Pedalling to victory

Pedalling to victory
Pedalling to victory

Goodwood kids go for gold in classic Austin pedal cars

Most people might equate the Goodwood Revival with classic exotica, mighty engines and rip-roaring track action, but one of the event’s best-loved races is somewhat more sedate. The annual historic racing extravaganza – which takes place at the legendary motor circuit just outside Chichester in West Sussex – hosts a one-make series whose focus is pedal power rather than horsepower.

The Settrington Cup – named after the title given to the eldest son of Goodwood’s Earl of March – is for children’s pedal cars; Austin J40s, to be precise. These little gems originated in South Wales in 1949, as a Government-funded project to employ disabled coal miners using excess raw materials from the Austin factory at Longbridge. Production continued until 1971.

No fewer than 53 J40s were registered for this year’s Cup. The Series’ huge popularity since its inception in 2012 has seen an explosion in interest in buying the curvy pedal cars; we tried to find one on eBay recently, and turned up a sole battered body for £550. But at the 2017 event we spoke to one driver, seven-year-old Josh, who had been lucky enough to be given his car (called ’Rusty’) by last year’s Cup victor, who’d grown too big for it.

Josh is the average age for the event, although Goodwood motorsport content head Will Kinsman says ‘emotional range’ is just as important as experience, as this helps kids keep their cool on the startline. Josh wasn’t likely to show any pre-event nerves, though; having spent the whole summer practising on the streets of his hometown of Twickenham, he was more than prepared.

The technique for ‘powering’ a J40 requires ‘back and forth’ pedal movement rather than ‘round and round’. It’s easy to accidentally go backwards on ‘startup’; “Remember, it’s pedal to the metal… followed by the other one,” multi-Revival winner Mark Hales advised Josh.

Before taking to the startline, each of the cars had to undergo scrutineering, which checked gearing, tyres, and weight. In contrast to some parents’ competiveness, Josh and his family were proud that Rusty was the only entry not to be in pristine condition.

Josh drew pole position out of a hat. This was a mixed blessing, as it meant he’d have no one to follow on the Saturday’s Settrington Cup and would be at the tail end of a reversed grid on the Sunday’s race. However, he showed no tension as he was pushed into place by his ‘mechanic’, nonchalantly chewing jelly babies and waving to the cheering crowd.

The ‘Le Mans start’ sees drivers run to their cars on the signal, jump in and start furiously pedalling. Josh’s ‘off’ didn’t go quite as smoothly as he’d hoped, but he finished a very creditable seventh and was more than happy with his prize of posh chocolate. Sunday’s heat went rather better, and he steamed from the rear into the mid-twenties.

An excellent result – and perhaps Josh’s new-found racing skills will one day lead to him racing full-scale motor cars on Goodwood’s glorious circuit.

 

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