How does it feel to...

08th January 2020

Each year at Goodwood there are winners and losers, magic moments to marvel at and lasting memories made. Here, we speak to five extraordinary people who helped make 2019 a very special 12 months.

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Win the Magnolia Cup?

KHADIJAH MELLAH | Jockey

Arguably the biggest, and certainly the most heart-warming, story to come out of Goodwood this year was that of Khadijah Mellah. Competing in the Qatar Goodwood Festival’s Magnolia Cup, Mellah, an 18-year-old A-level student from Peckham, south London, became the first person in Britain to race wearing a hijab. The first time she had ever sat on a racehorse was only two months prior to the race, but lo and behold, she won. Hers is a genuine fairy-tale story. 

Mellah learnt the horse-riding basics, aged 11, in Brixton of all places. Her mother came across an advert for the Ebony Horse Club, a riding school that aims to “transform young lives through horses in south London’s most disadvantaged communities”. Fast forward seven years and Mellah looked comfortable enough in the saddle for Oli Bell (a presenter with ITV racing and patron of Ebony Horse Club) to recommend her for a racing apprenticeship at Charlie Fellowes’ stables in Newmarket. 

Mellah immediately took to it, forming a bond with her horse, Haverland, whom she affectionately describes as a “chill guy”. “Haverland was the first racehorse I sat on and I rode him pretty much every morning throughout my training,” says Mellah. “I just felt safe on him.”

Crossing the line, I knew I was just in the lead. I was so emotional I burst into tears

On race day, Mellah’s brother, as well as racehorse trainer Nick Bentley and British racing’s most successful female jockey, Hayley Turner, were on hand to calm her jitters. “I was so nervous,” she recalls. “It felt like an out-ofbody experience. I was sitting beside people like Victoria Pendleton, feeling like I didn’t belong there.” 

The Magnolia Cup is an all-women’s charity race in support of Wellbeing of Women, and this year’s field was particularly competitive. Among those on the starting line – many of whom had ridden from an early age – were weather presenter Alexis Green, former Apprentice candidate Luisa Zissman, TV personality Vogue Williams and professional event rider Sophie Van Der Merwe. 

“We had a flag start and had to circle round for what felt like years,” says Mellah. “Everyone was silent. There are no words to describe that tension. People say it’s a short race and that it flies by, but for me it felt like time stood still; I remember the whole thing in such detail. At the four-furlong marker there were four horses in front of me and the kickback was covering both me and Haverland. I was worried he was going to choke on it. I spotted a gap and he accelerated so quickly that we flew past the four in front. Crossing the line, I knew I was just in the lead and I could see my family. I was so emotional I burst into tears.” 

The reaction to Mellah’s win has been remarkable. Great British Racing has logged over 1,400 TV and online pieces about her, on top of print coverage, which explains why, even three months on, journalists are struggling to get a 15-minute slot with racing’s breakout star. “The feedback has been incredible,” she says. “I’ve had so many women of different ages, colours and religions telling me they never thought this could be possible. I just hope more girls like me chase their dreams as a consequence.” 

For Mellah, her incredible journey is far from over, but for now it’s back to studying for her degree in mechanical engineering in Brighton. Of course, meanwhile she’ll be doing everything she can to qualify for a full amateur jockey’s licence. We can all agree that it’s one of the year’s great outsider stories, not least as Haverland was 25-1.

Amber Cleghorn-Blair at the wheel of Funtington’s Apollo 11-themed car

Amber Cleghorn-Blair at the wheel of Funtington’s Apollo 11-themed car

Build your own electric car?

AMBER CLEGHORN-BLAIR | Greenpower

Education Trust “Gathering of Goblins” Driver Since 1999, The Greenpower Education Trust has been encouraging students to engage with STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) through a canny initiative that sees them design, build and race their own electric cars. Teams build a standard kit car comprising, battery, motor and chassis – but the way the
car looks is up to them. Races featuring these projects take place up and down the country every year, culminating in a series of events at Goodwood Motor Circuit. 

