Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Goodwood Festival of Speed 2015 - GT Academy

For the third year running, the Goodwood Festival O' Speed has featured Gran Turismo gaming pods at various manufacturer stands. Unsurprisingly they are always most prominent at Nissan, who are closely connected to the game, and since 2013 (when GT6 was released with the Goodwood Hillclimb Course inserted) they have held a "Wildcard Event" for their increasingly well-known GT Academy competition, in which proving your virtual driving chops can propel you into a real-life racing driver development programme and a career racing real racecars. How good is it? Now that they've got the training formula down to a science, they've been able to put a graduate into an LMP2 car at the Le Mans 24 Hours just ten months after he won the competition, and he wasn't bad. If you can't afford the traditional route into motorsport, this is your golden ticket. I always take part and while I've always been up there somewhere, I haven't yet won a wildcard entry to the Race Camp in which you compete in an elimination process for a place in NISMO's driver squad. This year things stepped up a gear, as you shall soon read about......

Goodwood Festival of Speed - Top Tips

A Toyota Tundra NASCAR Truck (NASTRUCK?) waits for us pedestrians to get out the way
Welcome to the first of SBV8's many Goodwood FOS 2015 posts. Instead of cramming it all into one giant column, there will be a few themed posts, as this year I went for all four days and there's far too much to cover for just one or two long articles. First of all, here are some tips for next year. You should go next year. It's worth it whether you're a casual or hardcore motoring enthusiast, even though it's expensive.

Moving Motor Show - Fancy A Test Drive? Arrive Before ~8:00 or GTFO
Thursday is unique, as the track is not used for history's greatest and latest sports and racing cars/bikes to be showcased by star drivers and riders. Instead, it's used for ordinary punters to take a chaperoned test drive in brand new cars. Want to drive on the tarmac graced by historic machines and star pilots? MMS is your chance... but only if you commit. Gates open at 7:00am. Aim to be there as early as you can, as you will have to queue to secure one of a limited number of time slots fora given car. Get an idea of what will be there, check the sign after the entry gate to see which brands are on which side of the MMS tent/enclosure and go there ASAP to queue up. You will need your driving licence, and some of the more potent/fun stuff will require you to be 23 or 25 years old for insurance reasons. If you get there after 8am then really you're gambling, as before too long they'll all be fully booked. I went to Mazda, Toyota and Honda and they turned me away, then queued up at Ford only for the queue to disperse upon the bad news, before finally ending up at Renault (RenaultSport was separate and had a much longer queue) to get a go in a Twingo at 3:20pm. This happened well before 9am.

Something I learned this year was that there was quite a lot of pre-booking at certain brands (the all-new Mazda MX-5 was already well spoken for before the gates even opened), so look into how that works... but wait until I've booked something first of course!

If you don't fancy doing the driving yourself or they are the only spaces left, you can instead book a high speed passenger ride in something like an AMG, Porsche, Maserati or Ferrari.

Another thing about the Thursday is that it's definitely the cheapest and quietest day of the weekend, primarily because the main attraction doesn't feature until Friday onwards. That said, Friday is still quieter than Saturday or Sunday, because some people are still at work and stuff.

Crawling Through Midhurst? Take The Shortcut!
If you're using the popular A287/A286 route south towards Goodwood, you'll end up in the quaint historic market town of Midhurst. Because it's centuries old, the road gets very narrow in places and it's simply not equipped for the annual flood of petrolheads passing through it. However, just after the pedestrian crossing with traffic lights, there is a little left turn that bypasses the rest of the town centre entirely. Mind you, lorries and vans need not apply, as the first part is very narrow and will require you to be careful in any four-wheeled vehicle if someone's coming the other way. Once you've weaved through the medieval houses and shops, though, it becomes a normal road and rejoins onto the A286.

The only other thing about it is that it's much more efficient in the morning (heading south) than the evening (heading north), as it's a lot easier to spot from the other end. I used it in the mornings and never saw the traffic I was in again - nor did I see anyone else use it - but going home people use it in frustration to escape from the traffic, only to have to rejoin it by getting out of a tight T-junction.

Bring Your Own Bottled Water (and Lots of Money)
A 0.5L bottle of water costs £1.80, which is frankly absurd. To put that into context, 0.5L of petrol currently costs about £0.58. I get that Goodwood's a poncy place and all the food is branded as gourmet this and premium that, but this is fucking water we're talking about here, in an ordinary plastic bottle. A supermarket will sell you at least 2L of bottled water for less than half that, so buy some there, or if it's hot outside buy smaller bottles and freeze one overnight so it stays cold in the summer sun. Some of the toilet blocks have drinking water taps on the side of them, so don't throw your bottle away once you've emptied it.

Also, don't buy the pizza. It costs £10.00 and looks like it should cost £1.99, tops...

In fact, it's nigh on impossible to buy lunch for under £5 unless you're happy with just chips, which go for around £3.20 on their own. This is before you factor in a drink, naturally, although you can get affordable coffee if you look for it. I haven't looked into alcohol prices as I always drive there, but there are plenty of outlets of varying pretentiousness, from brand-less bars to stands for Veuve Cliquot and the like.

