Auto Racing

HIGH ON SPEED

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 October, 2005, 12:00am

Chris Goodwin is at the wheel of a sleek sports car. I am in the passenger seat as we growl menacingly through the English Home counties. Suddenly the houses fall away, the road opens up and Goodwin puts his foot down.


I am pinned to the seat, shocked at the utter violence of the acceleration. My feet seem to be more affected than my brain as momentarily they lose all feeling. As quickly as he opens up the five-litre engine, he's using the carbon ceramic brakes to bring us back into a stable orbit.


Welcome to Goodwin's other job. The cockpit of this sleek Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren is more often than not his office. He may well be known across Asia as the voice of Formula One, but back in his native England he's better known for his skills behind the wheel.


Goodwin, who commentates for ESPN/STAR Sports, proudly tells me he was the first person to drive the SLR and he's still connected to the project. 'I've driven it in the most bizarre, surreal circumstances, doing 210mph tests in the middle of the night in the south of Italy while looking at thunder storms going off to one side of the circuit. I've driven the car in the Artic Circle on frozen lakes.'


It?s not surprising that Goodwin has made a career out of fast cars. His father, Tony, has spent a lifetime racing. He competed in races in Asia when stationed in Singapore as a doctor with the RAF. It's something that continued when the family returned to England.


'Most people would have rubbish in their garage, but we would have a race car, and every night a bunch of helpers would arrive and work on the car all night. It was an interesting thing to grow up with really.'


By the age of 15, he was preparing his dad's race cars. His first car was a 1958 Turner that his father bought for GBP300 (HK$4,100). There was a racing championship for them and Goodwin senior told his son: 'Here's a pile of bits, you'll be old enough to do it in a year and a half - off you go!'


It wasn't his first taste of racing; having worked at the Brands Hatch circuit during school holidays he got a chance to try a race car when he was just 12. It was the start of a pretty useful racing career. He went wheel to wheel with a young David Coulthard, eventually winning the British Formula Ford Championship. He worked his way up to Formula 3000, which was then the series below F1.


The problem was money.


There wasn't the budget to do a single day's testing. 'That's the difference between what I do now and what I could have done otherwise,' he says.


In the end Goodwin switched to touring cars and now specialises in GT endurance races such as the world famous Le Mans 24 Hours. He's been involved with McLaren since 1997, racing and testing a range of cars including the occasional outing in the current F1 model.


Racing, though, is still his number one passion. 'I like beating people,' he chuckles. 'I like beating people that other people think are really good!'


He claims racing makes him a better person. 'The extra enthusiasm I get from [racing] I do carry over into my other work, so my commentaries will be a bit chirpier and you might get an extra lap out of me when I'm doing development.'


Having a family to think about has changed his attitude to racing and its dangers, but not in the way you might think.


'There's nothing like responsibility to focus your attention and I actually started to drive a lot more quickly, consistently with fewer mistakes.'


Viewers brought up on Goodwin's F1 commentaries may be surprised to hear that it's the least favourite of his three jobs. That's not to say he doesn't enjoy it, and together with Steve Slater they've developed an engaging on-screen chemistry. 'We're chalk and cheese really,' he says, but maintains that's what makes it work.


During commentaries, Steve waves his hands wildly and fiddles with his shoes, full of nervous energy. Chris is often found reclining with feet on the table, not at all fazed at broadcasting to tens of millions of viewers.


'If I make a mistake in racing or testing a 200mph car, it's a big problem, the consequences are very painful,' he explains.


'If I make a mistake, what's the worse thing that can happen to me in that commentary box?' It's not a lack of concern for his performance, more that he knows his subject inside out.


'This is a business I've lived with all my life, it's not something I've come to as an adult, I've been born into motor racing.'


 
 
 
 

You may also like