The IET Formula Goblins category – for children aged 9-11 – is as hotly contested as any. Amber Cleghorn-Blair, part of Funtington Primary School’s team of fledgling engineers, was so ardently committed to the cause that she was chosen to be the team’s driver for the annual Greenpower Gathering of the Goblins in July. 

“I wouldn’t say I was the best driver,” says Amber, “but I think I had the best attendance for the Green Goblins Club every Saturday, when we’d practise driving. We based our car on the Apollo 11 spacecraft, as the Gathering fell on the day after the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.”

I was really nervous because even though I’d done a lot of practice, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t want to let everyone down.

Amber might prefer basketball to netball, and she knows her way around a 24V, 240W Framco motor, but she’s no tomboy: you’re just as likely to find her treading the boards as Grease’s Betty Rizzo or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Veruca Salt as driving an electric car.

On race day, 83 teams of Goblins competed in a series of drag, slalom and sprint races, as well as a pit-stop challenge. After competing in the drag, Amber entered the Lap of Champions, a hotly contested race around the full Goodwood Motor Circuit. “I was really nervous because even though I’d done a lot of practice, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t want to let everyone down.”

Thankfully, everything went to plan. Amber drove like a seasoned pro and came in a respectable ninth out of 83. She may not have won the race but it was still a wonderful experience. “Building our car,” she says, “learning to drive and just being part of the team was so much fun.”

Romain Dumas with the Volkswagen ID R, the electric racing car that wowed spectators at the Goodwood hillclimb in July 2019

Romain Dumas with the Volkswagen ID R, the electric racing car that wowed spectators at the Goodwood hillclimb in July 2019

Set the fastest time up the Goodwood hill?

ROMAIN DUMAS | Racing Driver

There wasn’t much that German racing driver Nick Heidfeld could do but watch in admiration as his 20-year old Goodwood hillclimb record was matched twice in as many days at last year’s Festival of Speed. He must have been fearing the worst, however, when Romain Dumas (no slouch at the best of times) pulled up in the multi-record breaking Volkswagen ID R, a game-changing electric car built specifically for hillclimbing. “I was quite confident we could beat the fastest time up the Goodwood hill,” says Dumas. “Last year, we came straight from Pikes Peak [a race in Colorado at which Dumas and the VW set a new record], but just to exhibit the car. I said, ‘If we’re here, then I want to race!’ The car wasn’t optimised for that hillclimb [it had been prepared for Pikes Peak] and yet we came very close to the record.”

It’s nice to win, of course, but far better to see people’s surprise when an electric VW wins

He adds: “For me, the hillclimb is the most challenging kind of race because it’s such a short distance. I’m used to doing 24-hour races, so to race for 40 seconds is completely different. You need to be perfect; you can’t afford to make the slightest mistake because if you do, your run is over – that’s what’s so special about it.” 

This year, Dumas’ time on his initial practice run was 0.24 seconds faster than Heidfeld’s record, and the Frenchman then went on to clock a staggering 39.9-second ascent of the 1.66-mile course in Saturday’s qualifying session. Inclement conditions resulted in a slower final run but a new fastest time up the Goodwood hill was in the bag, “at least until next year”.

Just another day at the office then, Romain? “Yes,” he shrugs. “At the end of the day, the most important thing was for Volkswagen to be able to demonstrate the power of its electric car in the UK. We wanted the motorsport world to see this car in all its glory, and to be able to do this at Goodwood was the perfect result.”

Known for playing down his achievements, Dumas reluctantly adds: “It’s nice to win, of course, but far better to see people’s surprise when an electric VW wins.”

James Davison visited Goodwood to honour the memory of his grandfather Tony Gaze.

James Davison visited Goodwood to honour the memory of his grandfather Tony Gaze.

Drive in your grandfather's tracks?

JAMES DAVISON | Racing Driver

For Australian racing driver James Davison, this year’s Revival was, in a sense, a sort of homecoming. After all, it was his late step-grandfather, the swashbuckling flying ace-turned-racing driver Tony Gaze, who first gave Freddie March, the 9th Duke of Richmond, the idea of creating the Goodwood Motor Circuit. 

