Not many people would put the rock band the Kaiser Chiefs and Goodwood in the same sentence, but that’s the beauty of the Festival of Speed: worlds collide via the excellent medium of cars thrashing it out on Lord March’s drive.
Ricky Wilson, the band’s lead singer, and judge on BBC1 programme The Voice, is driving the new Honda Civic Type R up the hill on Saturday, having only just done his ARDS and got his National B racing licence at Knockhill, under the steady gaze of British Touring Car driver Gordon Shedden, last week. You have to hand it to the man: he’s made of stern stuff.
Today will be the first time he’s driven the new Type R and the first time he’s driven up the hill at Goodwood, in front of a mere 60,000 people. There are two obvious ways to handle it: foot down and go for a time, or very, very slowly, waving to the crowds. Wisely, Ricky has decided on the latter which, given the slippery grass to either side of the track and that deceptive first right-hander, is no bad thing.
Still, watching him charge round the twisting Knockhill circuit in the current Type R, it’s clear Ricky has an impressive amount of natural talent at speed, which is surprising for someone who has spent his life driving his mum’s Fiat Uno, followed by a 10-year-old Range Rover and then an original Mini which belonged to his manager’s grandmother. What, then, does he make of the Honda Civic Type R? As the model’s brand ambassador for the next 12 months, he’ll be getting his own blue one very soon.
‘For a small road car, it’s giving you a taste of a race. For the first time, I feel like I can trust something at high speed.
‘And for something you can walk in and buy in a dealership, I think it’s brilliant.’
He’s also a big fan of the ARDS course, which is the test you must do to get your National B racing licence. “Everyone should do it. When you get back in the car on the road, everything makes sense. The things you do automatically on the road…suddenly you’re doing them at high speeds, and you realise that’s what you’re doing on a smaller scale on the roads. It makes normal driving a lot safer. You’ve already got your jollies at the circuit so you’re not going for them on the road.”
The two days of ARDS tuition have still been a strain, however. ‘Getting back to the hotel last night, I was knackered,’ he told me at Knockhill. ‘That level of concentration…10 or 15 laps, then coming off, then going back out…it’s been tiring. You don’t get a second off, even on the straights.’ There are, however similarities between circuit and stage. ‘There’s the same level of concentration about not mucking up,’ he tells me. ‘There’s a lot of things go wrong on stage and as a racing driver,’ although, as Ricky points out, you can take the edge off the adrenaline on-stage with a couple of beers, which isn’t quite the done thing on a track.
I wonder what his expectations are around the Festival of Speed, as he’s never been before. He likens it to music festivals, which everyone says as a concept are dead unless they start to embrace the idea of a bigger cultural scene. ‘Festival of Speed is the future of a lot of these things,’ he tells me. ‘Events that cater for a lot of different people; it’s great that they cater for families, with food and all these different things going on. Generation gaps are getting smaller, dads and kids are doing things together that mean neither is bored.’
I very much doubt Ricky will be bored this weekend; the combination of a 306bhp Civic Type R and 60,000 waving fans should be enough to stop him twiddling his thumbs.
Don’t miss Ricky’s drive up the hill on Saturday morning. You can see the new Civic Type R on the Honda stand.