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One Last Drive At Goodwood

Courtesy of Mike Sinclair - motoring.com.au

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Holdens have conquered the Mountain but this was chance for Australia’s iconic muscle-car to strut its stuff on The Hill… The hill in question, the renowned 1.8km Goodwood Hillclimb -- for most not a true test of speed and accuracy, more a case of being able to show and shine in front of tens of thousands of petrol-head Poms.

It might have Vauxhall on the bonnet and boot, but the English-specification VXR8 is otherwise 100 per cent HSV GTSR. And at this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, there was arguably no bigger fish out of water. Unless, of course, you’re talking about yours truly...

As I sat having a cuppa and biscuit after signing in at the glamourous Martini-sponsored Goodwood Drivers Club, I was within dunking distance of world champions and the motorsports illuminati. Derek Bell, Tom Kristensen, factory Mercedes drivers aplenty and all those English blokes who have made a career out of driving fast cars slowly at Le Mans. But Goodwood is like that.

My first drive up Goodwood’s 1.86km hillclimb course was also Holden’s last – at least in terms of Australian-built production cars. But the Goodwood crowd’s reactions are anything to go by, they’ll miss the big-banger rear-drive Holdens as much as we will. 

Indeed, don’t underestimate UK enthusiasts’ engagement when it comes to fast and furious Aussie muscle cars. Most are more than up to date with the performance credentials of the VXR8 and speak knowledgally about our Supercar series cars and stars. 

After too many mishaps in previous years the organisers require drivers to hold a full racing licence to drive up the Hill. Helmet, racesuit and the like are all on the agenda but the ‘First Glance’ group in which the VXR8 is ceded are all road cars. The run is untimed -- in effect, it’s a motor show outing with a difference.

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Before the drive, my Vauxhall contact, Simon Hucknall, outlines the conduct that’s expected of me.

“If you wouldn’t mind possibly doing a bit of a burnout... If that’s not too much trouble of course,” he implores. 

Far be it from me to disappoint my Goodwood Hillclimb chaperone.

“And then there’s Molecomb,” Hucknall explains, referencing the left-hand off-camber corner that catches newbies and experienced drivers alike. 

“It’s blind. If you wait to see it before setting up for it you’ll be in the hay bales. And that’s not ideal,” comes Hucknall’s classical English understatement. 

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Indeed, it’s only Friday when I head up the hill and Molecomb has already caught out a number of drivers. A wonderful Ford RS200 Group B rally car leaves in a significantly less wonderful state. And who could forget cyclist turned racer, Sir Chris Hoy’s, effort in a Nismo GT3 GT-R just a couple of years ago.

Goodwood’s Hillclimb is the centrepiece of what is quite simply the best automotive event on the planet. There’s much more to the event now than just the sprint up the hill: it has become the de facto UK motor show and annually hosts global reveals of key cars. In 2017, Porsche chose Goodwood to lift the sheets of its most outrageous 911 yet, the 700hp (515kW) GT2 RS.

The VXR8 I’m rolling up to the start line in has only 105hp less than the Porsche (595PS the small print says in Vauxhall’s brochure, or 435kW to you and I), but packing an extra 500kg or so the power to weight ratio isn’t quite as impressive. 

Still, a dip of the clutch in the ‘tyre warming area’ has the rear Continentals disappearing into a cloud of smoke – and the small crowd and event marshalls are in turn performing their very best tennis claps.

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Then the car ahead of me launches and disappears around the corner at the end of the starting straight and I’m given the signal to go… Revs, clutch first gear, short shift to second and hold the burnout to the rev-limiter and I’m grinning like a loon.

And the rest of the run disappears, seemingly in less time than it takes for the smoke to clear from the rear vision mirror. As instructed I brake early for Molecomb, tiptoe around it and it still feels loose. Sage advice, Mr Hucknall. Thanks. 

The Flint Wall is tight and hard to see in the change from full sunlight to deep forested shade. Then the hill climbs sharply and after a long left-hander the VXR8 flashes through the finish. 

All that remains is to gather and the top of the hill and enjoy the view.

I’m directed to park – behind Mark Webber in the new Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo. @AussieGrit sees the big, blue Holden, err… Vauxhall, does a second take and then delivers a thumbs up. 

Another driver taps on my window and I think I’m in trouble.

“Very, very good smoke,” he says in an Italian accent. 

I like Goodwood. 

 

Mike Sinclair is the Editor-in-Chief at carsales.com.au. He is a regular competitor in local motor sport.

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