One of the most distinctive features of the Goodwood Motor Circuit – ever since its introduction in 1952 – has been the famous chicane, occasionally labeled ‘Paddock Bend’.
The original course negotiated the deceptive double-apex Woodcote right-hander at the end of the Lavant ‘Straight’ – which in reality is about as bent as a dog’s hind leg – and then headed towards the pits through a very fast and open left-hand curve. Early-season experience indicated that the faster cars tore through this left-hander, the more their natural trajectory threatened those working in the unprotected pit lane on the infield side of the curve’s exit.
This is why the chicane was introduced, being used for the first time in the March 1952 BARC Members’ Meeting. ‘Autosport’ reported: ‘The inclusion of a ‘snake’ between Woodcote Corner and the grandstand straight added spice to the racing, and put something of a premium on driving ability…’. Inevitably, someone had to be the first to ram the straw-bale and boarding chicanery: ‘Light relief was provided by J. (John) Goodhew who went hedging at the chicane with his red 4½-litre Lagonda and emerged covered from bonnet to tail with most of (BARC Secretary) Johnny Morgan’s prized foliage…’
The chicane was an accepted feature by the time of the next Goodwood meeting, the major Easter Monday fixture, at which ‘The Farnham Flyer’ Mike Hawthorn burst to prominence in Bob Chase’s brand-new and unpainted Cooper-Bristol, tuned by his father, Leslie Hawthorn. Mike won two races and placed second in the feature Formula 1 Richmond Trophy race, driving the 2-litre Formula 2 car against Froilan Gonzalez’s 4½-litre ‘ThinWall Special’ V12 Ferrari.
Into 1953 the chicane was reconstructed as a more or less permanent obstacle, with a single-skin brick right-side wall on the entry, then the hefty brick island for the left-side apex. This island was bridged to the outfield verge by a series of timber trolley sections providing ‘the wall’ which confronted cars straight-lining the approach from Woodcote Corner into the braking area for the chicane.
It was here in the September 1953 meeting that Ken Wharton spun his V16-cylinder BRM, and Le Mans-winning Jaguar driver Tony Rolt – running hard in Rob Walker’s Formula 2 Connaught A-Type – got into a tank-slapping pendulum slide in avoidance, careered off the right-side of the chicane exit and stuffed the right-front of Rob’s car under the Duke’s famous concrete-beam barrier protecting the infield spectators there.
Chicane alarms and excursions became a regular feature of Goodwood race meetings ever after. In retrospect, of course, it was positively loony to place an immoveable brick wall more or less on-line in the middle of any international race track. But back then the notion was that of course you wouldn’t hit it, because it would certainly hurt if you did – and in any case, if you did hit it, that would merely indicate your limitations as a racing driver. Grown men (and women) had to take responsibility for their own actions. Get it?
In general, Goodwood drivers really did get it. But there was always the danger of mechanical failure.
On Easter Monday 1958, popular French star Jean Behra caught the chicane island wall a fearful clout in his Formula 1 BRM Type 25 (main image at top of page), while leading the Glover Trophy race. ‘Autosport’ again: ‘He arrived at Woodcote at a great rate, to find the brakes a little peculiar. On proceeding towards the chicane at a higher velocity than he would have liked, he was discomfited to find that he now had no brakes at all! As someone not familiar with Goodwood, it seemed to Behra that he was hurtling straight towards the crowds packed on the right-hand side of the chicane – they are in fact well back out of harm’s way – so he kept over to the left and the BRM slammed into the brick wall at about 70mph…’.
The stupendous impact sliced the left-front suspension and wheel clean off the BRM, and wrote off its chassis
The stupendous impact sliced the left-front suspension and wheel clean off the BRM, and wrote off its chassis. Behra emerged badly bruised and battered, and with broken ribs which he kept quiet about in order to continue racing (and thereby earning). The car had Lockheed servo brakes with which no fault could be found after strip-down, but it was thought some debris in the fluid circuitry had blocked a bleed-hole somewhere, leaving poor Behra without servo-assistance when he really needed it. The joker in the pack was that the car’s gearbox layshaft was found to have broken, which would have left Behra with front brakes only, while the BRM’s unique single rear disc – mounted laterally on the back of the gearbox – would no longer have been connected to the rear wheels…
Ironically, while Jean Behra was leading the race for BRM in a car with no servo, his team-mate Harry Schell in the sister Type 25 was trailing round last with his brake servo system jammed on rather than off. After 7 laps he stopped with the single rear brake disc glowing incandescent, which caused a minor fire.
Spool forward to the Formula Junior race supporting the 1963 Tourist Trophy race. Tyrrell team Cooper driver Timmy Mayer was going well amongst the top ten when his car’s right-front brake caliper cracked, and he torpedoed the island brickwork in a very nasty looking incident which left him lying unconscious in the wrecked car’s cockpit. The track was covered with hot oil, then cement dust, a marshal’s broom broke, the ambulance took off initially to Woodcote Corner before being redirected to the chicane, and it quickly developed into a controversial shambles, during which the media latched onto the danger of the chicane as being a ridiculous ‘brick wall in the middle of a race track’.
However, nothing changed, and on Easter Monday 1965 it happened again, in the feature Formula 1 race for the ‘Sunday Mirror’ International Trophy. First Bob Anderson’s private bright-green Brabham-Climax ‘burst through the chicane fencing rather like a seal through a paper hoop. He carried on with pieces of wattle adorning the front, did one lap, and was black-flagged and subsequently disqualified for wrong-slotting.’ Soon after, Jochen Rindt’s works Cooper-Climax ‘….took a short cut through the Anderson aperture, and he too was disqualified’.
The chicane approach was plainly super-slippery that day, and Rob Walker team driver Jo Siffert then clipped the right-side entry wall with a front wheel and ricocheted straight into the island brickwork. His car’s chassis frame was bent like a banana in the vertical plane, and ‘Seppi’ emerged like Behra, beaten-up and battered, and hiding the fact he had also broken some ribs in the (unbelted) incident.
Despite this assault, the brickwork survived to see the Motor Circuit’s closure for racing in 1966. Indeed, it was still there until the mid-1970s, when a Team Surtees Formula 1 transporter reputedly rammed and destroyed it while leaving the circuit after a test session. When we restored the circuit for the Revival in 1998, polystyrene block-work prudently superseded those long-controversial house-bricks, and my big brother Rod hand-made the new trolley sections on their castors with flower-tub accommodation on top. I produced the drawings to which he worked so – for me – Goodwood chicanery had become something of a specialist subject… It’s different again today – we are still seeking to improve it, and some kind of soft walling better able to absorb assault and remain useable is still being sought.
Photography courtesy of The GP Library