Goodwood Festival of Speed 2023 - Rain, wind, and one out of three

The Goodwood Festival of Speed 2023 for me will go down as the one that got away, with high winds and rain playing havoc for event organisers

The startline of the Goodwood Festival of Speed hill climb

THE Goodwood Festival of Speed is always one of those events that you can’t say no to, despite it being a massive amount of faff to take part in - especially if you are only making one run up the hill.

Thankfully, 2023 saw me flooded (relatively speaking) with invites and one of them from Yamaha for a spin up the famous hill climb on its newly announced Yamaha XSR900 DB40 prototype. Not only would a short but sweet ride on the bike provide me with a story to tell the grandkids, but it could also give me a hint as to what the much-talked-about Yamaha R9 sports bike would be like to ride. I was also offered a chance to try out the Triumph Street Triple Moto2 Edition; again, another bike worthy of a first-ride review - no matter how short!

Arriving at the event on Friday morning, the last thing on my mind was riding up the hill, as persistent drizzle was the order of the day. With nothing else to do but crack on, I kitted up for my first run on the Street Triple Moto2 Edition

One of the things you can never appreciate from watching on the TV or even in person at the event is just how slippery the start line is when it’s wet. You have this perfect storm where pre-war race cars drop oil and more modern racers lay down rubber. Sprinkle some rain into the mix and you have about the same amount of traction as a lard-covered eel on a marble floor. I rolled up to the start second in the queue of road bikes, just behind Jodie Millhouse of Thornton Hundred on his supercharged Speed Triple 1200 RR drift bike. If having 100,000 fans live at the event (and tens of thousands watching on the live stream) isn’t daunting enough, the sight of Jodie’s bike slewing 90 degrees to the left when he opened the throttle definitely did it! His bike though is a bespoke-built drifting machine, with around 400bhp and methanol injection in place of an intercooler - surely I wouldn’t have the same problem!

I hastily flick the bike into ‘Rider’ mode (which I’d set to have no traction control) and performed a few burnouts to try and dry the tyre and maybe get some heat into it. Paddling forwards to the line I can still see Jodie isn’t even around the first corner yet, as he slithers up the track sideways and eventually off out of sight. The event organisers aren’t keen on bikes catching and overtaking each other on this ridiculously narrow course, so I’m held at the line a little longer than normal, and not released until the Thornton Hundred bike had reached the left-hander of Molcombe. 

Happy that the gap is enough, I’m given the nod to begin my run, and with the gentlest of twists I open the throttle. The result is predictable, and the rear wheel spins momentarily before the traction control intervenes. To the observers at the startline it makes for a fairly anti-climatic launch, although with a rear wheel already parting company with its car and entering the crowd on Friday afternoon, I was just happy to still be the right way up!

As I get further from the startline the surface improves, and for a split second, I’m able to get up to full throttle without the traction control intervening before squeezing on the brakes ready for the first corner. The double apex righthander is partially dry by now, and the next long straight that runs in front of the famous house is almost totally dry and invites a full-throttle blast as the 765 triple rattles into the rev-limiter. I’m always super cautious at Goodwood, regardless of what I’m riding or what the weather is doing. Dropping a bike in front of the eyes of the world is not high on my priority list! Friday’s run was no different, and as soon as the main footbridge flashed by I roll off the throttle and get over to the right of the track ready for Molcombe. Again, it's wet on the apex, so I tiptoe around and then gun it up the hill and past the spectators towards the flint wall. This is a fairly iconic bit of the track and really does focus your mind as you thread the needle through the narrow right-left kink. From here on up the track is tree-lined and wet, and I just focus on getting to the top with no heroics. 

Look, I’m not trying to make out that riding in this event is like racing at Le Mans, or taking part in the Revival at the Goodwood circuit over the road, but it is a nerve-wracking thing to do, and mixing in what can only be described as sub-optimal weather conditions only added to this!

With run number one now out the way, all I could do was wait for my second crack up the hill, this time on the XSR900 DB40. After nabbing some of the free grub from the swanky driver’s club, I head down to the bike paddock and get absolutely pelted by rain. Trying to remain upbeat about the situation, I now have my first chance to get a proper look at the little Yamaha. Much of the bike is from the XSR900, which differentiates itself from the MT-09 by way of a slightly longer swingarm for improved stability and distinctive retro styling. The fairings look to be borrowed from a TZR250, while the seat cowl is available from the Yamaha accessory catalogue and simply slips over the pillion seat af the stock bike. The bike is a celebration of Yamaha’s famed Deltabox frame design, something that first debuted on the 1982 YZR500 OW61 Grand Prix machine some forty years ago - hence DB40, Deltabox 40. Like so many two-wheeled technologies, it won on a Sunday so we can enjoy it on a Monday, and the Deltabox design is still found in a number of Yamaha’s models, from the R1 to the R125. Sadly for me, it wasn’t looking like I was going to get a chance to sample the machine’s handling on the hill, as heavy rain and high winds battered the site. We took the sensible decision to can the afternoon ride and instead hatched a plan to ride the following day. 

It was about 9:30pm that evening while at dinner when the news officially broke that Goodwood was cancelling the event for the following day. With the Met Office issuing a weather warning that spoke of high winds causing issues for tents, marquees, and inflatable structures, the decision to not open the festival on Saturday was disappointing yet understandable. That meant no ride on the DB40 and no ride on a National Motorcycle Museum bike that was also planned for 12:30 on Saturday.

So, there we have it, my Goodwood Festival of Speed experience was complete for another year. 400 miles and two hotels for around a minute and a half of riding a bike up the front drive of a posh house. It sounds silly, but in all honesty, I’d do it again in an instant. I get the chance to do some very cool things here at Visordown, from riding new bikes before anyone else in the world to travelling to new countries and experiencing some incredible events. Rarely, though, do I get to sit with and chat with the likes of Kevin Schwantz, Casey Stoner and current MotoGP champion Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia, and that’s what FoS does. And it’s not just those taking part in the event that get this kind of access, the general public can also get close to and speak to the stars from two- and four-wheeled motorsports, and there aren’t many events that let you do that.

Event photography from Oli Tennent, Dave Dew, and Sophia Burke

BMW S1000RR 360 onboard at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2019

BMW S1000RR 360 onboard at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2019