‘If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise’ is how the Goodwood Festival of Speed team might flag up the hidden gem that lies adjacent to the top half of the famous hillclimb course.
But you won’t find any teddy bears picnicking up there (if you do, let us know, ed). Instead, you’ll discover a purpose-built, snaking and treacherous gravel road, on which many of the world’s most celebrated rally cars do battle against the clock each year. And, you’ll quickly realise, there’s nothing soft and cuddly about it. Nothing at all.
The Forest Rally Stage joined the Festival line-up in 2005 and pitted cars one at a time on an existing road that had been widened for the event but needed a rethink for year two.
In came Hannu Mikkola, 1983 World Champion with Audi and one of the original ‘Flying Finns’ – that exclusive gang of Scandinavian heroes who leapt and slid their rorty machines to countless victories.
Mikkola, who took 10 of his 18 WRC victories in Audi’s total-traction Quattro world-beaters, designed an extra loop in the woods that would allow several cars on stage at once – as is de rigueur in stage rallying of course – and that had a separate start and finish line. And, judging by what he came up with, the only stipulations had been that he create something taxing for drivers and terrific for spectators.
So for 2006, the Forest Rally Stage got serious. And it’s been serious ever since, with scores of top names – both drivers and machinery – coming to Goodwood to try to tame Mikkola’s Monster. The list includes 1960s Mini kings Paddy Hopkirk and Rauno Aaltonen and world champions Bjorn Waldegaard, Carlos Sainz, Colin McRae, Petter Solberg and Sebastien Loeb.
For the 10th running of the Forest Rally Stage, the line-up of machines set to do battle on the course, which features a notoriously slippery South Downs-chalk surface, represents a mind-scrambling feast of nostalgia for rally fans.
From the early years of stage rallying in the 1960s, when mildly tweaked production cars fought a survival of the fittest war around marathon-style European events, expect to see Austin Healey 3000, Ford Lotus Cortina and Escort RS1600, Mini Cooper S and Saab 96.
And stick with it, because the more potent breed of Group 4 beasts from the 1970s comes out to play, too. Think Fiat 131 Abarth, Ford Escort RS1800, Lancia Stratos, Talbot Sunbeam Lotus and Triumph TR7 V8 and you’ll be transported back to a magnificent era of sound, smell and slip angles.
If that isn’t enough, rallying’s infamous Group B era – when exotic materials, budgets and power outputs combined to create a lethal period of rallying in the mid-’80s – is represented in some style. If you’ve never seen or heard the WRC’s wackiest of racers in action then this is the perfect place. All the greats will be strutting their stuff, including Audi Quattro, Ford RS200, Lancia 037 and Delta S4, MG Metro 8R4 and Opel Manta 400.
Fans of the modern-day WRC weapons won’t be disappointed, either, for a heady concoction comprising Citroen DS 3 WRC, Ford Focus RS WRC, Subaru Impreza WRC will fly the flag for turbocharged, four-wheel-drive supercars of the past 15 years.
And once you’ve been down to the woods, to be peppered by stones, choke on dust clouds and sniff an addictive aroma of hot mud and melted rubber, you can get up close to the cars in the free-for-all paddock, from where we expect to see your pictures all over social media – if you wouldn’t mind. Please.
Be sure to don your finest bobble hat, zip up that special anorak and get up there – on foot or on one of the shuttles– because you really are sure of a big surprise.