Automotive public relations is a funny profession. As a young writer, my editor told me ahead of my first media program to never say anything that could be construed as a request for something, even in passing, because PR people take it seriously. I apparently forgot that lesson, and ended up sitting behind the wheel of a right-hand-drive Subaru WRX STI preparing to run the hill as part of the 2017 Goodwood Festival of Speed because of it. Whoops.
This, of course, was not a bad thing. In fact, the whole “run the hill at Goodwood” part was planned from the beginning. It was my own big mouth that was responsible for the right-hand-drive STI.
Subaru really wanted the media to see it try to win the Festival of Speed's timed shootout with Manx lunatic Mark Higgins and a heavily modified WRX STI, so it offered to fly me to a mossy island in the North Sea for a once-in-a-lifetime chance to drive a WRX STI in the Goodwood Festival of Speed's Moving Motor Show, a rolling showcase of production machines driven briskly up the hill on the festival's first day.
Subaru's fantastic PR team said the cars were the same U.S.-market vehicles the company had been using to lap the Isle of Mann for years. Then we got there, and I was told there was a right-hand drive model for me and a partner, because I had opened my big, dumb mouth (Subaru didn't actually say that last part).
My only real experience with right-hand drive was in an underpowered Mazda Axela and a classic Mini Cooper. My World Rally Blue WRX STI was unlike either of those, with 306 horsepower and 290 pound-feet of torque from its 2.5-liter, turbocharged flat-4. Paired with a 6-speed manual transmission and Subaru's trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, it's not a vehicle for the faint-hearted or unfamiliar. And considering the situation, I was both.
So let me paint the picture. I suddenly found myself sitting on the wrong side of a car I didn't own, preparing to run a track I'd never driven, shifting with the wrong hand, in front of thousands of spectators, in the sort of light drizzle (because England) that's known for making tracks greasy. It struck me as mildly absurd. It was also awesome.
For most car enthusiasts, Goodwood in any capacity—be it the Festival of Speed or September's Goodwood Revival—is a pilgrimage of the first order. Being allowed to drive the hill, though, is a borderline religious experience for car enthusiasts.
Lord March's driveway is lengthy for what it is, at 1.16 miles, but driving that distance at speed doesn't take a long—the fastest recorded time over the weekend was in the 46-second range. My time was going to be much, much slower.
After being introduced to my right-hand-drive World Rally Blue STI, I spent what felt like a year consumed with nerves, partially because of the whole right-hand-drive thing, but largely because this was Goodwood. That fact kept running through my head as the procession of production cars in the Moving Motor Show crept towards the marshals at the starting line.
I probably aged a year in the 15 minutes it took to reach the starting line behind a procession of production cars in my World Rally Blue STI, and as the marshal raised his hand to stop me, I quickly muttered astronaut Alan Shepard's infamous prayer—“Please, dear God, don't let me fuck up.”
A run up the world's most famous driveway
Then the marshal dropped his hand and I was off on a jerky, novice-like launch. A set of jelly legs and a clutch that was nearing the end of its life combined for an embarrassing takeoff, but I quickly recovered and was shocked at how normal everything felt. Tunnel vision took over, and this was just another track that needed navigating, not the world's most famous driveway. And right-hand drive? It felt like one of my countless right-hand-drive laps in “Forza Motorsport.” Thanks cockpit view!