Robb Interview: The Duke Of Richmond Talks All Things Goodwood
Ahead of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, we sit down with the Duke of Richmond to better understand its global allure.
We honestly thought our eyes had finally packed it in. Stepping through a VIP access gate, we were into a back paddock littered by automotive wonder. Ferrari 250 GTO (numerous), D-Type Jaguars (plural), a suite of classic Bugattis that purr in their collective rarity. Further afield, a McLaren F1. A De Tomaso P72. A Monza SP1. No, wait, make that a pair of Monzas. A Chiron. And a Divo. And a Veyron… This can’t be real. And yet it is. Welcome to Goodwood.
Specifically, welcome to Goodwood Festival of Speed, the world’s most impressive car culture event. Certain Stateside folk may disagree but it’s true. Because where else can you see a new Rimac pulling maximum revs. Or catch Sir Jackie Stewart and Rubens Barrichello race? Or have Lando Norris show you around the Speedtail? Spot Nigel Mansell chatting to Damon Hill over lunch as David Beckham stops to admire a fleet of Porsche 917s?
“Speed” is something quite brilliant. But it’s also just one element that makes Goodwood what it is today—a byword for global automotive excellence; the spiritual home of British motor racing.
Goodwood Estate—where Speed and its classic cousin “Revival” (the one where they all dress up) are held—rests in the picturesque south of England, outside the country town of Chichester, two hours from London. On 4,856 hectares, it’s dominated by the central Grade 1 listed Goodwood House. It also hosts Goodwood Circuit (motorsport), Goodwood Racecourse (horses), Goodwood Cricket Club, two golf courses and a hotel. It’s stunning.
And this year, Goodwood lights the candles on several anniversaries: 75 years since Goodwood Motor Circuit opened in 1948, 30 years since the first Festival of Speed was held in 1993, 25 years since the first Goodwood Revival was held in 1998, and 25 years since the foundation of the Goodwood Road Racing Club in 1998. Surely, then, a time to reflect on all that it has seen and become. “I’m not someone who does look back very often,” the 11th Duke of Richmond, Charles Gordon-Lennox, and Goodwood’s current overseer, tells Robb Report. “I just get on with it.”
It was the Duke’s grandfather who injected automotive spirit into the estate. Distinguished Australian WWII pilot—and subsequent race car driver—Tony Gaze suggested to the 9th Duke, best known as Freddie March, that the satellite base that sat on the estate, RAF Westhampnett, had the potential to be turned into a race circuit.
“So Tony Gaze went to my grandfather after the war, allegedly, and it was Tony’s idea to turn the old strip into a racetrack. My grandfather went down and had a look at it, he then got John Cooper down and they did a few laps, in the other direction to now, and they thought it was rather cool.”
The circuit opened in September 1948 and went on to host various trophies that saw some of the golden era’s greatest—Juan Manuel Fangio, Jim Clark, Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Bruce McLaren—test both themselves and their machines. In 1966, the Duke of Richmond decided to close the circuit, concerned about the speed of the new three-litre F1 cars. The last race was held on July 2nd, won by Christopher Le Strange Metcalfe in a Lola Climax.
The circuit remained in use for testing by some of the best-known teams—McLaren, Eagle, Honda, Brabham, Toleman and Tyrrell Racing. It was also here, in the summer of 1970, that Bruce McLaren was killed while testing his new Can-Am car.
Cut to the early ’90s and the current Duke was at a crossroad. New revenues were required, given the tremendous upkeep and overheads, and he’d long wanted to re-ignite the incredible motor sport history of the 300-year-old estate. “From my side I’d always wanted to get the motor racing happening. We’d been having these conversations for years about the racetrack but we weren’t getting anywhere.
But we had this crazy idea about running some cars in front of the house. I had the FIA safety inspector Derek Ongaro come out, and to my amazement he thought it was a good idea and that it could work.”
This was in October 1992. On Sunday June 20th 1993, the first Festival of Speed was held, its racing centrepiece a 1.16 mile “Hillclimb” in front of Goodwood House to the top of the hill adjacent to the racecourse.
“We had this theory that these shows were often put on for the drivers and not the public; they were club events. And so we thought we’d try it. We didn’t know what to expect. People could just turn up on the day and get a ticket.”
More than 25,000 came for the debut, an immediate success that continued to grow as Speed became a multi-day event, attracting a record 158,000 in 2003 before tickets were sold in advance only and numbers capped at 150,000.
People come for the cars and the drivers. They come too for what will be unveiled. They also come to feel a sense of romanticism and ease that blankets the event and its various attractions—among them the Supercar Paddock, Forest Rally Stage, Cartier’s Style et Luxe Concours-type judging event. They come to get up close and experience all that’s on offer.
“No ropes,” says the Duke. “It’s a simple but most effective decision, and it’s what I wanted. You can’t rope off the cars, every car has to be accessible. Every single year we do a lot of research, and the blinding response [from attendees] is that they can get close to the cars and talk to the drivers.”
Speed is also unique in its 100-year coverage of motoring. “Every genre, all sports and industry—looking back, looking at what’s going on now and looking at the future.” Indeed Speed has come to showcase the future of motoring like no other automotive activation through its Future Lab program—so too the electric hypercars that clamour to race the Hill and set increasingly quick Hillclimb records.
The estate now employs thousands who work across its many and varied adventures, motoring and otherwise. The Duke, meanwhile, remains hands-on when it comes to the cars, pushing personal connections to make sure the best is there each and every year, be it automotive finery or current F1 teams and drivers.
“At the end of the day, they have to want to be there. And most, we find, do want to come. But, yes, we are there pushing hard to make things happen and I’m personally very involved. It’s what I do most of the time, pushing and persuasion.”
A talented driver in his own right—who has piloted a hangar of impressive cars at speed up the Hill—the Duke admits to taking things a little slower these days.
“I love cars. I used to dream of these cars as a boy, thinking maybe one day I could own one. And then here I am. This strange bit of soil has had more great cars on it than anywhere else in the world. So my dream has come true, I’ve driven the ones I dreamt of as a 10 year old and many more. And what an amazing privilege. It’s with great pride that I enjoy what we do here at Goodwood. If we can create something uplifting for people, then that’s a wonderful thing to be doing.”
Happy birthday, Goodwood—the greatest show on earth.
2023 Goodwood Festival of Speed, July 13-16; goodwood.com
Subscribe to the Newsletter
Recommended for you
The vehicle is powered by a naturally aspirated 5.2-litre V-10 that produces 640 hp.
By Bryan Hood
November 30, 2023
From stealth profiles to surprisingly lavish appointments, launches from Sacs Marine to Lomac are gaining popularity.
By Kevin Koenig
November 27, 2023