Goodwood Motor Circuit: How Goodwood Estate revived the joys of traditional motor racing

Goodwood Estate is home to the Duke of Richmond and extends to 12,000 acres of land in the middle of West Sussex.

The huge estate is home to numerous facilities, including Goodwood House, a racecourse, home farm, two golf courses and a hotel.

One of the most well-known attractions on the estate is the Goodwood Motor Circuit. The motor circuit was built on the site of a military airfield that had been used during the Second World War.

The land had been donated to the military by the 9th Duke of Richmond, Frederick Gordon-Lennox, in order to assist in the war effort. The site was used as a base and military airfield during the Battle of Britain by the Royal Air Force (RAF Westhampnett).

Festival of Speed in 1993, the year it was launched at Goodwood Motor Circuit

After the outbreak of the war, motorsports disappeared from Great Britain for almost a decade, following the closure in 1939 of Brooklands, another motor racing circuit in Weybridge, Surrey.

This was until the motor circuit at Goodwood opened in 1948, which was met with a joyous response from the British public. The opening of the track attracted more than 15,000 spectators and 85 competitors attending the event, which is unsurprising as it was the first professionally organised motorsports event since before the outbreak of the war.

The circuit stayed open for the next 18 years, during which it hosted numerous motorsports events, until it closed its doors in 1966. The owners closed the circuit because they did not want to modify the track with chicanes – serpentine bends in the road in order to force the driver to reduce their speed for safety purposes – to accommodate the more modern cars that were being raced.

The closure marked the end of an era of British motorsport and the end of a chapter of Goodwood history. The circuit was still used as a track and testing venue for many years, until it was restored and reopened in 1998.

Lord March and the Oilexco Glamour Girls at the launch of the 2007 Goodwood Revival. Picture: Malcolm Wells

The restored track was made to look exactly as it would have when it was opened in the 1940s. The restoration was completed in time for the 1998 Goodwood Revival, which saw the track being reopened by the 9th Duke’s grandson, the Earl of March, now the 11th Duke of Richmond, who drove the same Bristol 400 driven by his grandfather 50 years earlier.

The Revival has been held at the track annually ever since, excluding 2020, and is now firmly established in the motorsports calendar for mid-September.

The Goodwood Revival is a throwback to British motorsports in the years of Goodwood’s prime. The event is held entirely in dress that would have been worn back when Goodwood was open between 1948 and 1966, and would usually have consisted of men wearing tweed and women wearing frocks and fur.

There was also a refusal to let modern day racing cars on the track during the events race days, as an ode to traditional motorsports. Also in recognition of the circuit’s role as an RAF base, there is a display of war planes from the time of the Second World War.

Goodwood House circa 1900-1910

The Goodwood Festival of Speed is another motorsports event which is hosted in the park of Goodwood House. The festival began in June of 1993 and runs annually, excluding 2020.

The track takes in the drive of Goodwood House and runs up the hill behind it. The event itself is a car show in which people bring and show the most iconic vehicles in motorsports, from the origin of motorsport and motor vehicles more than 60 years ago up until the present day, and celebrates the great heroes and pioneers of motoring and motorsport.

The festival has played host to motorsports stars such as Lewis Hamilton, Barry Sheene and Jenson Button.

Sadly the Coronavirus pandemic meant that neither the Festival of Speed nor The Revival could take place as planned in 2020, however both are back in 2021 - the Festival of Speed having taken place in July 2021 as a pilot project for the UK government’s Events Research Programme and the Revival set to return in just a couple of weeks’ time from September 17 to 19.

In addition to these main events, the motor circuit is also host to the Breakfast Club. Held on the first Sunday of the month through the summer period, each month is a given different theme and anyone is welcome to register their pride and joy for display for visitors to appreciate.

As well as these public events, the Goodwood Motor Circuit is an all-year-round business, hosting a wide variety of events, track days, driving experiences and even cycling and running events.