Here’s what I found interesting in the Dakar today. If…
From Grassroots to Goodwood (Part 2) by Dave Vardy
A Change in Career
As 2011 arrived, the first task was to work on getting both Skoda and the AMT back to Goodwood. Everything was put in place with Skoda UK Motorsport once again and Goodwood were well receptive of our team, after the show we displayed the previous year.
Life took a spin in the right direction that year, as an opportunity to progress within Volkswagen Group UK, meant that I departed from the Apprentice Programme, as well as the AMT. This meant that I would be working at the head office of the manufacturer that I have loved since the first day that I had lifted up a spanner.
Nevertheless, Goodwood was always in the back of my mind, so when I left, I made sure that whilst I was in my new role, the team would be in the best place to make a return to Lord March’s estate once again.
However, as a part of my new role within VW, I was instructed that I would have to plan and run the merchandising collections for all VW Group brands that would be represented at Goodwood each year. This was unbelievable, as it meant that I would still be attending the Festival of Speed itself, which also gave me a chance to understand another aspect of the show, whilst my team would still be heading to the Forest Stage.
During my time at the Festival over the next two years, working behind the scenes at the immense stands that Skoda, SEAT and Audi was able to give me a lot of ideas on just what could be achieved by the race team there.
But as with every story, there is also that chance of things spiralling downwards, which was the case for the AMT. The new job was taking up a lot of my time, whilst George had relocated to Dubai, whilst Dan was spending more time away from the training centre, having become fully qualified.
Things went from bad to worse, as Goodwood informed us that due to the WRC’s anniversary that year, the Fabia would not be making a presence on the Forest Stage.
Was this it? Had we flirted with Goodwood and now was it time to walk away?
A Date with Bob Beales, Carlos Sainz and Jacky Ickx – Heaven.
2013 started in the customary fashion with the annual trek to the NEC that January for the Autosport International Show. This time around, I was in charge of running the team collection stands on the VW Racing stand that weekend. Our stand was positioned directly across from the Mini stand, which had a Scalextric activity taking place, so after a couple of days, I wandered over and was about to have a go myself.
However, my ears caught a conversation that was centered around a VW Beetle rally car, as I have a penchant for anything aircooled. Naturally, I had to go over and introduce myself, and had my first meeting with Bob Beales, who had obtained a Beetle rally car from Autocross legend Bill Bengry back in the late 1960s. Bob showed me many pictures of this beauty of such a unique rally car, and he said to me that he was eager to get it back out there racing once again.
So, as you find when things kick back into action, my brain dropped down into 3rd gear, pulled into the outside lane and was at full throttle. The AMT had already established a great history of its own and relationships with some great people. Furthermore, I wanted to get back into rallying, and here was Bob, looking for support to get the Beetle back out of the garage and into the forest.
This moment marked the beginning of VrDMotorsport, as Bob and I were talking every week after our chance meeting at Autosport, trying to work out how we could build the right team around this fantastic car and find the right partners to support our journey.
During the day, I was now enthusiastic as ever to bring Goodwood back into the fold. I was already planning the stands for Audi and Skoda but one true brand was missing: Volkswagen.
After several meetings with the management in Wolfsburg, the Goodwood name started to gain momentum with Volkswagen Passenger Cars. It wasn’t long before Volkswagen was about to make its first appearance at the 2013 Festival of Speed. I worked closely with the Events team at Volkswagen, as we planned to take the show by storm, which came around and it was simply incredible.
I will always remember when we ordered some pizzas to be delivered onto the Volkswagen Main Stand at around 2am on the Thursday, as the stand was not even close to completion. The show opened that morning and this was the first time I questioned whether in the events world, things did go wrong.
“Do they ever not get built in time for the show starting?” I asked. However, the answer came over the next few hours, as the hard work and commitment from the Events team showed in clear abundance. We all pitched in and made the Volkswagen Stand, which was the WRC Hospitality Zone by day, into the showstopper it was that year.
It was very hard work on the stands this year, but on the Saturday, I was called over to the main stand. “Carlos Sainz has just arrived to drive the Polo WRC up the hill. We need you to fetch him from VIP, as you know about rallying, don’t you?”
I nearly passed out. “Carlos Sainz?” I said “But, but, but….” I was rendered speechless. However I jumped on the Golf Buggy and shot over to the VIP drop off. There he was, in the flesh. A man who I have looked up to in Rallying since the very beginning, and also a true legend in what he has achieved. I welcomed him to Goodwood and took him to the Drivers Club to get ready. He was the most charming gent I had ever met in motorsport.
