At the recent McLaren 570S launch we couldn’t pass-up the opportunity to talk to Chief Test Driver Chris Goodwin about the latest Woking machine, which we did whilst sat in a bare 570S (Monocell II) carbon fibre tub.
After we’d covered the important business of McLaren‘s first Sports Series car there was still time to chat and, bearing in mind the vast wealth of experience he has of driving all over the world as a professional, it made sense to ask Chris for his five favourite racing circuits.
Despite decreeing from the outset that the five circuits chosen were in no particular order, it was pretty self-evident which venue is closest to his heart…
1) Brands Hatch
‘Either the full or the Indy Circuit, it’s just home to me. I grew up on that track and I know it inside out. I did my first of everything there: first ever car race, first race win, first championship, first Formula 3000 race, first Touring Car race, first GT race… I first drove a racing car there when I was twelve, which was quite cool even though I couldn’t see where I was going. My dad got the racing school guys drunk at lunch and they agreed to it!
2) Nurburgring Nordschleife
‘It’s just such an adventure. I love it also because it was a track that my dad raced on extensively in the day when it was more bare and open in the Sixties and Seventies. I’ve enjoyed racing on it, testing on it and I enjoy it for the adventure that it is. It’s kind of a unique place.’
3) Spa Francorchamps
‘I love racing at Spa. I love the Spa 24 Hours. I’ve been on the podium in that race although I’ve never won it. For me that’s the best sports car race in the world, because there are upwards of sixty GT3 cars out there from every manufacturer. It’s like a video game! Probably when I’m old and grey I’ll look back on the moments at 3am there when it’s pouring with rain with standing water, splashing around… that’s when I’ve been driving at my very best. I love the challenge that it throws at you.’
‘It’s pretty cool. I’ve only raced there once and I loved the environment. You feel like you’re in an alien world because the culture is so different. You’ve travelled to the other side of the planet to drive a racing car and that’s a very focusing thing. We did the Suzuka 1000km in a McLaren F1 GTR and I’d always wanted to race there ever since I’d been getting up in the middle of the night to watch the Grand Prix and see Senna do his thing. It was always like this mythical place to me, so it was terrific to race there.’
The first four pretty much rolled right off the tongue, but the fifth was taking some deep thought. Sitting next to the man and watching him mull it over was fascinating. You could sense his memory banks reliving every turn, undulation and the cars at every circuit he’s ever driven on. There then comes a stream of what we’ll call honourable mentions.
‘Right, so we’re looking for a fifth. Hmmm, gotta make it interesting… Well I like racing at Goodwood. It’s a bit edgy! Very fast. I like it here (Portimao) to be honest. I’ve never driven Bathurst funnily enough. I’d love to do that. Sebring was okay. Watkins Glen was all right. Oh and I’d love to go to Elkhart Lake. I have to do that, somehow. Oh and how about that Potrero de los Funes circuit in Argentina?!’
Despite drawing on all his experience, he’s struggling to name a fifth at this point. ‘Oh man I’m letting you down here. I’m trying to think of something really interesting that I’ve been to – a bit special. I’ve raced all over the bloody world! Zuhai? No. Mugello? It wasn’t all that great to be honest.’
At this point he goes quiet for what seems like ages, his eyes slightly glazed as he digs deep into his experience to come up with a circuit to complete his quintet. Then gradually the glazed, deep-in-thought expression gives way to a beaming smile as his memory serves up a suitable final candidate. Chris then looks up and says:
5) Oulton Park.
‘I drove a McLaren F1 GTR there once and remember thinking “any minute now the grown ups are going to come along and tell us it’s far too fast to drive such a car on such a narrow and tricky circuit…” It was just too much! Luckily the grown-ups didn’t come and spoil the fun. It’s definitely an old-school circuit with a great variety of flowing corners and elevation changes. There are some tricky cambers that can work for and against you and take a bit of learning. It’s a beautiful setting, too. Like a… well, a park! Perfect for watching racing on a sunny afternoon.
So there you have it: One of the world’s top Test Drivers has named his top five circuits and it’s a strong line up as you’d expect, although of course even he hasn’t experienced all of them. Which do you agree/disagree with? In your list would there be room for Le Mans, or Mosport, or even Cadwell Park? Picking just five is a bit of an ask, isn’t it?
Photography courtesy of LAT and Tony Harrison – licenced under Creative Commons 2.0