A week on from the Festival of Speed and I have had the time to reflect on my experience at Goodwood. By now the magazines and websites have published their glowing reports of how it was the greatest event on the planet, offered unrivalled access and gave (journalists at least) the chance to drive iconic cars. Press accredited access is one thing, but what was it like for the regular punter.
This was the first time I’d attended the FoS since 2002, the first time I’d camped there and the first time I’d been free from parental influence. As such, it was the first FoS where I’d truly been conscious of the costs and efforts needed to attend. When you live in North-East England, travelling to West Sussex is not the work of a couple of hours. This was why ESM travelled down on the Wednesday night, stayed in a cheap hotel and got to Goodwood on Thursday lunchtime. Luckily ESM’s mate Dave has a Seat Leon FR TDi which meant the trip and fuel costs weren’t too horrendous. Plus I very much doubt we would have fitted all the assorted detritus into the boot of the Polo!
Trying to work out who the FoS is aimed at isn’t particularly easy. On one hand you have the Veuve Clicquot champagne bar, exclusive restaurants and cafes, the Cartier Style et Luxe exhibit and a drivers paddock sponsored by an investment firm. Along with this you have big stands from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Bentley and corporate hospitality seemingly packed despite costing around £500 a head for the cheapest seats. Blink, and at times it was hard to believe we’re in one of the worst economic situations the modern world has ever faced. Goodwood is about big money; the kind of money that gets richer during a recession. Where else would you see stands selling helicopters, private jets and bespoke carbon-fibre furniture.
However, the Festival of Speed is still what it says on the tin. A celebration of two and four-wheeled performance, and a chance for the petrolhead to get up close and personal with legendary vehicles and drivers. There aren’t many places where you can stand inches away from cars worth millions of pounds, whilst their drivers get ready to thrash them up the hill.
Getting such access does take some effort though. To really make the most of the FoS you need to be there on Thursday and Friday. Come Saturday and Sunday, the crowds have increased considerably and you’ll need to be patient to get trackside at the best points or snap photos of the most popular cars. Naturally this isn’t always practical for those who have to work for a living. However, it does become apparent that a small but significant proportion of those at Goodwood probably class “waiting to collect inheritance” as their occupation.
Perhaps it’s due to being from The North but I didn’t think people actually wore pin-stripe blazers with garishly coloured trousers. Given that Debretts (the society bible) lists Goodwood as part of “the season” probably explains the reason for a certain type of clientele. For them this isn’t an event to be deafened by the wail of an F1 V8 or choke on tyre smoke from another burn-out. No, it’s a place to be seen at; to say they were there for their social standing.
Does this detract from the experience for genuine car and motorsport enthusiasts? It shouldn’t do. But to an extent, if you pay for only the basic (but not necessarily cheap) ticket, you’re left feeling there are parts of the FoS you’re being denied access to. Dave, a first time visitor, summed it up as “feeling like you’re paying for the champagne and caviar” being enjoyed be the high rollers. And, if you read the advantages offered to Goodwood Road Racing Club members, you realise this isn’t such a far-fetched proposition.
“Standard” entrance tickets with camping for the four days came to around £200 per person. Not an unreasonable amount compared to events such as the British Grand Prix for instance, but not insignificant either. Add to that prices such as £12 for a programme, £4 for a pint of non-descript lager, £8 for a dodgy burger and £3.50 for a tiny can of Red Bull and it does begin to stack up. Naturally nobody forces you to pay these prices – you could always bring your own food and drink - but it does reinforce the costliness of attending. Oulton Park was far more reasonable by comparison.
At its core the Festival of Speed still offers the celebration of motorsport and all things automotive that it aspires to. At Goodwood you get sights, sounds and smells that no other event could possibly provide. Standing next to a deafeningly loud Opel Manta revving away whilst a Pikes Peak racer fires up is just one example. Watching a Shelby Cobra blast by whilst the Red Arrows perform aerobatics overhead is another. I doubt there is anywhere else on Earth that can match these kinds of opportunities and experiences.
It just seems to be a shame that this has to be tempered by gearing the Festival of Speed to appeal to socialites doing “the season” to be noticed. I have no issue with wealth and success, without such money an event like Goodwood wouldn’t exist. But that should not be an excuse to relegate the regular petrolhead punter to feeling they’ve been left with the cheap seats at the expense of the blazer and badge brigade.