Q&A: How Goodwood Festival of Speed is changing

We sit down and talk with the Duke of Richmond on why 2020 is a landmark year for Goodwood.

Speedweek was the Goodwood Estate’s behind-closed-doors stand-in for the cancelled Festival of Speed and Revival motoring extravaganzas. Hosting a wide variety of road and race machinery of all ages, the event was held at the Sussex site’s race circuit, rather than along the route of the Hillclimb, and open only to drivers, engineers and the media.

We caught up with estate owner and event organiser the Duke of Richmond to find out how 2020 will shape the future of motoring at Goodwood, and what positives there are to take from the year’s upturned motoring calendar.

What were the challenges of organising Speedweek?

“The Members’ Meeting was built and ready to go, and it was that weekend the crackdown came. So we just had to take it all down again, and it never happened. Then we were heading towards the Festival of Speed and it was fairly obvious – quite quickly – that wasn’t going to happen. So we thought: what can we do? We dreamed up this idea to do a ‘Speedweek’ here at the circuit, bringing FoS and Revival together, and celebrating them both in a really innovative way.”

Why at the circuit, rather than the house?

“We can’t run the races in front of the house; it’s much easier to do it here – there’s quite a lot of infrastructure in place. The Festival of Speed is very challenging because it all has to be built from the ground up – so it’s a huge commitment.

“We realised we wouldn’t be able to have a crowd, but for horse racing we’ve been running without crowds all year, so we know a little bit about it. We’d been pushing [our digital platform] GRR very hard for a long time and we have a huge following around the world, so we felt there was a huge opportunity to do something different and to try something out. We designed the whole event for TV.

“Looking back on it now, September would have been quite good to have done this behind closed doors, because things are getting more difficult now.”

How do you appeal to both crowds?

“This is meant to be entertainment. If you love cars and racing, you could watch our curated content – which goes out to ITV and everything – or if you’re a diehard Revival fan who just wants to watch the racing, you can watch the live stream – a sort of ‘pure’ version.

“We just wanted it to be very appealing – we’re not saying ‘you’re in this camp and you’re in this camp’, though we do appreciate that they are particular people. But we hope that by doing things like 70 Years of F1 at the same time as the TT, we’re going to pretty much have mass appeal. We were also trying to create an event that’s entertaining, whether you love cars or not.”

Are you confident about the state of the enthusiast scene?

“Yes, and I hope we can play a big part in that. For us, a lot of it is about trying to drive that around the world using the digital platform.”

What will you learn from the new format?

“We’re hoping that really positive things will come out of this. What’s happened out of a crisis is going to be much more than that. Having had the fun of putting it together, we’ve all realised just how powerful the content is, and we’ll never do the Festival of Speed or Revival the same way again.”

“We’ve learned a lot about digital broadcasting, and that’s not to say the Revival and Festival of Speed won’t be better than before, but we will do the broadcasting better.”

But the crowd will continue to be a big part of the Festival of Speed?

“For sure. It’s definitely a live event, but I think there’s a lot of great content there that we could be processing – and stories that we could be telling in a much more creative way than perhaps we had. We’ve all been so focused on creating this event that this will teach us a lot. We do a lot of digital anyway, but it will be interesting to see how much more we can do – we’ll end up doing stuff that’s really strong for broadcast.”

How was the estate impacted by the events cancellation?

“Most of our revenue comes from the events – we employ 700 people – and we just haven’t been able to do anything, so it’s had a big impact. At the same time, it’s really brought the best out of everybody: everybody’s busting a gut to do stuff really well and as efficiently as we possibly can, and our members and partners have been unbelievably supportive.

“The GSA [Goodwood Supporters Association] has been amazing. People have just been fantastically generous and really, really supportive. Our partners said: ‘Just do it. We’re behind you, whatever it is you’re going to do.’ From the biggest auto companies in the world to individual members, everyone’s been unbelievably generous.”

