The Sherrards Resourcing Southdowns Stages have been run in various forms at Goodwood since the 1980’s, but for the last 10 years or so has settled into being the traditional season opener at the historic Sussex circuit. This year saw the return of a number of people who share a long association with the event as a tribute to Phil Collins. Phil, who recently passed away, had organised the Southdown Stages since the adoption of its current guise, his son Mark taking on his responsibilities for 2016.
Although this is not a “historic” rally event there was still plenty of interest for those with classic leanings. Admittedly it is the case that the Ford Escort remains ubiquitous but there were other more “left field” entrants as well. This year saw a trio of flying wedges, in the shape of a TR7 V8 and a brace of Group 4 Ferrari 308s, taking to the track. There were also more accessible classics competing with a Talbot Sunbeam, various small Peugeots and a Vauxhall Nova; the latter of which must now be old enough to at least be knocking on the door of classic status.
Goodwood Circuit, familiar to most, is modified for the day by the installation of various additional chicanes and parallel lanes. These are defined by cones, tyres and pallets which slow down speeds as well as making for their own particular hazard. The basic layout is used in various configurations throughout the day to provide differing stages lasting 1 or 2 laps, all of which invariably end by spearing off the side of the asphalt at Goodwood’s permanent chicane. What would spell disaster at conventional race meetings, in this case, is merely the opportunity for adding a little more excitement before passing through the finish gate. The notable use of more straw bails than before around the course was not because of some new bureaucratic safety legislation but rather because of the proximity of the 74th Members Meeting and the vulnerability of the daffodils planted for it. Goodwood Estate having recently lined the track with them.
Sadly the unseasonal sunshine that had brought spectators flooding along in previous years was missing, replaced by intermittent rain and harshly cold temperatures. There was still a good turnout though, attesting to the event’s enduring popularity. The conditions tried not only the skills of the drivers but also the resilience of the volunteers, those indomitable souls who are essential in the organising and running of such an event. From directing spectators’ cars to manning marshal posts and carrying out time-keeping duties; the hardiness of the combined members of Southsea Motor Club, Bognor Regis Motor Club and Goodwood Marshals Club was admirable. It has been suggested by one wag that they were intentionally aided in the process of clearing up in the evening by Elspeth Rodgers and Jordan Murp collecting the cones when they spun out on the very last competitive corner of the day.
It might have been expected from the start that Johnnie Ellis and Mark Fowler in their Subaru Impreza STi hatch would take the win but in fact it was only by a scant couple of seconds from Paul King and Alicia Miles. The second place duo leading the pack of highly developed and hard charging Escorts that crowded the top of the final time sheet. The upside for the spectators, if not the drivers, was that the treacherous tarmac meant both lock-ups and opposite locking were commonplace. Even the 1400cc Nova of Christopher and Anthony Newton, on their way to a highly creditable 5th overall (which beat various examples of much more powerful machinery), barrelled into a chicane in a distinctly atypical-for-front-wheel-drive sideways manner. Thankfully skill coupled to sheer bravado got them through safely. The commitment by the rear wheel drive brigade also showed throughout the day in the various techniques used to tackle the more challenging corners. Momentarily locking the front wheels, getting sideways under breaking, understeer, oversteer, understeer transitioning into wild oversteer as the red mist descended; it all made for a most exciting spectacle. Even one of the 308’s, as finely poised an exotic as you could wish to see, missed a gear change and ploughed past an apex. A communal sigh of relief could be heard as, after a heart-stopping moment, the wayward stallion was reined in before it could damage itself against a tyre wall. By contrast the Subaru Impreza Type R STi of Alex Cannon and Ray Keith, resplendent in evocative dark blue with gold wheels, was altogether more sure-footed on its way to a class win.
Perhaps not a perfect day of motor sport, it could have done with being a bit warmer for that. However, with the assembled onlookers huddled against the cold and shying from the frequent showers; eagerly awaiting the luridly sliding Escorts. With the twin cam fours, sotto on the approach to a corner before unleashing an ascending guttural cry on the exit. Thoroughbreds banging up through the gears to a glorious crescendo as they snaked away into the distance: close enough I reckon. More importantly it was surely the finest of eulogies given, by those involved, to a departed friend?