Racer and test driver Goodwin talks AutoClassics through importance of preparation, understanding your car and what happens if you bump it before a race…
The 2018 Goodwood Revival is quickly approaching, and it promises to be a spectacular event with a grid said to be worth over £200 million.
This unique time-warp extravaganza allows spectators the opportunity to see historic cars battle it out at the hands of famed drivers. One such pilot is racer, ex-McLaren test driver and now Aston Martin high-performance test driver Chris Goodwin. We joined him at a Revival practice session as he prepared his personal Lotus 22 for the big weekend.
Black race suit, fiery orange helmet. A determined figure marched down the Goodwood Motor Circuit pitlane toward a car that appeared Matchbox in scale sat next to a Corvette Stingray and even an original Porsche Carrera GTS. A series of precise movements saw his race harness fastened and the little Lotus bark into life.
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Some cars lapped Goodwood at a steady pace, running in new parts or allowing drivers to get a feel for their car; not this dinky white Lotus, though. Our viewing position at the chicane just before the startline gave us the perfect view of a machine being driven with scientific precision. Every lap saw the same entry and exit point, with very little variation; each pass was consistently quick. Setting up a car for success is Chris Goodwin’s day job.
The Lotus 22 burbled its way down the pitlane and was wheeled back into one of the paddock shelters, where Chris clambered out of the car. After he had a brief update with his engineers about various improvements to be made, we were invited for a chat.
Sometimes when you interview racing-driver types you get a series of pre-determined answers, but Chris was as casual as you like. Sat among a few suspension components and next to a jerry can, he appeared perfectly at home. We fired some questions at him.
Thanks for chatting to us Chris. Please tell us a bit about your history.
‘Racing classic cars is a passion of mine, I’ve been doing it for quite a long time. Here at Goodwood I’ve raced my McLaren Can-Am car, a Lotus 23, but this [Lotus 22] is brand new. With all of those cars, because they’re old and because of the business I’m in, I’m very particular about the prep, safety and performance.’
And this beautiful Lotus 22 that you’ll be racing. Is it yours?
‘Yeah, it belongs to me. I bought it in America a bit over a year ago, but not exactly in a race-ready state. It has been completely rebuilt, every nut and bolt.’
‘This one hasn’t got a particularly glorious history; some of my other cars have, some haven’t. From what we can gather it was raced in Ireland in period in the 1960s, then exported to America, where it lived for the next 20-30 years. It was raced a bit in historic racing in the States during the past 10-15 years by a husband and wife. I saw it for sale there.
‘I’ve raced it at Donington as a bit of a test, and Brands Hatch as a second test – we actually won a race there.’
Sounds like you’re gearing up to be running in the thick of it at the Revival…
‘Yes. There’s a great race for these rear-engined, disc-braked cars. Formula Junior is great! My dad’s raced since the 1960s and is massively involved in historic racing, and Formula Junior in particular. He’s their president actually… It’s a brilliant scene.’
Pointing at his mechanics, who by this point had the bodywork off the Lotus, Chris added: ‘We run what was the McLaren GT business, now Garage 59, running contemporary cars. We built all of the McLaren GT race cars and we still race in the Blancpain endurance series as a team – I drive and he operates it. We’ve come down here both thinking this is like having a two-week holiday. A day here relaxes you so much.’
What sort of preparation is involved for the Revival?
‘I’m probably doing less than most, as this is a newly restored car, and we haven’t been racing it for very long. What I’m trying to do right now is get the handling, the balance and the lap-time performance out of it. I’m super particular with how I want to do that with my old cars. I don’t want to do anything that wasn’t possible in 1963.
‘So all of the performance for this comes out of its set-up really. Ride heights, spring rates, damping, camber and all of those variables everyone had back in the day. I’m not a big fan of applying modern technology to historic racing cars, which does happen quite a bit. I’m fortunate in that I race modern cars as well, and develop some of the fastest hi-tech road cars in the world — so I don’t want to infect this world with that stuff.
‘What this is all about is getting this car balanced on this high-speed, flowing circuit. Making sure it’s not understeering too much, making sure it has got enough traction, making sure I can carry speed through corners. That’s important here.’
You seemed pretty committed out there. What happens if you damage the car?
[Chuckling] ‘We fix it… With the McLaren GT program we are well used to GT racing cars being smashed to bits in practice and then getting them ready to race that day. Look at the car, it’s just a few tubes. All sortable really. There’s no point driving around unless you’re on the limit, otherwise its not telling you anything.'
You’re an accomplished racing driver, but do you feel more venerable in a car like this?
‘Errrrrm, yeah you do – but therefore you drive them accordingly. I’m very old and I didn’t get to be this old by not working out how to manage risk. There’s no guarantees in life, but…
‘Put it this way, this is the third car I’ve tested in track on three days. The first car was a Formula One car, which I tested in Germany on a fairly dangerous test track. We were just getting it ready for a demo. Super-fast car, super-inappropriate location, but massively well prepared. Do you feel vulnerable? It’s all in the detail. I don’t just drive anyone’s cars; that car was repaired to the nth degree.
‘This is a fragile little space-frame car, arguably not to current safety standards on a track. It might look like its sliding around, but there’s a slight difference in commitment that you might not necessarily see from the outside. But the key is good preparation. The car was restored by Andrew Hibbard over the winter, my race team is running the car here, so the preparation is second to none.’
It was great to chat with such a high-profile and well respected driver on one of his more ‘casual’ days. Chris also mentioned that he’s looking out for an Aston Martin DB4 to restore – the man has great taste. A huge thank-you to Chris and his team for allowing us to spend some time with them, and we wish them the best of luck for the Revival.
Find out more about the Goodwood Revival on 7-9 September 2018 here.