Has there been any negativity towards the reformatted event?

“Of course it’s disappointing – we haven’t got 150,000 people here. But I think everyone sees it as trying to make the best out of a bad situation (though I hope everyone sees it as more than that). We weren’t going to have no motorsport at Goodwood in 2020, and I think this is a really positive way of doing it. We were trying to make it really interactive, too.”

Was Volkswagen’s withdrawal a big blow?

“We were very disappointed, and so was Volkswagen. We’ve had that quite a bit with cars arriving and the engineers unable to come at the last minute. But Volkswagen was super-supportive, right up to the last minute we were talking at the highest possible level. They were all really keen to come, the car was on the truck. If we’d done it two weeks ago, the ID R would be here, but we can cry about it as much as we like – it is how it is. The shootout wasn’t the done deal it would have been!”

Is there anyone you’d like to have been more involved at Goodwood?

“Michael Schumacher never came to the Festival of Speed, it never worked out. Ferrari has always been incredibly supportive, but Michael never made it – that was the year he would have come, I think (2013) – hence we did that big celebration of him last year. Ayrton Senna never came, he just missed it. Weirdly, the Festival must have hosted more great drivers – and certainly more of the world’s greatest cars – than anywhere else. Nowhere else does Nascar, Indy, F1, rally… You’ve got every genre and every important car, really. What we’re trying to do is show a bit of that, and add in the excitement of Revival racing.

“There’s all this talk of sustainability. The Revival cars have been repaired, rebuilt and reused a thousand times – they’re like an old pair of shoes that doesn’t owe anybody anything, and I think that’s a really good message.”

Is there a need to appeal to a younger generation?

“The historic world generally needs to appeal to a younger audience, but cars are a bit like music – you love the cars you grew up with because they hold particular memories. A younger audience is important if things are to continue, but inevitably some things are going to be meaningful to a slightly older group. We’ve got an increasingly young audience, and there’s a lot of stuff at the Festival of Speed, like FutureLab, the drifting, bikes. There’s lots there to attract, and if you mix that with the heritage, it helps people to understand.

“If you don’t get exposed to it, you’re never going to get it. Over 200,000 people come to the Festival – that’s a family audience. There are some car aficionados there, but 90% of those people are families having a day out. We have so much to say at the Festival of Speed in three days – with 500 cars there from all over the world – and we end up not saying a lot of it because there just isn’t enough time, so a lot of people don’t come away having learned a lot about them. The advantage of the digital platform is that you can go on talking about them all the time, and that’s what we’re very keen to do. We want our events to be the full stops at the end of a 365-day media experience.”

What are some standout moments from years gone by?

“I’ve driven some fantastic cars: I drove the Chapparal 2H – the one with all the pipes coming out the back and the weird front wing. Then there was the Moss-Jenks [Stirling Moss-Denis Jenkinson] Mille Miglia ’55 Reunion – Jenks hadn’t been in the car since that day. Stirling was so frail, he nearly didn’t get out of it – and everyone was in tears. We’ve had some big, emotional moments.

“Valentino Rossi came the night after he won the Assen GP. He came to the party in his shorts and was such good fun. Lewis [Hamilton] was here the year he won his first world championship – that was a big moment. He always used to come, and I’m sure he will again.”

Is the Festival fostering the next generation of motorsport personalities?

“Some are more interested than others. Some love driving anything – Valentino came because we said: ‘Forget about the bikes, you can drive all these cars!’ A lot of them want to drive fun stuff, but nobody gets paid to come so they’ve got to want to come. Are they as interested in the past as some of the older drivers were at the time? Funnily enough, when they’re doing it, they’re probably not that interested, but as they start to see their place in history, by the time they’re retiring, they’re keen.”

And your highlight of Speedweek?

“Apart from Monday morning? I hope we can look back and say: ‘That was the moment we had that crazy idea, and it was a good one.’”

Felix Page

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