What was it like to drive the Goodwood Festival of Speed Hill Climb?
Just before the start of the 2017 Goodwood Festival of Speed (which will now be abbreviated to FoS), Abarth UK contacted me with an amazing proposal. If I could get myself to the first day of the FoS, they could ensure me a drive up the Hill Climb. When I first received the news I couldn’t quite believe what I was being presented with, so I asked to make sure it would be ME driving the legendary ascent. A short wait later and to my joyous surprise it was confirmed that I would be driving, accompanied by a pro driver. This may not come as much of a surprise, but I was incredibly excited by this. When I first bought my ticket months before, being sat in the driver’s seat of a car waiting to ascend the FoS one way race track was a prospect resigned to my imagination. What a bizarre (but very welcome) situation this was.
I feel there is a lingering question I have to answer before I proceed; why was I so excited? Well, I’m glad you asked! You see, for the automotive enthusiast, at least those based in the UK, Goodwood FoS is the highlight of the automotive calendar. It has F1 cars (and drivers) and race cars from different genres and eras of racing. In addition there are sports and luxury cars of past, current and future. Moreover, unlike most other motorshows where you’re presented with the pinnacle of 4 wheeled design and engineering statically, you actually get to see and hear these marvels race and slide around at FoS. You get to weave through them when they’re static and even glide around them when they’re moving to and from their track runs. It’s truly an incredible show to behold!
The Hill Climb is the main event at Goodwood with the aforementioned vehicles taking to it to be shown off, try to set a new record ascent or ferry a lucky passenger for the ride of their life. To my knowledge, there are 4 ways to go up the hill (divided between 2 events). There’s the fast hill climb run itself where you can either go up as a passenger or driver (with both places usually being resigned to serious social media ‘personalities’, mainstream celebrities, high worth clients, brand executives or pro racing drivers). Secondly, you could hitch a ride up as part of the moving motorshow. This event sees brand’s base a few of their cars in the large barn right next to the start of the Hill climb. Each brand offers a handful of passenger rides and an even smaller amount of driving opportunities throughout each day, in the hope of scoring a few more sales after adrenaline drunk passengers return from their run. These opportunities are like fairy dust as only a few hill runs are conducted each day, with only 1 or 2 cars each time and considering the vast amount of people in attendance (we’re talking swarms of thousands), anyone who gets a go is VERY lucky.
So hopefully I have painted an accurate picture of how truly difficult it is to get a run up the hill climb, let alone actually be in the driver’s seat. While only a handful get the chance, thousands watch on in amazement along each side of the track, either in jealousy or appreciation and I should know, I was one of them! I think it’s about time we moved to the main event, don’t you?
After filming all the ‘new glance’ and supercars run up the hill I marched over to the moving motorshow venue, as MY run was next. I quickly located the Abarth team on the far side. They had a row of 124 spiders waiting impatiently for their next run and even the new 695 Rivale (why not watch my video on this, here?). I had to slip through some rope barriers while no one was looking and quickly (but calmly and conscientiously) walk across the central road. I was almost immediately spotted by my contact at Abarth UK and was guided over to the sign in desk. This process always makes me feel like I’m signing my life away, but trust me, I’m not complaining. However, the Moving Motorshow barn was tightly packed with excited and hopeful enthusiasts. Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere reflected the environment. It was warm, thick, humid. As soon as I entered my final personal information onto the sign in system I could feel my heart flutter, I could feel the nervous anticipation build, but more than anything I was excited and raring to go!
I was shown to my car, a red and black 124 spider at the very front. I was happy about this car, I was glad I got an iconic colour combination. If you don’t know much about the car I drove, check out my overview, here, or in-depth tour, here. Anyway, back to my drive. After admiring the car I jumped in and set up my GoPro on the left hand side. I quickly remembered I had never driven a 124 before and now I had to drive one in front of crowds and during the official Goodwood livestream… a second of panic set in. One deep breath later I began to rationalise. It’s got the same power as my Abarth, same kind of gearbox, how difficult could it be? Either way, there was absolutely no way I was missing out on this.