Basically, if you're not rich and you're OK with having a packed lunch, then bringing your own food is the only way not to get ripped off at lunch time.

Oh, and if you forget your sun cream or your health otherwise suffers while you're there, there's a Pharmacy stand near the bridge halfway along the straight, facing the motor show stands.

As well as everything else, there is a market area for panama hats, model cars, memorabilia and so on. Card machines don't always get great signal, and cash machines will almost definitely charge you a lot for using them.

Plan Your Day Beforehand
Especially important if you're only going for one or two days, there is so much to do that you ought to at least have an idea of what you want to do before you get there. The layout is basically the same each year, so use this year's map as a guide (different view as a PDF here). Even with a whole weekend to play with, I still didn't quite manage to do everything - neglected the rally stage again!! - so decide what's essential. The cars go up the hill in groups, each group once in the morning and once in the afternoon in varying orders. Don't forget the Forest Rally Stage uphill from the hillclimb course, either! There's a shuttle behind the F1 paddock.

Some manufacturers host little events with guest stars during the day, so if you're near the show stands keep an eye out/ear open, or follow a few choice brands on Twitter (on that note, there is now Wi-Fi (yay!), but it's patchy as hell (boo!)). This year BMW had the likes of Tiff Needell, Steve Soper, Jake Humphrey and even Murray Walker! Jenson Button appeared at the Honda stand, of course, on Saturday. Mercedes probably trotted out their F1 drivers too, but I didn't think to look.

Click to embiggen
If you hear a jet fighter, don't be alarmed. That's just the aerial display! It's usually pretty impressive.

If You're Famous, Avoid Selfie/Autograph Requests By Engaging In Deep Conversation
It certainly deters awkward people like me, anyway... although I did grab a couple of sneaky pics like this one of YouTube hoonage chief Chris Harris swapping notes with Ben Collins just before filming something.

Leaving Late? Prepare To Queue. A LOT.
You will park in a field with probably around a thousand other cars, and that field is accessible through one or two tracks through the trees. You do the maths. It can take a good twenty minutes to get out of the car park, and that much again to get past the horse track and onto a main road.

Also, chances are you're heading north from Goodwood, but if you're exiting northbound onto the A286, it won't be a particularly free-flowing drive, so instead, head south into Chichester and go onto the A285 back north. It's longer in distance, but it's quieter, so choose based on what matters to you. If you go home via Farnham then the A285/A283 route runs parallel to the more heavily-used A286/A287 route and joins back up at the train station if you then go onto the B3001. Otherwise it'll take you to Guildford.

Be Cool!
Sometimes you will need to exercise patience, other times you should just chill out and take in the surreal awesomeness of where you are. Just don't be a bellend. Enjoy it and let others enjoy it too, because it's like nothing else in the world!

Feel free to comment with your own tips :-)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Alfa Romeo Giulia Finally Exists, Targets C63 AMG and BMW M3

2016 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio Verde
We have to love Alfa Romeo. It's the law. Their heyday was decades ago but you hang on in there because the inherent charm and character keeps making you believe that something amazing will happen soon. To prove the point, this decade has already given us the stunning carbon-tubbed 4C sports car, which while it looks every inch a baby supercar apparently feels a little unfinished from behind the (awkwardly-designed) wheel, be it in terms of build quality or ride and handling. But hey, that was their first rear-drive production car since 1993 - excluding the limited-run, equally all-show-not-quite-enough-go 8C Competizione of 2007. Maybe their second series production rear-wheel-drive car will get it right. Say hello to Giulia. It's understandable if you're nervous; she's a hottie.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Nissan GT-R LM NISMO is (Almost) Ready for Le Mans

With Formula 1 appearing to be a bit of a basket case at the moment, more racing fans are beginning to look elsewhere for their kicks and cool cars. One of the best places to look at the moment is the World Endurance Championship, where we see freer regulations, a much bigger variety of hybrid technology (all of which is more advanced than F1's mandated system) and some brilliant close racing between multiple manufacturer teams in 1000-horsepower cars with distinctly different strengths and weaknesses. Ironically, while F1 features ~2 hour endurance races, WEC has been bringing us 6-hour sprint races, and is currently gearing up for The Big One in two weeks' time: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Le Mans has always been a home for pioneers as well as speed freaks, and Nissan has been playing both parts increasingly over the course of this decade. First they started supplying engines to LMP2 teams and stuck GT Academy winners in them, then they co-created the crazy DeltaWing and evolved that into the ZEOD RC plug-in hybrid - which last year did the first ever all-electric lap of the 24 Hours - and now they've stopped beating around the bush and are going straight for the big prize with the fascinating, divisive and potentially revolutionary GT-R LM NISMO. Yesterday was the Le Mans official test day, the first time this crazy new racing Godzilla (which I like to call "Frontzilla") shared a track with its fellow competitors. How did it go? Does it matter and why? Just what is the big deal about this car anyway?