are all used to seeing beautifully choreographed F1 pit stops, but this wasn’t choreographed. Or beautiful! This is when we realised this race was being taken very very seriously. All but one of the grid had come in and had an allocated space, but as the lane is quite small, most cars would end up blocking the car immediately behind them. The mechanics who had begun pushing and shoving anyone who was standing in their way even started to push cars out of the way causing more chaos. A Cobra came charging down the pit lane, misjudged his spot and took the front fender and headlight off a pristine Ferrari 250 SWB. Wow! And another rapidly accelerating Ferrari had to emergency brake, as he nearly hit a marshall who was crossing his path. If it wasn’t for the quick reactions of another marshall it could have been serious. Luckily the Ferrari only lost a few seconds, which he then made up for by laying fresh rubber down the rest of the pitlane as he returned to the race.
Once the pits emptied, the lone car which hadn’t stopped came in, oblivious to the chaos made a perfect stop with no drama and re-joined without losing a place, or any bodywork!
Apart from a couple of more crashes, the rest of the race was more of a formality for the two Cobras off the front, and the race was sealed a lap or two from then end when the second Cobra had to retire early with a mechanical.
Watching from above, the winning cars team began celebrating as if they’d won LeMans or a world championship! There was spontaneous hugging all round, with gentlemanly handshakes between teams. Though I didn’t see it, I could imagine the handshakes from the owners of Ferrari involved in the earlier pit lane incident were made through gritted teeth. No matter how well healed the owner is, he will most certainly have to double and triple check the state of his bank balance before even considering any repairs.