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Goodwood wishes Sir Stirling Moss a happy 90th birthday

Sir Stirling Moss reaches his 90th birthday today (17th September), and Goodwood extends its warmest wishes to him and his family on this landmark occasion.
At this weekend’s Goodwood Revival a special celebration was held in Sir Stirling’s honour, at which the Duke of Richmond addressed a capacity crowd and drivers including four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, former F1 driver David Brabham, nine-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner Tom Christensen, three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti and five-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner and 1986 World Sportscar champion Derek Bell. Following the address, the Duke accompanied Sir Stirling’s wife, Lady Susie Moss, in an Aston Martin DBR1 – a car synonymous with Moss and Goodwood – at the head of a parade that numbered some of his most celebrated cars.

Goodwood wishes Sir Stirling Moss a happy 90th birthday

17 September 2019

 


Sir Stirling Moss reaches his 90th birthday today (17th September), and Goodwood extends its warmest wishes to him and his family on this landmark occasion.

At this weekend’s Goodwood Revival a special celebration was held in Sir Stirling’s honour, at which the Duke of Richmond addressed a capacity crowd and drivers including four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon, former F1 driver David Brabham, nine-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner Tom Christensen, three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti and five-time Le Mans 24 Hour winner and 1986 World Sportscar champion Derek Bell.

Following the address, the Duke accompanied Sir Stirling’s wife, Lady Susie Moss, in an Aston Martin DBR1 – a car synonymous with Moss and Goodwood – at the head of a parade that numbered some of his most celebrated cars.

Address by the 11th Duke of Richmond

Seventy-one years ago, next week, on September 17th 1948, an aspiring young racing driver celebrated his 19th birthday. The following day, on September 18th, the Goodwood Motor Circuit opened its doors for the very first time and Stirling Craufurd Moss entered his very first motor race. Driving a 500cc Cooper-JAP, Stirling didn’t just win his first motor race: he overwhelmed the opposition. In a three-lap race lasting just over six minutes, he won by nearly 30 seconds.

It was the shape of things to come and the birth of a legend.

Over the course of the next 14 seasons, Stirling would compete in a further 62 races at Goodwood, winning 22 times in total and taking 12 podium places. It wasn’t just the numbers of appearances or victories, or the fact that his first and last races both took place here. He seemed to have a natural affinity for the place, and if he loved Goodwood, then in equal measure Goodwood loved him.

It’s a measure of the esteem in which he was held that at the final Goodwood meeting of 1957 a special one-car demonstration was staged specifically for Stirling to try and break the lap record in his Vanwall. The car, fresh from victory in the Italian Grand Prix, was on its last legs and failed after five laps, but by lap four he had already equalled the previous lap record so the crowd went away happy.

Some regard him as the greatest driver of all time. Others: the greatest never to win the world championship or even the greatest all-rounder. To us he is, and always will be, simply Mr. Goodwood.

The career statistics are well known: 16 grand prix wins from 66 starts; runner-up in the world championship four times; a record-breaking run to win the Mille Miglia, securing the sports car world championship for both Mercedes and Aston Martin; seven Tourist Trophy victories including four in a row right here at Goodwood; one of only three drivers ever to win a Coupe d’Or for three consecutive penalty-free runs in the Alpine Rally and second overall in the Alpine Rally.

But such bald facts don’t really tell the full story. Judgments about the best driver of all time are meaningless. All you can be is the best of your time, and Stirling was indisputably that. From the moment Fangio retired in 1958 until his career-ending accident here at Goodwood in April 1962, Stirling was head-and-shoulders above the rest – perhaps further ahead than any other driver in history.

He was the standard by which all other drivers were judged and by which they judged themselves. In truth, he was the best in sports cars even while Fangio was still competing. Even Stirling, who has always modestly insisted that Fangio was his superior in Grand Prix cars, would recall that: ‘I think I was faster than him in sports cars.’

The facts of the 1955 Mille Miglia bear further scrutiny: 992 miles on public roads around Italy, passing through towns and villages and over mountain passes, in 10 hours 7 minutes and 48 seconds – an average speed of 97.96 miles an hour. In second place, in an identical car but without the weight of a co-driver, was Fangio: 32 minutes behind. Stirling and his indefatigable navigator, Denis Jenkinson, beat the previous record by half an hour.