GoPro mounted in the corner I was introduced to my accompanying ‘pro driver’. This is terrible, but I’ve completely forgotten his name, however I do remember him being a really nice chap and incredibly helpful and patient. For insurance reasons he would drive us out of the Moving Motorshow barn, turn the car round at the U turn that has seen so many doughnuts and so much burnt rubber in the past, then down to the start line where we would swap over and I’d take the helm.
This next part is one of only 2 regrets I have from this experience. I really wish I had vlogged my reactions and drive down to the start line from the exit, but my mind was so fried and excited and nervous and impatient that I didn’t think to, despite having my main camera in my hands. I think it could have really added to the ‘story’, but oh well, I can’t dwell on such things.
As the car stopped just shy of the start line we both hopped out and I enthusiastically slipped into the driver’s seat where I made some quick adjustments to the seat and mirrors. I cheekily tested the bite point of the clutch to see where it was before we headed off. Reassured, I was summoned to the chequered banner by one of the marshals. With a grin from ear to ear and nothing but surprised disbelief inside I was given the green light (or in this case up-down hand gesture). My pro encouraged me to floor it, but I have to admit I didn’t. As I accelerated away I took note of the crowds on the right hand side of the track, just where I had been standing to film.
Now moving into the first corner I stayed out wide to (in my mind) hold the racing line so I could come in on the apex. First turn safely manoeuvred I ran down the open straight and was directed to the main displays where I was enlarged for all to see (although I imagine almost no one noticed). At the end of this stretch a chicane had been constructed out of hay bales (the go to material at the FoS). I have to say I slowly manoeuvred my way through it out of fear of crashing. Once safely through I powered on again turning left and then driving around the famous wall, where I could finally hear the exhaust burble. What emotions was I feeling at this point? What was I thinking? I was trying my best to drive carefully, which is probably rather perverse for a time trial, but I really didn’t want to crash in front of so many people. I was excited, happy, focused, concentrated, but also filled with disbelief. I was speechless. Was I really driving the Goodwood FoS Hill Climb? Yes! So let’s continue! With the finish line in sight I gave the car the most acceleration I had done since my launch from the opposing chequered sign. I think I was going around 60mph, which I was quite proud of.
Once I had crossed the line I wasn’t sure what I had to do next. Was I meant to stop now and hand the car over? My pro guided me through the winding country roads around the back of the Goodwood estate, so presumably not. After the hype of the hill itself, it was nice to drive these calm roads. I was part of the hill procession, still in the driver’s seat, so I still felt like the situation was rather special. As we approached the Moving Motorshow barn my guide asked me to slowly stop the car so he could drive it through the venue, another insurance policy. I quickly grabbed my camera and filmed us driving in. Once stationary outside the Abarth stand I reluctantly removed myself and my gear from the passenger side of the 124. I gave the car a little pat, still smiling and walked over to thank everyone at Abarth UK. At this point I was full of adrenaline, dopamine and serotonin – I was excited, euphoric and very happy – what an amazing experience!
With all thanks given I casually made my way outside with a new sense of confidence in this YouTube thing. Maybe it will work out after all? However, there was one final task. I had to conclude my video with final a piece to camera, which is actually an odd experience in front of so many people that want to take pictures and generally distract you. I also had to marshal my feelings and try my best to sort my thoughts out with so much going through my mind. I hope I did well…
I hope I can have more time with the 124 as I wasn’t able to take it all in during my drive. I can tell you it felt direct, but no faster than my 595 180, so it was manageable and therefore pretty damn fun! However, it was hard to hear with so much
else going on unfortunately.
I have to say a massive thank you to Abarth UK. Allowing me to drive the hill climb was one of the best things I’ve done in a very, very long time. I even got captured by the official Abarth photographer! If you haven’t watched the video, make sure you catch it here.