“This first visit was probably long overdue,” admits Davison, 33, “but I don’t think you can appreciate history in the same way when you’re younger. Over the past few years I’ve gained a real appreciation for the period [the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s] that’s revived at Goodwood.” 

Tony Gaze had spent much of his military service flying Spitfires out of Westhampnett before he turned his civilian attentions to racing around it. “I remember all the stories Tony would tell me about the war and racing, and how amazing it was that he’d survived both,” says Davison. “Not only was his plane shot down, he also had a horrific accident in the Portuguese Grand Prix. If he’d been wearing a seatbelt, he would have almost certainly have died. Luckily he was thrown from the car.”

Tony Gaze in action at the Motor Circuit in 1951

Tony Gaze in action at the Motor Circuit in 1951

It was such a privilege to be able to experience what Tony did with racing on the Goodwood Motor Circuit

He continues: “So it was just such a huge privilege to be able to experience what Tony did with racing on the Goodwood Motor Circuit. On top of that, being given the opportunity to fly out of the airfield in a WWII reconnaissance plane was incredible.” 

Davison raced in the Richmond and Gordon Trophies in Stirling Moss’s 1960 Monaco Grand Prix-winning Lotus 18, and was looking at a podium finish until his car blew a cylinder. “It’s all part of the experience,” he concedes cheerfully. “The cars are so fragile compared to the ones we’re fortunate enough to race today. We have those guys to thank for that.” 

As a tribute to his grandfather, Davison commissioned an RAF-inspired helmet for last year’s Indianapolis 500 – which falls on Memorial Day weekend in the US – bearing the Distinguished Flying Cross, which Gaze was awarded three times during WWII. He wore it again to race at Revival. “What I found most moving was driving past the crowds seeing the sheer volume of people, and realising that in some way, Tony was responsible for their being here. It was better than I imagined it could possibly be.”

Matt Jones prepares for take-off in the Silver Spitfire

Matt Jones prepares for take-off in the Silver Spitfire

Fly around the world in a Spitfire?

MATT JONES | Pilot

“I, like so many boys, wanted to be a pilot when I was three,” says Matt Jones, co-founder of Boultbee Flight Academy (which is based at Goodwood) and one of two pilots currently flying the academy’s 1943 single-seater Silver Spitfire around the world. “But unlike most other boys, I never grew up.” 

Earlier this year, Jones embarked on an epic, five month, 27,000-mile journey, stopping in 30 countries, including Canada, Japan, Russia and India. He took off from Goodwood’s airfield on a beautiful August morning with his family and friends waving farewell. To his left, Swiss watch brand IWC’s CEO Christoph Grainger-Herr was flying a two-seater Spitfire; to his right, TV presenter Dermot O’Leary was flying a second, and to his rear, racing driver David Coulthard a third. After a series of passes, Jones pitched up to allow the other three to go, before a final solo pass over the runway and a parting victory roll. Over the Tannoy he cried, “Silver Spitfire departing to the north. The journey begins.”

It was a very special moment. As I pulled away I thought, blimey, we’re really doing this. After two and a half years of talk, it’s finally happening

“It was a very special moment,” says Jones. “But as I pulled away, I thought, blimey, we’re really doing this. After two and a half years of talk, it’s finally happening.” 

The idea was born when Holland’s Luchtvaart Museum Aviodrome offered Jones and fellow Silver Spitfire pilot Steve Brooks (also co-founder of Boultbee) probably the most complete wartime Spitfire in the world. The two agreed to “do something special, that lived up to the plane’s rich history”. 

“The Spitfire means an awful lot to British people for many reasons,” explains Jones. “It’s an emblem of freedom – it stands for a generation that was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for all our benefit. But it also flew in 26 other countries around the world, it defended their walls too, so it’s special to a lot of other people who wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to see one.” 

At the time of writing, the team are preparing for the 500-mile hop from Hong Kong to Vietnam, nothing too stressful by modern standards but do remember the Spitfire was built with a range of 300 miles… 

“If all goes well, we’ll be coming back into Goodwood in December,” says Jones. “There’s a great TS Eliot quote: ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.’ I think it’s pretty fitting.”

This article was taken from the Winter 2019/2020 edition of the Goodwood Magazine.

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