Revival Race Experience... experienced

06th November 2017
dan_trent_headshot.jpg Dan Trent

Terrier-like Minis being harried through the chicane by hulking Ford Falcons and Galaxies are a defining image of the Goodwood Revival. Oh sure, the multi-million pound exotica and superstar drivers in the TT Celebration arguably qualify as the Blue Riband race of the weekend. And at every turn you’ll see an iconic car or legendary driver. But the hard-fought St Mary’s Trophy for pre-1966 touring cars reliably delivers on the most thrilling racing of the three-day event, as the door-to-door battle between Richard Meaden’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta and the Austin A40 of Mike Jordan in the second round ably demonstrated this year.


The chance to join the fun and experience classic touring car racing at its best is, inevitably, open to just a select few. Or it was, the St Mary’s Trophy’s popularity inspiring a new addition to Goodwood’s corporate hospitality days billed as the Revival Racing Experience. Usually run as a package for groups of 20 attendees, I joined a lucky group of journalists to get a taste and enjoy my own private Revival.

The immaculate '60s décor laid on for the Jackie Stewart Pavilion impresses, likewise the period dress of the ever-attentive staff and supporting cast of characters. It takes quite an act to distract from a line-up of classic racing saloons but the relentless, rapid-fire banter dished out by ‘Viv the spiv’ is up to the job and charming interventions like personal telegrams delivered by retired GPO dispatch riders on liveried motorbikes add to the fun. 


The relaxed pace of the day picks up as we congregate on the grid among the cars, where Goodwood chief instructor David Brise talks us round them and their individual histories. Impressively a good number of them are genuine racing machines too, the remainder chosen specifically for their suitability to be converted to track spec. Common to all are basic safety equipment like harnesses and roll cages and all but the Jaguar run the same retro looking Avon track tyre, this chosen for both its appropriate looks but (more importantly) grip in both wet and dry conditions. Given none of the cars have anti-lock brakes, traction control or any of the other safety systems drivers of modern cars are used to this is a sensible precaution – you may have enjoyed watching the pros four-wheel drifting their way round Goodwood in the real St Mary’s Trophy but it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to have such god-like driving skills. Indeed, many attendees haven’t driven older cars at all before, let alone on a circuit.

Brise pitches the level of information carefully, informing us on the history to each car, its reasons for being here and any particular quirks we may encounter when we drive them. The MkII Jaguar, for instance, has heavy steering with lots of play whereas the Mini Cooper can be a bit of a handful with its rock-hard suspension and needs to be driven assertively to keep it pointing the right direction. In keeping with the diversity you see on the St Mary’s Trophy grid there’s a huge variety in the cars to drive too, the line-up also including an Alfa Romeo 2000 GTV, a Lotus Cortina, a BMW 1800TI/SA, an MGB, a Porsche 912 (the four-cylinder relative of the original 911) and – looming over the lot of them – a gigantic Ford Falcon, complete with chrome grille and thundering V8.


All drives are accompanied by instructors, there to make sure we don’t do anything stupid and help us get the most out of the cars and track. Given how loud many of the cars are much of the instruction is conducted through simple hand gestures but it’s immediately clear they’re keen to see us get the most out of the cars and not simply parade around sedately. The extremes of the Jaguar and the Mini are – as promised – challenging and fun in their own way while the Falcon’s sheer size and the power of its V8 are suitably imposing. For a big car it handles well though, its automatic gearbox a little slow-witted and incongruous but the experience laugh-out-loud fun. There’s a more authentic manual transmission waiting to be fitted but Brise and his team are considering leaving it as-is, the automatic popular with track rookies given it means one less thing to worry about. After struggling to find gears in the Porsche I can understand why.

The core cars in terms of enjoying a true sense of Revival-style racing are the BMW, Alfa Romeo, Lotus Cortina and MGB though. All feel like proper racing cars, mainly because they are. But because they’re based on regular saloons they’re also the easiest to adapt to, all having good steering, strong brakes, positive gearboxes and predictable, confidence-inspiring handling. The Lotus Cortina is a particular highlight, its feisty twin-cam engine making all the right noises while its chuckability makes you feel immediately at home. I even manage a cheeky little slide on the exit to the chicane on one lap, my instructor’s response a hearty thumbs up rather than a slap on the wrist. For an instant I’m there, leading the pack at the Revival in front of packed stands of sharply-dressed spectators. It’s a momentary snapshot. But the kind of memory that sticks with you long after the day has ended and it’s back to reality.   

For more information on the Revival Racing Experience click here.

Photography by Jayson Fong.

  • Revival Race Experience

  • Lotus

  • Cortina

  • Mini

  • Porsche

  • 911

  • Alfa Romeo

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