Earl Goddard – What Hasn’t He Driven?

dailysportscar.comFor reasons that will be come apparent in a paragraph or two, Earl Goddard – just 24 years old – has driven the most amazing variety of race cars. Machines raced by such as Michael Schumacher, Gerhard Berger, Jean Alesi and Nelson Piquet are mentioned on his CV, while the range of sports prototypes he’s tested and raced isn’t far short of the single seater numbers.

He’s driven a lot of cars, he’s barely put a scratch on any of them, but he only raced five times last year. In an ideal world, we’d see him racing at least six times in 2004. The Editor explored the world of Earl Goddard.

“You have to commit to a season of racing, so that people looking at your form have got something detailed to look at, when they want to find out what you’ve done,” explains the ever realistic Goddard. “Unfortunately, I didn’t do a season’s racing last year.”

The last time he completed a whole season was in 2000, when he finished second overall in the single seater BOSS Championship, in an F3000 Reynard fitted with a Judd KV4 engine – competing against genuine F1 cars. A fairer measure of his talent came a year earlier, when he won the F3000 division of the series, with five wins, six poles and six fastest laps. A year before that, he was racing in the Slick 50 Formula Ford Championship! Formula Ford to F3000 to F1 in two years.

Earl is remarkably modest when asked about such a sudden jump in performance.

“All the principles are the same, you go down the same number of gears, it’s just that you get to that point a little faster, but that’s compensated for by bigger brakes. It took me a few tests (in F3000 cars) to get used to the downforce, but once you’re used to it, you’re away.”

At this point we’d better call in Earl’s father Fred, to explain how it is that Earl comes to drive older (and not so old) F1 cars.

To fill in some of the background, Fred Goddard had been through all the upheaval in Rhodesia, and moved to South Africa, only to find that turmoil was developing in that country too.

By the way, notice the detail in this image: Fred Goddard with a fiver in his hand!

dailysportscar.com“I came to the UK in 1989, a year before I brought my family over. I worked for Bowman Racing, running their B Class drivers in the British F3 Championship, and concluded that I could support my family over here. I set up my own team in 1990, running Pekka Herva in Class B, and he was the Champion (eight wins and four seconds from 15 starts - 3 DNFs). Pekka was introduced to me by Mika Hakkinen, who’s a bit of an old friend from way back then…”

Some very famous names, and their famous cars, all fit into this story.

“I think it was ’96 or ’97, and a chap called Paul Osborn had got hold of a 1993 ex-Alesi Ferrari, but the car wouldn’t run because there was no software to run it, no shaft to drive the oil pump, and generally all sorts of little things that needed doing. But Paul had tried various other people and they all thought it would be too difficult to get it running….

“I felt it was worth a go, so I got in touch with another old friend from the past, Rory Byrne, to try and get hold of the missing parts from Ferrari. Rory initially thought he could help, but then the message came back that Ferrari didn’t want the car to run, so I just went ahead and had our own electrics made, and various other parts. That was the start of it. Then another ’93 Ferrari turned up, and then another one without an engine. Having rebuilt a ’94 Arrows for a customer, and put a four litre Judd engine in it, the only option was to put another Judd in the Ferrari, so we did! Now most of our business is restoring and preparing these ex-F1 machines. When I got involved with Matthew Mortlock, that was the start of the Benettons. I think we’ve had nine of them through here.”

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And what do you need, having rebuilt a very complicated car for a customer, which needs setting up? A test driver of course.

“My job is to shake the cars down, and get them driveable for the customer,” says Fred Goddard Racing’s test driver. “The aim is to make the car as simple to drive as possible, so that the customer can exploit as much of the performance as he wants to.

“Is it frustrating? It’s just part of the job. Typically I’m driving at three quarter pace, but it’s only when you get to nine-tenths and beyond that you start to really get them working.”

So Earl’s day job – which includes working on the cars, as well as testing them – is rather different from what he’s likely to get up to at the weekend. Or is it?

