Festival of Speed 2018

I’ve been attending the Festival of Speed since 2007, all of them on the Friday since I was hooked in by free Friday tickets that used to be given away in the Sunday Times (a lot has changed since then!) It’s now most definitely not free, but still, in my view, worth every single penny.

The Friday used to be a relatively low key ‘enthusiasts day’, most of the headline cars still went up the hill but usually driven by test/reserve drivers. I distinctly remember a number of the road cars passing me on through Chichester early in the morning, and those that were already in position could be covered up until lunch time. It’s now a full-on Festival of Speed day with air displays, many of the headline drivers and everything in full swing. Interestingly the Thursday (which used to be the Moving Motorshow) is now experiencing the same ‘feature creep’ with more and more activity being added to the hill and elsewhere each year, I’m seriously considering the Thursday next year (or Thursday and Friday) to try and recapture that slightly more relaxed feel.

As always I followed my tried and tested plan of arriving in the car park just before it opens at 6:30am (which does mean a 4am start for me). The roads are quiet, the car parks are quiet and the entry queues are non-existent. It does mean waiting for 20 minutes or so until the gates open, but helpfully the security team pre-checked our bags whilst we waited, which meant we could walk straight through dead on 7:00am. The pay-off for arriving so early? The paddocks are empty, and I do mean empty…

With so few people around you can enjoy the vast paddock areas remarkably efficiently. I don’t bother with the manufacturer stands on the other side of the hill, so can usually see everything in the paddocks within 2 hours. That leaves me with the rest of the day to enjoy the action on the hill. The downside of being early? Many of the teams/crews are a bit more relaxed about taking the covers off cars, particularly in the supercar paddock now that they don’t run up the hill until later. Less than half were uncovered as I wandered through first thing.

I pick pretty much the same spot on the hill every year (at least since they closed off the area I used to watch from) for the first run through, which is basically the last section of hill climb before you head into the forest rally stage. It stays relatively quiet here all day, you can easily pop off to the loo or go and grab some food and still find a space at the front when you return. The one issue (well, apart from the lack of nearby facilities) is that you’ve got to be on the ball when spectating or photographing. There are no TV screens and very limited commentary coverage, and vehicles appear out of the wooded area at quite a pace.

After the first complete run through I headed slowly back down the hill to play around with different angles. I was surprised at how much room was available this year, pretty much all the way down to the start line there were spaces at the front, something I’ve not experienced at FoS.

Viewing locations on the house side of the hill are extremely limited, despite a walkway ascending well beyond the paddock there is nothing but a crossing point (with no viewing) at the end of it. Considering it can take well over an hour between crossing openings it’s fair to say there were more than a few hot, bothered and fed up people stood waiting to cross whilst not being able to see anything. I did manage to find one tiny bit of space where I could fire away some shots (on tip toes!) but other than that, it’s a fruitless exercise looking for locations on that side (cars passing right to left as they go up the hill).

Over 10 hours done, I headed out at around 5.30pm. Amazingly I drove straight out and somehow avoided any major congestion around Chichester, so all in all a very smooth day for such a large event

Kit List:

  • Sony a7RII
  • Sony a7
  • Sony  Zeiss FE 55mm 1.8
  • Sony FE 24-240mm f3.5-6.3 OSS
  • Sony FE 100-400mm 4.5-5.6 G

Goodwood 76MM

I last attended the Members’ Meeting back in 2015 (#73MM), it was incredible. Imagine the Festival of Speed in full flow but with loads more room and less than half the people there…that’s the Members’ Meeting. Imagine more McLaren F1 GTRs than you are ever going to see again in your life, all lined up in the paddock with almost nobody surrounding them – Members’ Meeting. Imagine 90% of the circuit being completely devoid of spectators, despite ultra-rare racing cars battling wheel to wheel with plenty of famous racing drivers filling the grids – Members’ Meeting.

The downside? It’s in March and it’s usually very cold out around the exposed airfield circuit. This year took that to another level though, as you can see from the photo above. With a feels like of -10, strong winds and heavy snow it was quite an experience.

Rewinding a bit, I packed my Sony a7RII, Sony FE 55mm 1.8, 85mm 1.8 and the 100-400mm G Master. I’ve never shot a single frame of action with the Sony so I was looking forward to seeing how it would perform. The 100-400mm was on hire from the good folk at LensesForHire so it would be my first experience of that too.

The first bit of fun for the day? The car park. March + grass parking rarely works too well but most cars seemed to get in ok. From then on I had a few hours to explore the paddock before the track action was due to begin. Unlike the Festival of Speed you really have room to breathe in the paddock and the people are generally far more civilised.

I then braved the elements and headed out into the open. I found some nice angles out around the circuit and due to it being so cold I rarely bumped into anyone, unlike the Festival of Speed I could shoot from wherever I liked. Goodwood is strange in that it has zero conventional debris fencing, instead it’s a combination of raised banks and low fences. It looks great and is fantastic for spectating, but does limit the number of really low angles available. After an hour or so the snow arrived, a light flurry at first but then turning into a fairly decent blizzard. Remarkably the track action carried on largely to schedule, giving me the opportunity to shoot through the snow for the first time.

The a7RII and 100-400mm held up really well considering the conditions. Between the wind and feeling colder than I ever have before it was pretty challenging. AF would regularly lock onto the wall of snow coming down rather than the vehicle, but once it gained a lock it would rarely let go. As expected the batteries really took a hammering. Shooting motorsport you can usually squeeze 3-4 times the CIPA rating out of a mirrorless battery, but not so much when it’s that cold. I went through 4 full batteries within 1600 shots, yet on a warm day that would be two at most.

Next up was the paddock as I was really keen to get some snow shots whilst it was still coming down. This was my favourite part of the day, everywhere I looked there were unique scenes to shoot, I would guess a once in a lifetime experience.

I called it a day very early, heading off at 12:30 after 5 hours of shooting. Although the weather was due to improve at Goodwood we had an amber warning at home for later in the afternoon. As I had to get back that day I didn’t want to risk it (a good choice, as it happened, as we were snowed in later that evening). I missed the Group 5 stuff, but cheered up as soon as I started working through the photos as I realised I had a wonderful record of a unique few hours at Goodwood…

Festival of Speed Guide

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

Thursday

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.

Arriving

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.

Photography

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.

Leaving

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.

Accommodation

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.