(Originally published 2 June 2017)
Have you ever thought to yourself: I’ll ask the city council to shut down part of the ring road and get a bunch of race cars and classic cars to drive around it at speed? Me neither, but James Noble has. 2017 will be the fourth iteration of his brainchild MotoFest, an annual free motoring festival hosted by the city of Coventry which offers everything from drift cars and Le Mans racers driven in anger to motorbikes and live music.
After a couple of successful editions, it would be easy to just go through the motions and slide down into mediocrity, but Noble is confident such a thing is unlikely to happen: “to lace a motorsport festival into a city centre is a unique thing on the scale that we do it. We’ve got live music as well and there’s very much a festival atmosphere, with fringe events happening right across the city. “It’s the variety that keeps it interesting.”
The versatility of the concept doesn’t mean that there’s nothing new this year, either. In addition to the Bennetts Sprint Circuit (after the sponsoring motorbike insurer) and the ‘live action arena’ where drifting and gymkhana take place, there will also be a motocross display and a karting track.
While there were a lot of exciting events and features that Noble didn’t want to reveal yet, highlights include the Le Mans winning 1989 Silk Cut Jaguar XJR9 which was also present in 2015 and a large presence of both historic and present touring cars. A final highlight will be a tribute to the ‘Flying Finn’ Timo Mäkinen, who died earlier this month. His 1965 Monte Carlo Rally winning Mini will run alongside a modern Mini ‘Challenge’ car. MotoFest have a competition open for a passenger ride in the historic rally car on the day.
A summer motoring festival with a huge variety of cars on display or attacking a short sprint circuit does sound remarkably like the Goodwood Festival of Speed. While Noble recognizes the similarities, he’s keen to point out that MotoFest has a very different character: “MotoFest is fun, it’s accessible and open to all. Goodwood is quite highbrow. We don’t want MotoFest to become an exclusive event. Ultimately it will become bigger than Goodwood. We’ve got the capacity to put more people through in a day than Goodwood has”. In addition, while Goodwood is just about the cars, Noble would like to see MotoFest “grow into a broader cultural festival”, expanding the music, culture and arts side of the event.
What the Goodwood FoS still has over MotoFest is actual competition. The UK has long required an act of Parliament to allow racing events to take place on (closed) public roads. For Goodwood, that’s not a problem as it’s on private land, but for MotoFest, it has meant that the sprint course runs couldn’t be timed. That is to change in the future, though. Early last April, legislation was finally passed to make it possible to stage motorsport events on closed roads.
Naturally, that doesn’t mean that all the red tape has gone. According to Noble, the application process takes a minimum of eight months, probably longer, so the first stage will be to make the existing sprint event competitive in 2018. They are aiming to host wheel to wheel racing in 2021, but quite a lot of infrastructure improvement is in order for that to happen. “We’re at the start of a journey with that one”, Noble comments.
Getting the racing approved is yet another item on the lengthy to-do list of organizing an urban motoring festival. So why do all of this? Noble says he “saw the potential in a city that a lot of people had written off. To many, Coventry is a city that used to make things and doesn’t anymore”. “We wanted to tell the world that the city is still very much alive and is now the centre for automotive design and automotive engineering”, he adds.
An idea like this is all well and good, but most wouldn’t know where to start. Noble moved from being an industrial engineer at VW/Audi to what he calls “people development” to being a leader at the Coventry Jubilee church. So in a way, the MotoFest was a natural progression, since it is a “coming together of business and community”, being commercially funded, but serving a community purpose. He is very quick to emphasize that the whole operation is not just his doing, though: “The right people popped up at the right time”, combined with Coventry City council’s attitude, which Noble describes as let’s make stuff happen, let’s not think of reasons not to do things.
MotoFest will take place on 3 and 4 June all over Coventry and is free to enter.
Images courtesy of MotoFest (Lead images and aerial shot by InfinitePixels; Aston Martin, Porsches and Mini by Darren Skidmore; Drift car by Rob Young)