I was swiftly ushered to the VW Motorsport hospitality area, and as it was pretty much a blur as to what was going on. I was then informed that I would be Carlos’ co-driver up the Goodwood hill. What? Why? Me? NO! It was one of those moments where nothing made any sense whatsoever. I couldn’t understand how life had quite literally been turned up upside down, from the moment we had nearly completely lost this journey. Now I was getting into a VW WRC Race Suit to co-drive the legend that is Carlos Sainz in the Polo WRC that had won the World Championship.
Sitting in a tent behind the Race Truck, Carlos was being briefed about the car in Spanish by the engineers, whilst I sat in a wooden chair, bombarding Twitter like a mad man. A lady with a clipboard approached us and said it was time to go. Getting into the Polo was just like a dream turning into reality, and looking to my left and seeing this rally legend was unbelievable. I felt like I needed to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a fantasy.
Emerging from the tent, we encountered a big crowd of fans, who were trying to take photos and stop the car for autographs, but Carlos played to the crowds, announcing his arrival with a few well-placed blips on the throttle and then darted to the entry pen for the hill climb.
We got out of the car at this point, whilst we waited to be waved on for our turn up the hill. I was also being swamped with fans, who were asking for my autograph and pictures, which caused me to do a double-take into my phone, just to make sure it was me, and I hadn’t had some sort of body swap with someone else.
Suddenly, things went from good to completely bad, as we were then told that the Hillclimb was to be closed for repairs, as someone had crashed halfway up the hill, which forced the recovery crews out that would take a lot of time. As the drivers go to the lavish Goodwood ball on the Saturday evening, everything on the hill was closed down.
I was devastated, as Carlos had been specially flown in from Europe for just this run up the hill. It even came down to the VW Motorsport bosses arguing with the stewards, which ended up being a very big deal. However, Goodwood did not back down, as their decision was final, so Carlos and I had to head back to the paddock.
As we made our way back to the tent Carlos just looked at me and said “C’est la vie” and we parted company. That was a day that will forever stay in my memories, for both good and bad reasons. I was very down after this, as anybody would have gotten so close to achieving the possibility of going up the Goodwood Hill Climb course in such a legendary car. I was consoled by many, but I ended up sitting alone that night at the top of the hill, watching the incredible fireworks come from the gardens of Goodwood House.
The whole experience, which ended up being my 15 minutes of fame, gave me inspiration to try harder. Why couldn’t I get a vehicle that will go up the hill? With commitment and determination, we should be watching those fireworks from within the Ball, rather than being perched on the grass verge outside.
I was as determined as ever to leave Goodwood that year, and start working on VrDMotorsport, the relaunch of the AMT.
On the Sunday morning I woke with a new sense of determination, ready to head home straight away to work on the plans. However, I was called on the walkie talkie to make my way to the main stand, which stopped me and I was asked the following: ““Jacky Ickx has just arrived to drive the VW XL1 Concept Car up the hill and we need you to fetch him from VIP, you know about rally don’t you?”
It was definitely déjà-vu at that point, as I was now a seasoned VIP host, with someone like Jacky Ickx sitting at the top of the food chain, when it came to the most legendary names in motorsport. Ickx had won the F1 world championship twice, as well as winning the famed Le Mans 24 Hours six times. He was a part of Goodwood that year to drive a Porsche rally car, as well as being drafted in to drive the XL1 up the hill as well.
For those that haven’t heard of the XL1 before, it is the most fuel-efficient passenger car in the world, which sort of resembles a Tic-Tac with its space-age design and gullwing doors.
Having collected Jacky, I brought him back to the VW main stand, where spending that morning with him was one of the most memorable occasions, as the stories about his own personal history were just mesmerising. Even at that point in his life, he looked very debonair and attracted the attention of many of the female staff on the stand. I wouldn’t let them near him, as I had so many questions to ask.
We stood there, watching the Vulcan Bomber circle about our heads, where Jacky explained its beauty to me, and the fact that he was taken away by the engineering masterpiece that was flying effortlessly above our heads. It was a moment that I never wanted to end.
Shortly afterwards, two tall German-speaking gentlemen came over and introduced themselves, who said that they were the designers for the VW XL1. We spoke for a good hour, and all the while, they were asking Jacky question after question, as they were very keen to build a race car version. One of the gentleman picked up a napkin and began sketching an incredibly detailed sketch of the XL1, where comments were made on the position of the aerodynamics, what wheels, etc. That also included myself, as there were some valid points that I felt could be made in this instance.
I wish that I could have taken that picture, but the gentleman folded up the napkin and put it into his pocket. I was amazed that the car that came from this, the VW XL Sport, was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show last October, which meant that they had actually gone and built it. I’m still hopeful that I’ll receive a royalties cheque in the post, but nothing’s happened yet…