driving with sterling moss
when invited to sit next to a genuine legend of motor racing, andy enright didn't need asking twice
As opening gambits went, it took some beating. Lord March strode along the grid purposefully, picking me out in the crowd. Andy, pleased to meet you. You'll be riding with Stirling on this run.Without questioning what ill misfortune had befallen the designated incumbent, I grabbed a helmet and set off after him, towards the Maserati Birdcage Tipo 63 parked at the verge, all voluptuous curves and priapic sweep of bonnet. As I gazed in, wondering where my legs should go, Stirling Moss climbed into the driver's seat, and embarked upon a clockwork routine of earplugs, trademark white open-face helmet, goggles and gloves. He looked up questioningly as I realised I had no idea how to open the door of this car, and so vaulted in.
I was at Goodwood, at the preview event for the Festival of Speed. I had initially arrived expecting a lengthy corporate video, armfuls of fascinating publicity literature and the obligatory tour of the grounds, but the reality had proved somewhat different. An astonishing array of exotic and vintage cars littered the lawn in front of Goodwood House. A McLaren Formula 1 car sat before a Ferrari 250GTO, with a brace of Audi Sport Quattros behind. A Viper GTS-R was parked alongside Jaguar's XK180 prototype, itself overshadowed by the Le Mans winning Porsche 917 and Ford GT40. In total over fifty cars were present, there was the opportunity to ride in any of them and the sun was shining. Cue the invitation from of Lord March.
The Maserati hadn't been designed for the taller passenger. I felt perched on rather than in the car, as I gazed over the top of the raked screen, and then down at Stirling, nestled deep in the cockpit, his tiny feet practising heel and toe changes on the delicate looking pedals. With no seatbelts evident, I looked for something to get hold of as he noted his initial findings. Look at this. First gear fouls your hands on the steering wheel. Horn? Parp. Aha." He flicked toggle switches on and off like a Spitfire pilot and then ignition. After an asthmatic wheeze of starter motor, the three litre V12 fired with a deafening bark. It was by far the loudest car on the grid. As I endeavoured not to set off the fire extinguisher with my size twelves, I grimaced against the noise and caught Lord March chuckling heartily from the safety of the verge.
We pulled up to the line. On acceleration, my head beat against the roll bar behind, and when braking it was all I could do to prevent the top of the windscreen delivering me a sharp whack to the bridge of the nose. The marshal brandished the starting flag, Stirling mercilessly gunned the engine, and I tasted pure mealy-mouthed apprehension. Help. I was perched like a whip aerial out of the thing; folk were grinning and pointing cameras, anxious to record this moment when Stirling Moss would catapult the man from The Times onto the adjacent 16th green. The flag dropped and the car lurched forward, its engine bogging down in a lowing, flatulent grunt. Just as it seemed as if it would stall, it lunged up the track with an irate report, the sun strobing through the avenue of trees. Goodwood. Where Stirling Moss had his career-ending crash, I recalled as the first corner approached.
The mark of a great racing driver is the ability to brake later and lighter into any given corner than the opposition. The other alternative is not to brake at all. With only a barely perceptible lift of the throttle pedal, the Maserati crabbed around the corner, most of the antique tyres left behind in a foul-smelling slick of rubber. As we approached the straight, I gained courage, even possessing the outrageous insouciance at one point to look grimly to one side at the cheerfully waving throng, before it was into the trees and up the hill. At each apex, the car threw stones and gravel all over the track. Looking over the screen, Goodwood's infamous flint wall appeared. The track seemed to kiss it before branching right.
Age brings about a steady diminution of motor skills and coordination, and Stirling was no spring chicken. I realised that this could well be the occasion when the years overtook him. Bracing myself against the inevitable, I awaited the impact. When my eyes reopened, a marshal was waving a chequered flag, and Stirling's staccato chortling rose above the engine blare. As we pulled to a halt, he pulled off the helmet, grinning from ear to ear. Had understeer and oversteer in the first corner. Very unpredictable. As opening gambits went, it wasn't beaten all day.