In 2012 BBC Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans gave up bread for Lent and to help him through this challenging time decided to launch CarFest a car, food and music festival aimed at families. An event that proved so popular in terms of ticket sales it had to be done twice, once in the south and then a few weeks later in the north of England. We attended the first one which was hosted by ex-Formula 1 World Champion Jody Scheckter at Laverstoke Park Farm near Overton in Hampshire.
In the build-up equal emphasis was placed on all three of the main ingredients. Bands were approached publically on the radio; inspiration sought for food ideas such as ‘Pies v’s Cakes’ and of course cars confirmed. The latter somewhat eased by Mr Evans personal Ferrari collection as well as his many collector friends such as Nick Mason, celebrity chef James Martin and our host for the weekend, Jody Scheckter. To work as intended CarFest needed to please all ages, both sexes, a wide range of interests and for an inaugural event it was right on the money.
The paddock itself was relatively small but still expensively furnished with classic cars and modern supercars plus a few surprises such as an 80mph settee that came complete with coffee table and lamp. There was even a genuinely bouncy motorised bed. Arriving early allowed open and free access and an ability to enjoy a truly comedic announcer who addressed everyone as ‘Paddock Lovelies’. Public safety must have been a concern with such openness as during the day much tighter controls were put in place on where you could wander. Paddock highlights for us included being up close and personal with Ferrari royalty such as a short wheel base 250 and watching a Lotus 72 Formula 1 car being started from cold. All cars in the paddock that were due to run up the hill were organised into batches of seven building on Chris’ Magnificent Seven and including an Unusual Seven and Motorsport Seven.
On the hillclimb driver safety was seemingly only loosely defined and not Motor Sports Association (MSA) mandated with helmet and overalls a matter of personal choice. Spectators on the other hand were very well protected behind thickly layered hay bales. The course was too wet and slippery on the Saturday to enable more than a handful of real spectacles. The route, which could only be defined as a hill by the narrowest of margins, at first seemed to offer little. That is until you saw how quickly some cars were approaching the finish. Check out the 550BHP Audi Quattro as it reaches the line in our video review above, it is not speeded up I assure you. Stunt driver Russ Smith also made the most of it when after handbrake turning the Focus ST from the soon to be re-released film ‘The Sweeney’ on a sixpence, proceeded to drive it down the course on two wheels even managing to navigate one of the chicanes.
The standard of food was definitely festival+ as promised with gourmet fish and chips, paella and Japanese noodles all sampled and of decent quality. The BBQ’s had to be seen to be believed being on a far grander scale than previously witnessed. Other specialist food and drink retailers, plus outlets for Laverstoke Park Farm’s own produce that included rather good Beef Jerky, nicely rounded off this aspect of CarFest. Helping with the inevitable queues was a backdrop of quite unbelievable air displays from the RAF and private flyers. One was even undertaken in an absolute deluge that included at least one lightning bolt and accompanying clap of thunder, viewed with many others from the relative safety of the ‘Mail on Sunday Live’ undercover display of James Martin’s classic car collection. An eclectic mix that included a super Mustang GT350, original Fiat 500 Abarth racer and Mini Cooper S rally car.
Even if you’re not massively into cars an auction is always an exciting place to be. The outdoor Silverstone Auction at CarFest was no exception with an early highlight being the sale of an immaculate split windscreen VW Camper that had been generously donated by one family to Children in Need. Chris Evans led the sale which involved the public humiliation, sorry encouragement, of one telephone bidder who unfortunately could not better the winning £30,500 bid despite offers from the crowd to assist. We also saw the sale of a rebuilt and apparently as-new Peugeot 205GTI and very tidy Alfa Romeo GTV looking stunning in red.
To keep little ones from killing each other in the wait for the evening’s entertainment there was a large children’s play area with indoor soft play and organised activities, all very well thought out. Also nearby was an arena with alternative displays including daring motorcycle riders combating slippery surfaces to climb near vertical faces, something that never ceases to impress. Practical Classic magazine demonstrated their grass roots ethos and true grit by rebuilding an MG Midget engine live and for real in the rain over the two day event. You’ll have to read their next publication to find out how it all turned out, but we can at least confirm 100% dedication to the cause.
This leads us nicely onto to the music side of things delivered in the evening from a pukka stage conveniently located near to food and drink outlets. Once again Chris Evans led from the front performing DJ and compere roles and introduced bands like the very entertaining ‘Counterfeit Stones’, ingenious ‘The Feeling’ and headline act Texas just as we headed for home. The concert was excellent benefitting both from Chris’s best efforts and the last of the heavy rain showers that had tested everyone during the day. Overall CarFest was a little light in terms of a driving spectacle like Goodwood Festival of Speed. Though it did deliver on its promises of great food, family fun and a concert that was as good as any you’re likely to experience at an event of this size. 8/10.
How does this event make you feel?
In one word: Tired (but happy – long day)
As a favourite meal: International outdoor food hall with choice aplenty and tables located somewhere in the middle. You all go off and find what you want before returning and eating together. Well that’s the theory at least and achievable at CarFest right up until lunchtime when lengthy queues started to form.
Anything Else: The hillclimb needs a bit of work, a longer course or tarmac arena might be better if can be built; music and food though spot on.
Key Ingredients: Chris Evans own eccentric style, that paddock announcer, closeness to classic cars and action, Silverstone Auction, great entertainment options for family members and the quite brilliant evening concert.
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