Although arguably the stand-out achievement of Stirling’s career, that was far from his only super-human performance as a driver. Think of the 1950 Tourist Trophy, when on the eve of his 21st birthday, he announced himself on the world stage by winning in a borrowed Jaguar XK120 on the fearsome Dundrod circuit in driving rain. Or Aintree ’55 beating Fangio in equal cars for a fairy-tale maiden Grand Prix victory on home soil.

Think of the same circuit two years later, taking over team-mate Tony Brooks’ Vanwall to charge through the field and score the first all-British world championship grand prix victory. Or Buenos Aires ‘58 or think of the Nürburgring in ’59 winning despite having begun to prepare for the trip home after Jack Fairman had ditched their Aston Martin – only for Jack to manhandle it out unaided.

Stirling tore away and again demolished the factory Ferraris. Or that same year’s Tourist Trophy here at Goodwood: recovering from a mid-race fire to claim the sportscar world championship for Aston Martin in the beautiful DBR1.

Think of the same race in 1960: winning so comfortably in Rob Walker’s fabulous Ferrari that he said he’d been listening to the circuit commentary on the car radio as he reeled off the laps. Or his greatest of all grand prix drives in Monaco and Germany in ’61: holding off the shark-nose Ferraris in his little under-powered Rob Walker Lotus.

Stirling was capable of such other-worldly feats in anything he drove: single-seaters, sports cars or saloons. With the engine in front or behind, two-wheel-drive or four. On circuits, on rally stages or on the salt flats or Bonneville. He had God-given talent to match the very greatest natural drivers and combined it with a fierce professionalism and will to win which made him almost unbeatable.

During those four seasons 1958-61, if he didn’t win it was generally because the car had let him down. It all came to an end far too soon against the bank here at St Mary’s on Easter Monday 1962. Stirling was only 32 and, as a driver, was in his absolute pomp. He had bounced back from injuries before and expected to do the same again but this time it was different.

When he first tested his post-crash abilities, fittingly here at Goodwood in a Lotus XIX, he identified a deficit. No longer could he simultaneously corner his car, scan his instruments and mirrors, assess the situation and wave to a friend or to a pretty girl spectator he spotted in the crowd. His special instinctive advantage, his preternatural skills, had been diminished.

So, he opted to retire rather than be less than the absolute best – and this he would later regret. ‘I tried too soon,’ he’d say. ‘I should have waited another two or three years to recover – I would still have been young enough.’ And, indeed, he would.

But unlike other retired drivers, Stirling never disappeared from the public consciousness. Just as he was the first truly professional racing driver, so he transformed himself into the first professional retired racing driver.

In fact, his profile in retirement seemed if anything even higher than it had been when he was at the pinnacle of his chosen sport. Team management, product endorsement, media roles, appearances in TV and film, the voice of Roary the Racing Car – so loved is he by fans the world over that he has enjoyed a hugely successful career for nearly 60 years just being Stirling Moss.

For decades after his retirement, if you were pulled over by a policeman, chances are they would utter the immortal line: ‘And who do you think you are, Stirling Moss?’ It happened to Stirling himself, apparently, on many occasions.

When the Festival of Speed began here at Goodwood in 1993, followed by the Revival in ‘98, Stirling became a fixture at Goodwood once more: a patron of the festival and an ever-present superstar at the Revival, always supported by his wonderful and amazing wife Susie. I am proud to be able to call them both friends. And I’m delighted to say that the wonderful Susie is here with us today.

And it became a tradition over the years for Stirling to celebrate his birthday with us here at Goodwood. In recent times his 70th and 80th birthdays were both marked at the Revival with great fanfare and an enormous cake.

Sadly, ill health means he can’t be with us here today to celebrate his 90th so our celebration is tinged with sadness. But still, we raise a toast to our ultimate hero of the Goodwood Motor Circuit over so very, very many years. Happy birthday, Sir Stirling! Thank you for all the amazing memories: we miss you more than we can possibly say. Thank you.

Dienstag, 17. September 2019
Jürgen Feye-Hohmann
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