Goodwood’s Soapbox Challenge Should Make a Return

by Kyle Smith
18 March 2024 2 min read
Goodwood’s Soapbox Challenge Should Make a Return
Photos courtesy Rolls-Royce

One of the interesting bits of the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed is that the event is brand-, style-, and powertrain-agnostic. If a vehicle goes fast, it probably belongs on the grounds of Lord March’s Chichester estate come July. Of course, fast is a relative term, and it opens the door for some interesting side attractions. From 2000 to 2004, “fast” included soapbox derby cars. But, of course, they were not just any soapbox derby cars.

The best-known event at the Festival of Speed is the Hillclimb, in which race and street cars attempt to set the fastest time from the bottom to the top of Lord March’s driveway. That record is currently held by the downright absurd McMurtry Spéirling, which blistered the tyres on its way up to a 39-second run in 2022. The hillclimb is uni-directional, though, and throughout the day, race cars will parade from the top back down to the bottom. We can only imagine their descent sparked the imaginations of a few racers, because in 2000, gravity racing entered the event schedule.

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The idea was simple, and a low budget was mandated: £1000. Teams from legendary racing outfits like Prodrive, Bentley, Cosworth, and even Rolls-Royce entered, but as carbon-fibre wheels and high-performance bearings started showing up in builds, it became pretty clear that budgets were growing. Crashes were relatively common, too, even after the course was shortened a good bit. The Soapbox Challenge ran for just five years, and now the cars only occasionally appear at the Festival of Speed.

Rolls-Royce Soap box derby car on track at Goodwood
Rolls-Royce Soap box derby car on track at Goodwood 2

Two of the racers that could make a return to the hill in the future are these two custom-built Rolls-Royces. Prior to the re-launch of the Rolls-Royce brand, these two gravity racers, known as RR-0.01 and RR-0.02, were the first vehicles produced at the Rolls-Royce headquarters in Goodwood. After being decommissioned in 2003, the pair sat on display for two decades, before a team of apprentices completely restored them. These aren’t nearly as wild as other Soapbox Challenge racers, but instead mix retro and futuristic in a way that scales perfectly to the diminutive size. Even with less-than-ideal aerodynamics, RR-0.02 hit a massive 72mph as it crossed the finish line at Goodwood in 2002.

We would love to see some gravity racing return to Goodwood. Maybe a rule could be devised to bring speeds into check, or to ensure appropriate safety equipment? If it’s possible to let that McMurtry Spéirling climb the hill at over 130mph, surely there is a way to let gravity do its thing going the other way. Until then, these two racers will be waiting at the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts Club in Northamptonshire.

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  • Sarah Belcher says:

    We would love to run this for them – We are Krazy Races a Sopabox festival that tours the UK and would be happy to speak to Goodwood festival organisers about brining it back!

  • Pamela Cain says:

    Bit too late for this year but would be a great attraction next year.

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