DEC 29th 2014

Henry didn't need asking twice for a McLaren M1B 'lap of honour' at Revival

‘What was your favourite moment of the season?’ is a question fired in my direction at this time of year. I know it’s coming and it always requires a moment or two of reflection and careful consideration, such is my privileged status being able to watch, commentate on and write about motorsport of all genres throughout the year. I’m always spoilt for choice: a great modern or historic race or rally, an interview with a contemporary ace or retired legend, an exciting trip, a first-time car ogle.

This year, however, was an exception. The question hasn’t required any reflection or consideration. A couple of nano seconds have been more than enough to indulge any inquisitors.

“A snapshot of life as a Revival winner in the event’s fastest race aboard a famous Can-Am racer is plenty for me”

And it was a moment that comfortably qualifies as one of my all-time-best-ever ticked boxes: a surprise and very last-minute ride in a highly original (the very first, in fact) McLaren Can-Am car around Goodwood.

Sounds like a sleep-induced fantasy scenario, I know. And, like all the most vivid dreams, I can remember every little detail…

Shortly after pulling up on the start/finish line and accepting plaudits, a cigar, a garland and a kiss after winning the Whitsun Trophy for mid-60s sports-prototypes in his ex-Chris Amon McLaren M1B Can-Am monster at September’s 17th Revival meeting, Chris Goodwin stands obediently for the Q&A session on camera with yours truly. Nothing out of the ordinary there, for the enthusiastic, articulate and charming Goodwin always provides good fodder for the spectators watching on the big screens and listening to the event’s official radio station.

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I’m delighted for McLaren Automotive chief test and development driver Chris, whom I’ve known for 20 years. His first Revival win – he’d won the Surtees Trophy in the car at the 72nd Members’ Meeting in March but previously fallen short in September – was a popular one.

And then the bombshell. Climbing back into the car that led the opening lap of the very first Can-Am race at Canadian switchback Mont-Tremblant in September 1966 in Amon’s hands, Chris spots me at the front of the car and beckons me over.

‘Get in!’ he says.

‘What?’ I reply, thinking he’d gone mad.

‘Get in!’ he repeats.

I look over both shoulders to check the coast is clear, half expecting a firm ‘don’t you dare’ from one of the startline officials. I feel like a kid about to do something naughty.

‘Wanna come for a ride?’ he grins. 

Definitely mad.

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I clamber clumsily over the pristine cockpit sides, overcompensating out of sheer fear for my size 10s and 6’2” bulk doing untold damage to this special machine. I slide down into the space where a spare seat might have fitted, my backside on the bare-aluminium floor, my legs half-straightened and my back pressed into the hot bulkhead.

‘Ready?’ shouts Chris as he fires up the 5.4-litre Chevrolet V8 that sits just behind my head.

Fumbling foolishly for my phone – no pics of this crazy caper would be a travesty – I nod to Chris and he launches the car towards Madgwick, stabbing at the throttle to counter the wheelspin.

The noise, heat and smell are intoxicating and the onboard view of the majestic sweepers of Goodwood out of this world.

‘Haha!’ laughs my insane friend behind the wheel in response to my wide-eyed, chin-in-lap reaction. ‘You should feel what it’s like when I’m going quick.’

With no ear plugs, helmet or harness, and my pilot sporting a large, unlit cigar and waving to the cheering crowd, that’s not going to happen today. I’m fine with the throttle-stabs and sudden changes of direction as Chris revels in the moment. A snapshot of life as a Revival winner in the event’s fastest race aboard a famous Can-Am racer is plenty for me.

Fordwater, St Mary’s and Lavant come and go, huge crowds enjoying Chris’s victory parade but almost certainly wondering what the joyriding idiot alongside him is doing.

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And then, as if the day couldn’t get any more surreal, coming through the Lavant kink where Bruce McLaren crashed to his death in a later, even-more-staggering M8D during testing in June 1970, a flock of warbirds comprising Lancaster bombers and Spitfire and Hurricane fighters arks overhead. Honestly.

Too soon we’re back in parc fermé. My face is red, my eyes streaming, my hair a mess. Chris is still laughing like a fool, knowing what his spontaneous gesture has meant to me.

I thank him while shaking my head, let out a disbelieving chortle of my own and walk away, pondering how on earth I’m going to describe the previous 10 minutes to anyone who’ll listen.

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