There’s more than one side to Earl Goddard, racing driver – the most obvious being his ability to turn in some very quick laps, very quick indeed. Believe it or not, thanks to his exploits in Benetton F1 cars, he is the outright lap record holder at Thruxton, Silverstone International, Donington Park National, the Le Mans Bugatti and Zandvoort. To that list we might well have added Brand Hatch Indy, displacing Paul Tracy, but events conspired to prevent that plan.

It was Round 2 of the EUROBoss Series in May last year, and there was a certain rivalry present between series founder Klaas Zwart and Earl Goddard. Perhaps any antagonism (from one side, not the other) related back to the meeting on the Bugatti Circuit the previous autumn?

“The championship was a rather complicated one that year (because the series was supposed to be a domestic one, but there were too many races overseas), but basically going into the last meeting, I had to win both races and Klaas ‘only’ had to finish second in both to take the title. I knew that if I pushed hard in both races, Klaas would settle for second, so I had to come up with a different plan.”

It turned out to be rather a cunning one….

“I believed I could be quickest, but Klaas had a new flat bottom on his car (which definitely made a difference), and that gave Klaas the chance to think that he was quickest. So we let that idea develop in his mind.

“He’d been testing before the meeting started, but we deliberately didn’t go out. When it came to qualifying, I drove the whole lap correctly, apart from the last two corners, where I deliberately lost a second. So I started second on the grid, and the plan was to run second and eventually dip my nose in and hope he fell off under pressure. In the end he had a problem, and I reeled off the win, from Phil Andrews, but I still had to win the second one.

“I followed Klaas from the lights, but when he braked early, I had to pass him, but was quite happy for Phil Andrews to pass me. I followed Phil until five laps from the end, by which time Klaas had retired, so I was definitely the Champion. I got by Phil and kept the gap steady – until the last lap. Really I was saying to everyone, “There’s the time I could have set all along!” And that was (and still is) the outright lap record.”

And it should have been on the Brands Indy Circuit in May last year, Earl diving through to take the lead at Paddock (from Klaas Zwart of course), but then having the series founder thump into him at Druids.

“He’d definitely jumped the start, but no one seemed to notice. I got him with a beautiful move at Paddock, but afterwards he insisted he was in full control of the car when he hit me at Druids. We didn’t really have the budget for the season, and it was apparent that some drivers could afford to inflict damage on their cars, and we couldn’t, so it was a conscious decision stop racing in that series there and then.”

“It was a great shame, because we had that Benetton set up perfectly. Klaas never saw me coming into Paddock, and no one knew how late I could brake in that car. When it’s set up like that, it just builds supreme confidence: there’s no feeling like it.”

Earl had had that feeling in 2002, too, competing in six of the eight EuroBoss races in Dave Shellton’s ‘94 Benetton. He won all six, had six fastest laps and set three of those outright lap records.

2003 would see Earl Goddard start just three more races – but at least all of them would be in sports prototypes.

“We ran the first of the Reynards 01Qs at Monza last year, in the FIA Sportscar Championship, but we had to run at our own pace, because there wasn’t really a class for us: we were heavy and underpowered compared to the SR1s. I got tagged by the Durango at the first chicane, and then we had fuel problems and had to keep stopping, so that was frustrating.

“And then at Donington we had gearbox trouble. We had the car set up just right, but we concluded after that race that if we’d had a Judd engine, we’d have been on the podium.

“So we’ve fitted Judds in both cars. At the 1000 Kms last November, we weren’t on the qualifying pace of the Audi, Courage and Dome, but on race pace we were well in touch with them. We didn’t throw qualifiers at it, but in the LMES races we’re sure it’s going to be a top six car. We want to go out testing as soon as we can, but we do need to sign drivers to help pay for it.”

