If you caught my main feature from this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, you might remember I touched on the rally stage that sits alongside the hillclimb finish line.
Anyone who makes the trek over to this part of the Goodwood Estate is rewarded with a hugely engaging spectacle, one that could easily exist as a standalone event given the roster of drivers and vehicles in attendance. Today we’re going to take a closer look…
The 1.5-mile rally stage cuts its way through the dense woods, with numerous tight turns, switchbacks and s-bends, as well as a jump. After all, no rally stage is complete without at least one instance of all four wheels off the ground.
The full rally stage came about in 2006 after being designed by the late, great Hannu Mikkola, World Rally Champion in 1983 (and three-time runner-up in other years) and nicknamed ‘The Flying Finn’ for his relentless driving style.
It was only appropriate that the jump was named in Mikkola’s honour. Other corners are named either in remembrance of drivers, notable events or significant vehicles throughout rallying history.
The pit area was a veritable A-list of rally machinery. Some of these cars had their success measured in podiums across various rally stages, while others became famous for the technological boundaries they pushed in period, not all of which were successful.
Regulations were once far less restrictive than they are today, and this allowed various approaches to achieve the desired outcome. Group B was the peak of this era. The class originally had no restrictions on design, dimensions, bodywork and chassis composition, nor engine output or configuration. Above basic safety regulations, Group B rules restricted tyre size and weight, and not much else. The Citroën BX 4TC was sadly a case of too little, too late.
When the ruleset tightened up for Group A, teams had to get more creative to find a competitive edge. A prime example of this is Roger Duckworth’s ex-works WRC S6 Subaru Impreza, a car you might recognise from my visit to Autosportif.
In addition to the aforementioned cars, a large selection of production-based rally machines were also in attendance.
Max McRae was at the helm of his late uncles’s 2001 Ford Focus RS WRC. Colin McRae was in the running for the ’01 championship title in this car, until a rollover during Rally Great Britain.
With a pathway that cuts through the woods, the layout of the Goodwood rally stage affords numerous vantage points. However, some of the best places to spectate from can be found by going off piste. The barrier, a waist-high wood and wire fence, gives a largely unobstructed view, save for the trees.
You would hear the cars long before seeing them, and with such a variance in age, it became a game of guessing what would appear next.
Hearing a deep, throaty intake noise that could only emanate from a pair of Weber carburettors? Likely a BDA-powered Escort. A whip-crack ignition cut upshift could well be a R5 Škoda Fabia, and the gargling anti-lag on lift-off perhaps a mid-2000s WRC machine. You wouldn’t have to wait long to find out either, with cars being set off at 30-second intervals.
Steep banks hug either side of the narrow course, which being predominantly hard-packed chalk means grip is sparse. Throw in some rain like on the Thursday, and it was more akin to an ice rink, resulting in some drivers being caught out. In true rallying spirit, after some minor bodywork readjustment and tape they were back out again.
Most of my time at the rally stage was spent positioned at the jump. In comparison to previous years, the course running direction was reversed, which meant the jump was uphill with a far more pronounced kick, as opposed to being more of a table top to slight downhill landing. It was fascinating to observe how the cars would take off and absorb the impact of landing. Some were nose-heavy with the skid plate taking the brunt of the impact, whereas others were more level.
And then there were some that I don’t think I’ve ever seen with one, let alone four wheels in the air.
One of the cars (or trucks to be precise) I was most excited to see on this weekend was not the latest supercar, nor a vintage race car. It was the Toyota Gazoo Racing Dakar Hilux. Built a short drive from where I grew up in South Africa (maybe Stefan could call in for a workshop feature?), these behemoths enter in the Dakar Rally in the T1+ category. After 2,500 gruelling stage miles, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Matthieu Baumel stood victorious in 2022.
You could tell how comfortable Nasser, a multiple Dakar and Rally Raid winner, was behind the wheel, putting on a show for spectators on both his runs up the hill and threading the oversized truck through the narrow rally stage. On the Sunday, Nasser and Matthieu completed the hillclimb, rally stage and off-road arena track in one run, evidencing just how versatile the two-tonne truck is.
It’s been a few weeks since the event and I’m still finding dust from the stage in my bag, but that’s all part of the experience, right? Unless you’re a die-hard rally fan, it’s unlikely you’ll be getting up before the sunrise, parking in a layby and hiking miles into the woods for a fleeting glimpse of the action as the cars fly past. So, consider the Goodwood Festival of Speed rally stage a taster of the real deal.
But what if you find it’s just not enough? Study the map, pack a Thermos and get out to a proper stage rally. You won’t be disappointed.