Thursday, 17 September 2009

Goodwood



GOODWOOD

The Goodwood Revival meeting this weekend 18-20 September is a highlight of the motor racing and social calendar. Nostalgia, they say, isn’t what it used to be but judging by the way people dress for the occasion, turn up in old cars, old aeroplanes, motorcycles and steam buses it’s here to stay. The waiting list for the Goodwood Road Racing Club may be shorter now than it was in 2007, when this feature appeared in The Business magazine, but the appeal of the event remains undiminished. Buzz Aldrin, Mr Bean, and celebrations of Stirling Moss’s 80th birthday will all feature.

From: The Business July 2007 by Eric Dymock

Key ingredient of the Goodwood Road Racing Club is to offer something money can’t buy. Conducted tours of the Ferrari racing department at Maranello can’t be bought without buying a Ferrari. You can’t just buy a paddock pass for the Goodwood Revival Meeting or be eligible for the Kinrara or March Enclosures. You may not drive on track days, or get invitations to the Summer Ball and Christmas party at Goodwood House but you can as a member of the GRRC, so it’s small wonder that membership is capped at 5000 with a waiting list of 2000. Since 94 out of a hundred members renew annually, it could be two or three years before you get in.

Goodwood’s rolling acres are reinterpreting the traditional sporting estate. No longer the exclusive realm of the nobility and gentry, new sorts of corporate and individual members are invited. The Earl of March, who took over management of the 12,000 acres on the Sussex downs from his father, the tenth Duke of Richmond, in 1994 lives in the spectacular Regency house surrounded by priceless paintings, furniture, porcelain and tapestry. Charles March is down to earth about his heritage, presiding over a culture of style, design, fashion and luxury. Every combustible litre is commercial: “I suppose we’re most famous for the sports – horse racing, motor racing, golf, flying, shooting and cricket. They were all started by keen amateurs at Goodwood, the Duke or the children of the Duke.”

The third Duke brought horse racing in 1802. He provided a course on a field known as The Harroway for fellow officers of the Sussex Militia. The Earl of Egremont had turned them out of Petworth Park, and the Duke was so pleased with the military’s two days’ racing that he organised a three day meeting under Jockey Club rules. Racing has continued ever since almost without a break.

Glorious Goodwood is a 205 year-old horse racing hallmark. Golf came later. “You join for about £150 and then buy the golf credits you want. It means people can come from far afield without paying massive green fees. It’s an effort to make golf more modern, get rid of stuffy clubhouse routine. We have no dress code. We appeal to younger golfers. It was all started by the seventh Duke’s three children. Widowed for the second time he told them to stop hanging around the house. One daughter was only thirteen and got James Braid to build them a golf course. Originally it was just their own, then it became a member’s course.”

Motor racing came with the ninth Duke. A car enthusiast, the Earl of March Frederick Charles Gordon-Lennox joined Bentley Motors as an apprentice, drove his first big race in 1929, and as works driver for Austin together with SCH Davis won the BRDC 500 Miles at Brooklands. He raced his own team of MGs to win the Brooklands Double-Twelve, Britain’s answer to the Le Mans 24 Hours, run in two parts because residents of woody Weybridge couldn’t bear the noise of racing at night. In the 1930s Freddie Richmond flew aircraft of his own design from a field near Goodwood House, gaining an Aviator’s Certificate from the Royal Aero Club. The field became RAF Westhampnett, a satellite of the Battle of Britain station at nearby Tangmere, and Douglas Bader took off on his final wartime sortie from its grass runway.

Following the loss of Brooklands after the War, Freddie Richmond now Duke of Richmond and Gordon sanctioned motor racing on the airfield perimeter track. It became second in importance only to Silverstone until 1966, when it was summarily closed. Bringing it up to date would have been costly, although it was said that Freddie didn’t much like the nouveaux riches infiltrating motor sport. In just under twenty years Goodwood was instrumental in the careers of Mike Hawthorn and Jackie Stewart, although it effectively ended that of Stirling Moss in 1962. After it closed, the picturesque circuit remained in a motor sporting time warp until the 1990s, when Freddie’s grandson gave up being society photographer Charles Settrington, and as the newest Lord March, set about fulfilling his vision of a modern sporting estate.

“There are traditional estate-type activities, house, property, farm, forestry, then there’s aviation. We’ve got an engineering business and a flying school. There’s a retail business that sells clothing to our various members and in celebration of our events, and a farm shop selling our meat.”

The 52 year old Charles, Earl of March and Kinrara, has some Charles II in his dna, a result of the liason between the King and Louise de K√©roualle, Duchess of Portsmouth. The inheritance might be responsible for Lord March’s Cavalier charm and Hugh Grant good looks. His enthusiasm for the Goodwood brand’s motor racing highlights, the Festival of Speed in June and the Goodwood Revival Meeting in September, is infectious. This is motor sport with upper class style, the Festival sprinting the latest and greatest, fastest and oldest on a little hill-climb track between the manicured lawns of Goodwood House. At the Revival Meeting on the old immaculate racing circuit you are asked to turn up dressed pre-1966. Nearly everybody does. It is like a film set with 130,000 extras.

Lord March communicates close attention to detail to 400 people on the estate. It runs to piling the infield corn carefully in neat lean-to stooks, tied with baler twine, not spun by a baler and wrapped in plastic.

Attendance at the Festival of Speed is fixed at 150,000. That not only keeps it, as Brooklands used to be, “The Right Crowd and No Crowding”, but also the tickets are pre-sold as an insurance against the weather. Pay-at-the-gate punters might look out on a wet weekend and stay at home. If they’ve already paid for their tickets they’re more likely to attend the £5 million event, eat in the smart marquees, drink the Champagne and come back next year.

Charles March is doubly astute. Last year he launched a grander version of the Goodwood Road Racing Club conferring the delights of Goodwood on a corporate clientele. Not only has he 150,000 and 130,000 happy punters turning up at Goodwood for the Festival and Revival meetings, contributing roughly a third towards the £5 million (the other thirds come in sponsorship and concessions like catering). But he also has the 5000 members of the GRRC who although they only pay £120 subscription, cheerfully chip in for the foreign jaunts to Ferrari and Spa, and £240 for the Kinrara and £280 for the March Enclosures. There is a pay restaurant and bar, or a hamper service if you prefer.

GRRC and other sporting members to share the delights of The Kennels, the James Wyatt Grade 1 listed clubhouse built for the Charlton Hunt, restored with library, dining room, and clubrooms. Shooters, aviators, drivers, riders or players can join as full corporate sporting members. Goodwood already has six, with a box for guests at the horse racing and their own sponsored and named race, as well as a flight in a De Havilland Rapide for a day’s racing at Deauville. Full sporting members can have 20 VIP guests at the Goodwood Revival with their own celebrity racing driver, an exclusive shoot for 8 guns, a day’s golf for 72, and exclusive use of Goodwood’s historic cricket pitch. You can have an English picnic for 50 with the refuge of Goodwood House if it rains.

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