I like having big international events within a few hours’ drive to go and photograph, but I’m not a fan of sitting in traffic or wrestling through massive crowds. You might think one has to come with the other, but there are ways of minimising the stress (and costs) at most big events, and it’s no different with the FoS.
Choosing a day
Now the first day proper of the Festival of Speed; the Thursday is evolving every year but currently sees most of the road and rally cars on the hill throughout the day. It's a reduced timetable with a focus on manufacturer cars rather than the race cars, but a fantastic day if you want to wander around with smaller crowds and take in the vast static elements of the Festival.
Friday – Sunday
The event used to be run with Friday as the ‘enthusiasts day’, which was all about the cars rather than the stars, with Saturday and Sunday being the main event days when the F1 drivers etc would show up. Friday has morphed into a full-on day now, but it’s still by far the best option if you want to experience everything FoS has to offer without it being quite so busy.
Technically the main hill climb event is a competition with a final shootout on the Sunday, but in reality (particularly if you’re not near a PA or screen) it’s a bunch of cars hooning up the hill all weekend, which is fine by me.
Before the Event
If you’re on a budget visit the Goodwood website and note down the schedule for the day or download the app. You’ve immediately saved yourself £10+ on a (bulky) programme. I personally also take my own lunch and water, which saves a small fortune on the day. There are no specific restrictions on taking food and drink into the event but bear in mind that with the enhanced security checks required these days you may need to empty your bags at the gate. Drinking water taps are located near the loos, so I'd recommend taking a bottle and topping up throughout the day.
If you’re driving aim your satnav at PO18 0PX and follow the yellow AA signs once you get near. There are a number of car parks depending on which direction you arrive from, just be sure to remember the car park letter and location of your car (there are markers dotted around) before you head over to the event itself.
Car Parks open at 6:30 (in reality a bit earlier) with the actual event gates opening at 7am. I always aim to arrive in the car park for 6:30 and have always driven straight in, there is very rarely any traffic at all to worry about at this time. I then stroll over to the entrance gate ready for opening. Queues are usually very small at 6:30-6:45 but start to build a little towards 7am.
The Static Displays
7am in the paddock is a revelation if you’ve only ever experienced it in the day or have seen pictures of crowds as far as the eye can see. I gradually head through the Supercar and First Glance paddocks, then across to the Cartier Style Et Lux lawn, past the central feature and then up to the F1 and Motorcycle paddocks (which also contain all the other cars competing in the hill climb). As it’s fairly quiet you can work through all of that in a couple of hours quite comfortably. What you won’t get is the fun of large batches of those cars firing up and heading to the start line, but I tend to experience a bit of that on the way back down in the afternoon.
At this point the first batch of cars is usually hitting the hill, so I head for the top, but you can detour through the main manufacturer stands on your way up if you like.
The Hill Climb
The hill gets quieter the further you climb, with that in mind I go straight to the top! If you plan to do the same make sure you head up with the hillclimb on your left (i.e. the side with the manufacturer displays, not the paddocks), crossing via the bridge near the central feature. You can no longer get very far at all up the hill on the paddock side and the foot crossings are unreliable at best (hour long waits are not uncommon).
I always position myself in the very last open section. Much like the paddocks at 7am it’s amazing how relaxing and quiet it can be up there. The area is sparsely populated during much of the day and it’s never difficult to get a spot at the rope. The only peaks are when the F1 cars take to the hill and when the supercar batch is running.
Vehicles are separated into 5 or 6 batches (Americana, Pre War, Supercars etc) and these are repeated in the afternoon, so if you don’t want to see everything again you can make the short walk onto the Rally Stage or head back down into the madness.
You really don’t need a long lens to make the most of Goodwood, if anything you’ll want to make sure you can go wide enough for the hill. I took a 200-500mm in 2016 (on a full frame body), 200mm was way, way too long for standard panning shots on the hill so I reverted to my 85mm prime. A 70-200 or similar is perfect.
Cars often appear out of the shadows and if they’re pressing on will be gone before you can even lift your camera up, so it pays to be prepared. Race cars are generally loud enough to hear coming, but with rally cars and off-roaders in the background it’s not always as obvious as it seems. It’s surprisingly easy to miss the supercars during their run, they follow each other fairly closely, don’t hang around and relatively speaking aren’t particularly loud.
A batch concludes with support vehicles and a safety car (usually the Mercedes F1 or DTM safety car), after a short break they will then come back down the hill (slowly, in theory) to return to the paddock, again concluding with the support vehicles and safety car. You therefore get two bites at the cherry, once when they’re attacking the hill proper, and once when they’re heading back down.
My favoured location at the top of the hill is so good because you get a nice clean background for panning on the way up, and a lovely angle of the cars coming back down the hill out of the trees. If you’re quick and have a zoom lens you can capture cars twice on the way up, the second time a rear view when they enter the final corner.
As with any big event, leaving early or late is usually the best option. On Thursday and Friday event traffic isn't usually an issue, but the general commuter traffic is. Chichester and the many roundabouts on the bypass are a nightmare to navigate between 4pm and 6pm, so that's best avoided if it all possible. It's a little known tip that you can hang around pretty late should you still have the energy, the advertised closing time is usually around 7.30pm, but there are so many pit crew and staff wandering around that you're not going to be asked to leave until pretty late into the evening.
As soon as the dates are announced local accommodation fills up; as the event draws closer you will need to look further and further afield to find anywhere to stay. It’s worth bearing in mind that Goodwood usually announce the date provisionally at first and do not confirm until the Formula One calendar is set in stone. For the 2017 event, for example, the provisional date subsequently clashed with the revised F1 calendar, it was immediately clear which weekend FoS was likely to move to but a little while before they announced it; this opens up a small window of opportunity to speculatively book some (hopefully refundable) accommodation.
Other than that, hotels around Portsmouth tend to have availability right up to the event itself. It’s a bit of a drive (45 minutes or so) but if you’re travelling from the other end of the country or something it’s a pretty good option. I managed to book a nice little hotel with breakfast for £70 just two weeks before the event this year.