The Goodwood Estate lies on 12,000-acres of delightful English countryside that hides 32 miles of woodland routes and one very fast historic race track in the middle. Don't have a vintage Bugatti? That's ok, now you can drive BMWs all over the place.
(Full Disclosure: BMW and Goodwood flew me out to try out i, M, X, and other BMWs out all over the estate. It was delightful... especially seeing a ton of i8s in one place at one time.)
The relationship between Lord March and BMW started more than two decades ago and was cemented in 2003 when the Germans agreed to dig a giant hole in Goodwood and very cleverly fill it up with the Rolls-Royce factory so it wouldn't ruin the landscape.
Up until this point, the Goodwood Circuit itself was only used on the five race days each year when noise regulations are out of the picture, plus private track days and a bit of testing now and then.
In order to make the track and the rest of the Estate much more available to the public, Goodwood teamed up with BMW and Michelin to provide all sorts of packages starting from £99 for an hour of drifting training in a M235i on the wet skidpad to a full day of throwing M cars around the track and X cars deep in the woods for around £600. I had a go at both.
Into The Woods
It was, of course, raining and pretty cold out there, yet the golfers kept calm and carried on with their game. With heated seats all around, things were looking much brighter in the X5s.
It's as if you were transported to Downtown Abbey when the gates open and you find yourself having to wait an additional minute or so for the hundreds of sheep to clear out of the way. Motorsports are just a fraction of what Goodwood does, and when it comes to agriculture, they have the largest lowland organic farm in the UK. So the pigs, cows and sheep from all sorts of rare breeds along the roads are not just here for your entertainment or scenery.
Neither are the ancient woodland roads, which can be quite challenging for anything under a trusty Land Rover. That's why taking X5s (and X3s) in the mud felt a bit ambitious at first, but since this is just as much about showing off the products as anything else, I had to trust BMW and Michelin to know what they were up against.
And they did, sort of. Although the instructors and an iPad's dedicated map are there to make sure you can't get lost somewhere along the 32 mile course with no network coverage in sight, the drive was made interesting by the fact that the mud tires haven't arrived in time. Still, these giant SUVs did remarkably well on that wide street rubber and the automatic hill decent was straight up brilliant.
These three-liter diesel X5s weigh 5,000 pounds empty, yet in Goodwood's "chalk pit", where it's literally a mixture of mud and wet chalk that's more slippery than snow, they had no problem descending in the most civilized fashion imaginable. That means even these normal tires had plenty of grip which was a surprise considering how soaked those dirt roads were. The only issue was the lack of ground clearance.
Yes, having local cheeses and tea served by Goodwood's Head Butler next a fire in the woods might feel a bit over the top anywhere else, but remember, this is Lord March's backyard. This is how they roll, and it's all about the proper way of doing everything and if it can't be done while wearing tweed then, by George, we're not doing it!
The only thing you have to remember on your way out back towards civilization is that the last part of the route goes through the neighbor's land. It only took a couple of years to convince him that this extra traffic won't cause any trouble, but you still have to look out for the thousands of pheasants running around. Hitting one (or more like leaving it there) could ruin the party.
Around The Track
If you happen to be seventeen with lots of lunch money in the bank, you can drive a Mini Cooper around the Goodwood Circuit. That's quite cool, but adults get even better tools for the job. Like all current M cars, an i8 or an Alpina D3. And I have to stop here, because the Alpina D3 is just fantastic. Jump into one after an M3 and you'll see what I'm on about.
It's beautifully done on the inside and almost — if not as — fast as an M3 thanks to all that torque. Fuel economy is not really an issue on the track, but once leaving the Circuit, I would choose this to take home over an M3 without hesitation.
So, what's it like to drive on what's probably the last active historic track with an unchanged layout? Well, it must be fantastic, but when I was there, unfortunately it had standing water on it. That meant the traction control stayed on, and we were braking earlier than we'd like to thanks to an extra pedal on the passenger side.
Ideally, it looks more like the photo above, and a few hours of practice out there with the pros can really make you a better driver.
Treat Yourself Day!
Your other options include flying over the Estate via a helicopter, or in case you want to keep it as calm, comfortable and as luxurious as possible, there's always the Rolls-Royce Wraith to take out for a nice drive.
Just practice the whole thing on the Playstation first inside the Jackie Stewart Pavilion while drinking smoothies that make you more focused than a six-pack of Red Bull, and make sure to watch out for that wall once you think you know your way around.
It remains a pretty wide automobile.
Photo credit: Goodwood