Watch: Climbing hills at Goodwood, in a Porsche
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It was all over in 60 seconds. It’s not the fastest I’ve been in a car, but for the sight, spectacle, atmosphere, build-up and bonus at the finish, it was definitely one of the grandest minutes of motoring I’ve ever experienced.
When the invitation came through from Porsche to attend the 29th running of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, it was truly Christmas in July. Er, in June.
Aside from all the other wonder and vague info and ambiguity, I interpreted the invitation as being able to drive up the iconic Goodwood hillclimb, in either a Porsche GT2 or GT3. Wow and amazing! Speed didn’t matter; I assumed it would be some form of follow-the-leader train of high performance road cars heading up the hill. Not having been to Goodwood, it was all a bit vague. But either way, seeing and driving the hillclimb, at whatever speed, would be super special.
Fast forward a few weeks and more info came to light. Yes, we would get a “ride” up the hillclimb, with a catch. There would be only two rides on Sunday morning, between the six of us. Short of a Hunger Games style battle, we looked at each other with squinted eyes, but procrastinated about who would go. Then overnight, I got the news that I was elected. Don’t know how or why, but in some form of trade-off, it was a big wow, again. A delegate from Singapore was in the other ride seat.
Offered a choice of two cars, our host offered each of us a piece of paper: Singapore chose first and unraveled it to reveal “Taycan”. So we were in the 911 GT3! Wow x3!
So Sunday morning of Goodwood rolled around, and with long pants and sleeves, signed in with a wristband and helmet, we met cars and curators at the supercars compound, on the inside of the circuit, near the start. Under the tent sat a Ruby Star Porsche 911 GT3. I met “Richard”, who would taxi the car from the tent - around 200 metres - to the turnaround bay and start line, allowing our race driver to jump in and drive.
We joined the queue, alongside Dario Franchitti in the validation prototype Gordon Murray T.50 Fancar. Behind us were a horde of Aston Martins, in front, McLarens, including Bruno Senna’s Gulf-coloured McLaren 720S, and Artura, and just about every supercar imaginable.
As the OK came to get ready, a marshall instructs me to put my mobile phone away (thankfully the GoPro was mounted) and word came through that my “race driver”, two-time Le Mans 24 Hour class winner and factory Porsche driver, Richard Leitz, wouldn’t be here; he was instead focusing on his run in the Porsche 718 GT4 e-performance, that was in outright contention. Oh well. He did end up finishing second outright in the shootout…
Despite my desire and enthusiasm to take his place, there’s a bit more paperwork involved than simply swapping seats, so I happily resign myself to enjoying the ride with “wrangler Richard”, himself a driver trainer and car enthusiast.
We quickly feed up to the famous hay-bale lined start, and friendly marshalls give us the go signal. Richard floors it on launch control and releases and the rear tyres ignite, but quickly grip and launch us down the start straight. Looking directly into the Porsche hospitality suite, focus shifts to the course and Richard is on the cautious side… the road opens up and while there isn’t kerbing, there is an inviting openness to the “track”, and dried grass from plenty of corner-cutters trying for the fastest times.
As we clip the apex for turn two, the view opens up and I remember to take a moment to drink in the atmosphere and look around and see the masses of people watching our pink Porsche power up the course and wailing out 9000rpm from its glorious air-breathing 4.0 flat-six. It’s still fairly flat here, both in terrain and throttle position. Fourth gear as we go under the bridge, Richard is quite circumspect and eases off, whereas it’s realistically full throttle past the main house, under the bridge and past the grandstands until the chequered brake board markers. He’s super cautious at the infamous haybale corner, in front of cameras and grandstand, and he’s sure he’s not going to be making the lowlights reel of the day, as the pink Porsche lifts off very early, back on the throttle, and lets the engine sing at high revs in a low gear as he putters through the tricky left-hander before he’s back hard on the throttle for the climb.
With the grandstand on the right and haybales on the left, here is where it starts to get deceptively steep – I know, I walked it the day before! – as we slow and go under the trees for the very intimidating Flint Wall – yes, it looks intimidatingly hard! Back on the throttle for a short 100m burst up the steepest part of the course, it’s near Bathurst levels of an incline, but looks like a mild hill on TV/camera, to where the hay bales line a deceptive, short right-hand sweeper, that many say is the most challenging on the course.
We exit that with another burst up to 150km/h as the road veers left through a tunnel of hay bales before another burst to the finish around 150km/h. The fastest cars are seeing close to 200km/h.
It’s all over so quickly, but thanks to the GoPro, the untimed, very safe run stops in around 63 seconds. The superfast guys are into the 40s, and even quick cars are doing 50s. There was easily another five+ seconds in this run, but time wasn’t what this run was about – it was about seeing the course from the hot seat, hearing the 4.0-litre sing up the 1.86km and seeing the spectators lining and cheering from start to finish.
There’s plenty of space to ease off and let the car slow, almost half-a-kilometre, but as we reach the top of the course, we’re met by the most amazing sight: at the very top is the regroup area is every car that climbs the hill, waits and then returns back down again – this is an incredible supercar show in its own right, with the high concentration of cars in the one place.
Those keen enough to venture to this top area, where the rally stage and cars are based, are rewarded with a viewing area for every car that finishes the hillclimb. From within, as a passenger, I have 10 minutes to exit and witness some of the most truly epic cars and sights of the weekend: from McLarens to Bugatti Chirons, to the Mercedes One, Singer and TAG 911s, Aston Martin Valkyrie, Rivian and Mustang EVs… Lamborghini’s Aventador is probably the most mundane car here if it weren’t for the sole GR Supra and Yaris that truly looks like the odd-ones out.
All too soon, we’re told to mount up for the slow ride back down the hill, spectators even closer and keener to the track, able to see the cars at a slower speed and get driver interaction.
As we roll back to the starline, the GT3 didn’t miss a beat, and while it wasn’t a full-on race lap, it didn’t matter: the experience of not just having a run up the famous Goodwood hill, all the way from our humble base in New Zealand, was a thrill and privilege in itself. And the proxy supercar show at the top was an unexpected bonus.