Saturday, March 30, 2019

When The Duke Invites You To Drive Supercars At Goodwood, You Don't Say No

Goodwood's first 'Press Day' in over 50 years was a spectacular day of driving some incredible machines.

Goodwood is best known for the Festival of Speed and Revival, spectacular events that draw in hundreds of thousands of spectators each year. But last week, The Duke of Richmond and Gordon (previously Lord March), invited a select few members of the media to the Goodwood Motor Circuit for its inaugural ‘Press Day.’ Inspired by the Motor Show Press Day that his grandfather used to hold in the 1950s and 1960s, it gave Goodwood’s media partners the chance to sample a range of some of the latest (and greatest) cars on the road.

From the brand-new Aston Martin Vantage to the Rolls-Royce Dawn, we spent a glorious, sun-kissed day, driving supercars on the legendary Goodwood circuit, and on the verdant country lanes around the Estate. After five days of unrelenting rainfall, the sun graciously appeared on the morning of the event and kept his hat on until early evening, giving us the chance to sample some epic roof-down driving in the likes of the Lamborghini Aventador S Roadster and Aston Martin DB11 Volante. Road routes were mapped out, taking us through the Goodwood grounds, past the house and up the legendary hill climb, the cheering crowd of car nuts replaced by casual golfers and grazing sheep.

A few miles of near-empty roads provided the chance to make the Lamborghini’s 740-horsepower V12 wail and scream up to speed, with a cacophony of pops and crackles entering the cabin on the overrun. In Sport + mode, the DB11 also delivered plenty of aural pleasure, and was a surprisingly feisty proposition, a very marked difference from its calm-and-collected GT mode that drivers will use to cruise around in. McLaren didn’t disappoint either, arriving with a selection of its Sport Series models, including the 570S Coupe and Spider, and 570GT, as well as a 720S in signature orange livery.

After an introduction to the 2.4-mile track by Goodwood’s Chief Driving Instructor, David Brise, followed by an obligatory couple of sighting laps, I made a beeline for the 720S. Loud and aggressive at start up, the 720S was relatively refined on the road (as long as you avoided the potholes) but this is a car capable of hitting a top speed of 212 mph, of reaching 62 mph in less than three seconds with a colossal 710 horsepower and 568 lb-ft of torque at its disposal. All that performance and power is there, scratching at the surface. It’s like a professionally trained combat canine, the Belgian Malinois of the supercar world. Well-behaved and docile one minute, ready to rip out your throat the next.

While we lamented the fact we couldn’t sample the extreme side of 720S on track, a stunning baby-blue McLaren 570S Spider awaited us in the pits to soften the blow. The Jackie Stewart Pavilion was our base for the day, the modern space with large balconies that overlook the paddock and track the ideal spot to knock back some espressos with other media and PR while watching the cars accelerate past the pit lane to the challenging Madgwick Corner. Driving the 720S, DB11, Aventador, as well as a V12-powered Ferrari GTC4Lusso on the road was undoubtedly plenty of fun. But it is a rare treat indeed to drive the Goodwood Motor Circuit, and when you see what cars were on offer, you’ll understand why it was so hard to leave it.

Joining the McLaren 570S Spider was a Honda NSX (the original, pre-prototype, chassis #0000 no less), a Porsche 718 Cayman GTS (manual), a Ford Mustang packing 670 horsepower courtesy of a Roush developed supercharger kit and a short-shifting manual, a Rolls-Royce Dawn, BMW M5, Aston Martin Vantage, Maserati Gran Turismo MC Stradale, and Bentley Bentayga. Passenger rides were also offered in the Lamborghini Huracan Spyder and Mini Challenge Race Car, the latter making most occupants revisit their lunch in the back of their throats. At the top of the pile were the McLaren 570S Spider and Honda NSX. We’ll have a comparison review of these cars shortly.

Wearing an Acura badge on this side of the pond, the Honda NSX is a phenomenally playful machine on the track. The complex delivery of its 581-hp, with a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 doing the bulk of the heavy lifting behind your head, and a trio of electric motors adding power precisely when and where it’s needed, all sent to the tarmac via a sublime nine-speed dual-clutch semi-automatic transmission, coupled with beautifully–weighted steering and a spectacular soundtrack, the NSX was an intoxicating car to drive and one I was reluctant to pit after a few laps.

After laps in Normal and Sport mode, McLaren’s test driver for the day put the 570S Spider into Track mode, transforming the car into a completely different animal. Louder, more responsive to the touch, up on its toes and just so, so fast. The 720S takes things to an entirely new level, and then there’s the Senna and recently-revealed Senna GTR up in the supercar stratosphere, but after sampling the 570S in track mode my head was already in the clouds. The award for most unique driving experience has to go to the Rolls-Royce Dawn. Driving two-and-a-half tons around a track shouldn’t be this easy.

Effortless and graceful, wafting around on a bed of air, gliding from corner to corner with gentle movements of the steering wheel, all while cocooned in a cabin so beautiful you could cry. But the real winner of the day was brand Goodwood. This year, the Festival of Speed will celebrate its silver jubilee. For almost 25 years, millions of gearheads have flocked to the manicured lawns of the Duke’s estate to enjoy the greatest summer garden party on the planet. Geneva, New York, Paris, Shanghai, Frankfurt. I’ve been to them all, and nothing comes close to Goodwood. It has become the greatest car show in the world.

Testament to that is Goodwood’s ability to attract so many prestigious marques for what was an unforgettable day of driving pleasure. Travelling thousands of miles for a single day may sound extreme. But when Goodwood comes calling, you don’t say no. See you at FOS 2018.

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