And that brings us round to the age old problem of funding a sportscar project – which is very much related to the other problem of drivers trying to build a career in our field of motorsport. Earl Goddard sees it from all sides thanks to his experience with his father’s team – and he’s really experienced all the ups and downs of finding drives in sports prototypes.

“The first car I tested was the Pilbeam. I was barely out of Formula Ford then, and I was aiming for the top in single seaters, so why would I want to drive a Pilbeam? I thought sportscars were for old men! But it was very good experience, and I realised that sportscars weren’t the pooh that I thought they were!

“I tested one of the Archangel Lolas, at Carolina Motorsports Park in 2000. I didn’t know anything about the test until I was booked on a plane to go! That was one of Dad’s deals. I didn’t know the track or the car, of course….”

“Earl won’t tell you himself, but he was as quick as their other drivers on his fourth lap,” chimes in Fred.

Which brings us to a difference of opinion between father and son. “Dad thinks you should drive any car you get a chance to drive,” says Earl. “But I don’t agree: all right, it might work out sometimes, but any team that is thinking about employing you needs to see you doing a full season. You can’t just jump from poor ride to poor ride and expect people to notice.”

A test with Dyson Racing, at Daytona in January 2001, might have been the golden opportunity, but Earl found that he was too young!

“My father knows Pat Smith, and asked if there was a chance that I had a test in one of the Riley & Scotts, and Pat’s brutally honest answer was that they had a list, and they picked who they wanted. But they must have seen what I’d done in the GMS at Kyalami late the previous year, because all of a sudden I was invited to drive at the January Test Days.

“Initially there were three drivers shooting for the two seats, with the Rob Dyson and Elliott Forbes-Robinson car. But then Casey Mears made four, and by the time of the test, Max Papis had signed up to race for them. Now it was Casey Mears, Nic Jonsson and myself, with just one seat available. The three of us were lapping within tenths of each other, but the problem I came up against was that I was just too young, at 21. Rob Dyson asked me if I was old enough to drink! Rob really didn’t want someone he thought of as a young hot shoe in his cars – so I didn’t get a chance to race in the Rolex 24. I was talking to Oreca about driving their Dallaras at Le Mans, but they wanted drivers with 24 hour experience, and I didn’t have any.”

What Earl did have was plenty of F1 car experience, and more and more seat time in a variety of prototypes.

“In 2001, I raced B2K / 40 Lolas for Stanley Dickens and Fabian Roock: the B2K / 40 is a fabulous little car, the handling is awesome. It got to the point with Stanley’s car at Spa that we’d taken all the downforce out of it, but we were still flat through Eau Rouge.”

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We’ll see just how good the little Lola is this year, now that they’ll receive a little more power under LMP2 rules.

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Besides the Lola, Earl has also driven Tampollis, a Dick Barbour Reynard (above), a Saleen S-7R and … a McLaren F1 GTR – at Spa. “It was a customer’s car that we’d rebuilt, so I wasn’t finding the limit. It was more a case of the car doing it on its own.” He’s too modest, this fellow.

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It took his father to pass on the news that the Goddard stable includes F1 Ferraris as recent as a 2000 car. “Earl drove that one (Paul Osborn’s car) at Donington last year, in the Shell Ferrari Challenge – as well as the factory’s 2001 car.”

Can you tell which is which?

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With all these cars he’s driven, has your son ever damaged one Fred? “I can’t recall an incident, certainly not where it was his fault. He did crash the Reynard Judd F3000 car at Clearways in 1999, but that wasn’t his fault: we’d converted it to carbon brakes, and the brakes got so hot, the seals melted in the callipers. Other than that, I can’t think of an incident, no. If he so much as touches a kerb, he tells me.”

So now we just need to know where the Earl Goddard story is headed next. There are the two Reynard Judds all ready to go, with Goddard Snr. desperate to take on the challenges of Le Mans. No doubt Earl would jump at the chance of racing on the full circuit in one of his father’s prototypes, but he’d do a cracking job for any entrant in any Le Mans contender. All he needs is the opportunity.

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