Original publication on Petrolicious!
The 77th Members’ Meeting Reminds Us That Spring Is The Best Time To Visit Goodwood
Just parking in the field surrounded by the rolling countryside of West Sussex, it’s immediately apparent that the Goodwood Members’ Meetings are attended by true car enthusiasts—a smaller but somehow more authentic-feeling event than say the Revival or Festival of Speed.
From E-Type Jags to Ariel Atoms, blower Bentleys to Ferrari F40s, the array of automobiles you’ll run into on the way into the event proper alludes to what you can expect: variety. Because it’s not mired in the Revival’s strict cut-off year for competitors, you’ll see pre-war grand prix machines and a phalanx of 917s sharing paddock space, and because it’s not taking place on the Festival of Speed’s brief route up the hill, you can actually see all of these wonderful cars being raced rather than paraded, and a knowing crowd donning flat caps and carrying wicker picnic baskets stocked with wine and charcuterie staples brings the classic Brit atmosphere to the outside of the circuit.
The Members’ Meeting is a very special weekend in the automotive calendar, and for many marks the point of the start of “car season.” It’s the epitome of historic motorsport in my opinion, an event wherein the past is properly respected but also tested—no cruising laps here. There is an immense amount of priceless metal being push to the absolute limit, and very often beyond it, at Goodwood.
The scuffs and scrapes, great plumes of engine smoke, and flattened daffodils are all proof of this, and the weekend is rife with hard evidence.
There is no prize money at stake nor major sponsorship deals on the line. Each driver is in it for the sheer enjoyment of the sport and the cars. I had the pleasure following one such competitor, Sam Hancock, around for the weekend, watching his “driver’s diary” entries for the weekend unfold in person; he was sharing a beautiful E-Type “semi-lightweight” with Gregor Fisken for the Graham Hill Trophy.
The E-Type team’s Saturday began with a few driver-change practice runs in the paddock before qualifying on track later in the day. Some issues with the gearbox and a puncture later on relegated the car toward the back of the grid, though, and while it wasn’t what they had hoped for it would provide for an exciting sprint up the ranks from a spectator’s standpoint. During Sam’s stint, he managed to climb up to sixth, a strong starting position for the race on Sunday.
On two-dimensional paper the Goodwood circuit looks relatively unassuming. There are no hairpin bends nor corkscrewed challenges of gravity, however the narrow strip of right-handers seems to suit this type of racing—almost wholly unassisted by aero, with plenty of lost traction—surprisingly well. There are multiple effective lines though some of the corners, promoting all manner of theatrical overtaking attempts.
Though some have had upgrades (mainly safety-based), the cars are by and large very period correct, and as such most of them are running on bias-ply tires for the weekend, which means nearly every corner on the circuit requires a calculated four-wheel slide and at least some degree of countersteer, something you don’t often get to see when watching a modern car with more downforce than power struggling to overtake.
Sunday’s pre-race paddock buzzed with palpable nerves and the general excited angst that precedes a race. Sadly, the E-Type didn’t seem to have much of a chance at winning, and instead it was the E-Type of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen that took the victory in the 45-minute-long Graham Hill Trophy (pre-1967 closed-cockpit GT cars).
The atmosphere for anyone attending and not racing was relaxed though. The track access and proximity to the cars is a breath of fresh air compared to most racing events, and one can’t help but feel that this event will only get more popular and lose some of this intimacy because in the process—for now though, it’s perfect. It’s a rare treat to have legends like Jackie Stewart, David Coulthard, and Mark Webber wandering about like a member of the general-ticket-holding crowd.
Those in charge of the Goodwood estate take great pride in the attention to detail of the events held here, and even though it wasn’t nearly as “all-in” as the Revival, the Members’ Meeting weekend still took on the look and feel of a festival as opposed to a car race. The Saturday night sky above the Goodwood Circuit was lit up by a carnival arrangement, with displays like the wall of death and other circus acts culminating in a huge fireworks display.
The blending of an intimate atmosphere and the rare automotive works of art being used in the way they were intended is what makes this such a fantastic event to be even a small part of, and I can’t think of a better historic event to ring in driving season.