The view from the driver's enclosure is undoubtedly different to that afforded by the grandstands, but the spirit is just the same Lord March's driveway looks awfully narrow when covered in water, framed by grandstands and viewed through the confines of a full face helmet. My right leg, jammed against the doorframe of a cockpit designed for someone half my size, begins to shake a little as I prod the C-Type's throttle. The marshal, dressed in bright orange, calls me forward, eases me into position and then waves me on my way.

I have driven this C-Type for a maximum of 400 yards and now I'm being asked to demonstrate its performance in front of 50,000 spectators at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Jaguar only built 53 C-Types and this is chassis number 45. It cost 2,327 ($4,238) in 1953 and competed in that year's Mille Miglia. Today it's worth around $1.3M and it's not mine to crash.

The clutch bites and the rear-end does a merry jig as the age-old Dunlop's fight for traction. Then we're away and up to second on the approach to the first 90-degree right-hander. I punch the brake pedal and guide the fluted nose towards the apex. It feels like a walking pace but the car still steps out of line as I reapply propulsive force. Then it straightens again and I'm able to accelerate hard down the short straight in front of Goodwood House. I try not to think about the millions of TV viewers who will be watching my every move.

The C-Type's 3.4-liter, six-cylinder engine was pinched from the road going XK120 but subtle modifications increased its output to around 210 bhp. In 1953 it became the first car to average more than 100 mph at Le Mans and, in ideal conditions, it's capable of 0 to 60 mph in 8.1 sec. and 144 mph. Today, in the rain and on these tires, it feels plenty quick enough. Sprinting past the main grandstand I see 6000 rpm on the lovely Smith's instruments, before making the shift to third. I'm probably doing no more than 70 to 80 mph but it feels much quicker. The rain is whacking my helmet and there's not enough airflow to remove it. My only option is to tweak open the visor and peak over the top of the tiny, non-original windscreen

The tricky, blind left after the Molecomb grandstand requires a determined punch on the middle pedal. Jaguar introduced disc brakes in the C-Type for Le Mans in '53, but this "production" model makes do with drums. Their performance isn't as bad as many early racers, but they still represent a leap of faith for anybody stepping from a more modern machine. And the gearbox is terrible. Recalcitrant and unruly, it engages ratios with an ungentlemanly crunch. I hope the crowd can't hear.

Through the left-hander and up the slight rise known as Pheasantry Hill before the famous flint wall looms alarming into view. We-the C-Type and I-sweep right in front of it and then accelerate hard through the fastest part of the course to the finish. I'd like to think I top 100 mph in third through this section. Then it's across the finish line and a gentle cruise to an assembly area at the top, in which we must wait before returning to the paddock.

I clamber out, grab a Red Bull and seek out to the opinions of my fellow drivers. Although the C-Type runs in Class 7, dedicated to European and American sports cars from 1950-65, we've been paired with a group of IndyCars. Toyota's Cristiano Da Matta is standing beside the car in which he won the CART championship in 2002.

"We've got no tire warmers," he explains. "There was absolutely no grip at all. I wanted to do a burn-out, but if I had, I'd still have been sitting there. These cars require a different technique to Formula One. In an F1 car you brake all the way into the corner, but in this you tend to brake in a straight line before turning in. But it's been fun-it's like returning to an old friend." Sir Stirling Moss joins us and so does Christian Fittipaldi.

In such company, I feel like a fraud. I was in the toilet when God handed out driving talent and will never be described as a racing great. Instead, I've been parachuted into this foreign world to report on my experiences. As Rudyard Kipling might have put it; I am here to walk with kings, while displaying the common touch.

After returning the C-Type to the F1 paddock I make my way to the Dunhill Drivers' Club. There's only one entrance and it serves as a honeypot for autograph hunters. Some are just enthusiastic children, but others are more sophisticated. "Professional" autograph hunters carry packets of photographs and bags of broken car parts. Earlier in the day, I'd witnessed Pedro de la Rosa being asked to sign a mangled piece of carbon fiber that once belonged to his F1 Jaguar.

The "pros" offer me no more than a quizzical glance, but as I pause for photography a young boy approaches and hands me a program. I try to explain that I'm just a journalist, but his father is already poised with a camera. So I scribble my name on his program and hope that I haven't just wiped $100 off its eBay value. Then another arrives with a flag, and another with an autograph book. I feel silly, but at least it offers me an insight into what it must be like to be a genuine celebrity. There's no question that the attention is good for the ego, but I wonder if the novelty would wear off.

Eventually there are no more trinkets to sign and I make my way inside the club. Billed as a private refuge for celebrity drivers, it offers catering facilities, a couple of display screens and a plethora of tables. Most of the time it resembles a motor racing "Who's Who," but the atmosphere is relaxed and informal.

In the changing room, I meet Emerson Fittipaldi who is wearing what can only be described as tatty Y-fronts. This is not ideal-unless your hero is an attractive heroine, it is never good to meet them in their pants. "It is so wet out there," he muses. "And my car [a Penske IndyCar from '94] is still geared for the Indy 500-I can't get out of first." Moments later "Emmo," F1 World Champion in '72 and '74, slides into a set of Marlboro-liveried overalls and order is restored. The Emperor has rediscovered his clothes.

It dries out over lunchtime, only to start raining again by the time I begin my second run. I'm feeling more confident now and there are less histrionics. At the top, it's raining more heavily, but this affords me the chance to talk to a solitary figure sitting, sheltered by an umbrella, in the Ferrari 312 T3 in which Gilles Villeneuve won the 1978 Canadian Grand Prix. The overalls are plain and the helmet is bereft of sponsor's logos but its design and the eyes inside are instantly recognizable.

"This is the one and only time I'm going to drive it," says Jacques Villeneuve, who had flown in especially for the event. "It feels incredibly fragile. There's nothing here," he continues, grabbing the side panels. "I guess I'm used to driving safe racing cars." His thoughts are particularly poignant, given his father's tragic fate.

Scenes like this are central to the appeal of the Goodwood Festival of Speed. Some drivers attend for contractual reasons, but many more turn up because it offers them a unique opportunity to catch up with old friends, both human and mechanical. In the same way, the spectators buy tickets because the Festival allows them to relive memories of yesteryear. The view from the driver's enclosure is undoubtedly different to that afforded by the grandstands, but the spirit is just the same.

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