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Brescia-Rome-Brescia, 15th - 18th of June, 2022

The Mille Miglia is without doubt one of the most prestigious and best-known classic car rallyes and well know above the borders of Italy. Originally ran from 1927-1957 the long-distance road race was part of the sportscar world championship and both cemented the myth of Alfa Romeo before the war and Ferrari after, both with most of the victories in their period. After Sir Stirling Moss setting the eternal record in the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR in 1955 accompanied by Denis “Jenks” Jenkinson and the final edition in 1957 once again won by Ferrari with the 315S in the hands of Pierro Taruffi the engines remained silent for 20 years before a revival of enthusiasts came back to do a revival in 1977. Soon it should become the most important event in the classic car scene with the MM Storica run in May like the original race over the following years. Certainly not a race any more it became a regularity rally spread out over 2.5 days in the early years and now 4 days in the recent editions.

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It would take another 20 years until the MM first got my attention. Although surrounded by classic car fans in the family it was not until 1997 that I attended my first MM with a borrowed camera to take some snaps of the cars in Brescia. Little did I know about vintage sports cars and less did I know about taking pictures but that may made me fall in love with the sound of the pre-war Alfas, the smell of the Castrol racing oil in the Bugatti, the screaming of the Mercedes-Benz superchargers or the 12-cylinder sound of the racing Ferraris along with the hoard of Etceterinis rarely seen on other events. Since that day I was back in every edition trying to better my photography skills and cover the event as a whole rather than standing just road side waiting for the cars to pass on the Passo Futa or the historic city centre of San Marino. Now after 25 years outside the MM I decided it was time to fulfil a long-time dream to actually experience the MM as an entrant.

Unfortunately, my decision came a little bit late in January and so I missed the opportunity to look for a partner to apply for an entry so I had to look out for an available passenger seat. As the confirmations of the entries were not out either the timing was not great but thanks to Paolo Mazzetti of the MM organization, I got contact to the Italian Military team of the Unuci Squadra Corse who entered 11 cars in the 40th edition of the rallye. As one of the drivers was lacking a navigator, I took my chance to enter this year’s event as a passenger.

On Monday 13th of June, I made my way down to Brescia to meet up the team and my driver Adriano who I would spend the next days with in his little Lancia Augusta from 1933, the oldest of the Scuderia cars entered. A small 1.2 litre engine producing about 40 hp in what Britons would call a pillarless saloon certainly did not equal Louis Klemantaski’s experience as Peter Collins navigator in the 1957 race but still it promised plenty of fun.

After sorting out the luggage and what we would need in the following days the Squadra went to the Fiera in Brescia for the scrutineering both for cars and drivers. 6 steps had to be followed to get the car on the ramp on Wednesday with more or less bureaucratic hurdles to take. After checking in at the welcome desk the documents were checked for the driver and navigator, including driver’s license, identity and the required “temporary Italian competition license” for the foreign entrants. This led me to a room in the back where a doctor’s certificate for “non-competitive sport activity” and 233 Euros bought me the required paper. Back to the check-in the next step was the OK of the local police that at least at the start you were in the possession of a valid driver’s license. After the human aspect was checked by the officials it was time for the car to prove its authenticity and functionality before the starting numbers were attached. As said in our case as the oldest of the military vehicles it was the number “1M” and our spot in the field for the coming days should be between race number 125 and 126, after the pre-war field and just upfront the featured Osca racers celebrating their 75th anniversary this year.

After that we headed to the city centre of Brescia to take part in the Roberto Gaburri Trophy as a warm up for the actual “race”, a short special stage over the pressure tubes up to the Castello in Brescia on Monday evening. Never done any of the regularity trial before I certainly was not a major held to the effort of my driver but with the computers programmed fortunately, he was able to do most of the work on his own.

Tuesday morning, we were back at the Fiera were most of the cars were stored to get the police escort at the given time to the Piazza Vittorio in the historic city centre of Brescia for the sealing. In the first years the entire scrutineering process was done at the Piazza but the annual chaos and the increasing number of cars brought most of it to the Fiera where things are much easier to handle.

But as the local and the tourist spectators want to see the car and as “see and to be seen” also is an important aspect for many entrants of the MM the sealing brings all cars to the Piazza at least once. The seal has a tradition from many races in the glory days to make sure that the scrutineered car is also the one that is actually raced, today the sealing at the steering column is a prestige object and many cars can be seen with numerous of them from previous editions, just as a few cars keep previous race number stickers like annual rings. As “our” little Lancia makes his first appearance a single seal graced the steering on Tuesday afternoon.

20 years ago, all the cars were parked on the various piazzas including the Piazza della Loggia or in front of the cathedral for what Italians call a “grande casino” (=huge chaos). Today the cars are told to leave the piazza pretty soon so very few entrants parked in the streets, most making their way back to the Fiera or to the hotel. We went to the Porsche Experience Centre for lunch and for a testing session for the pressure tubes. Fortunately, Adriano had mercy with my photography needs and we made it back to the Piazza Vittoria to see a few more cars that we would not see on the road later.

Wednesday finally was the day of departure and we all met at the Museo Mille Miglia for a last lunch in Brescia before going over the famous ramp at the Viale Venezia. Our starting time was 14:12 for the first leg towards Ferrara, formerly the finish of the first day when the cars still started Thursday evening. With the prolonged first day we had a little bit longer to drive direction Rimini.

After leaving the ramp the first meters led through the row of people gracing the streets of Brescia to do the first regularity trial again up the hill to the Castello. We then passed the Piazza Loggia and Vittoria before leaving Brescia in direction of Lago di Garda. Right at the end of the Pentecost holidays the Lago di Garda usually is packed with visitors and so the Mille Miglia saw masses of spectators on this first leg. After getting our first stamp in Salo and a few more pressure tube trials we went along the lake through Desenzano and Sirmione were we collected more stamps. The Mille Miglia does not only feature the pressure tube trials where you are intended to drive a given distance in between two tubes at a given time but also regularity trial was the distance and an average speed is given that has to be driven. While at most of the pressure tube trials, the cars are actually faster than the intended average speed and wait some meters in front of the tube in designated waiting areas the average requires a constant driving. Fortunately, today technology with GPS allows the computer to signal the average speed at any time and so the driver “only” has to drive according to the display. On the first of these regularity trial, we actually manage the get it to 100% of the display only to figure out that the computer was programmed with the wrong average, 38 km/h instead of 42 km/h which also explains why others drove faster... But as the ambitions are relative and the pleasure is intended to come first this cannot lessen the mood in the car.

After leaving the lake area we went south towards the Parco Giardino Sigurta, a beautiful garden to drive through and a photographer’s dream. Further south we went through Mantua, known as the home town of one of the Mille Miglia greats, Tazio Nuvolari. Used as a lunch stop in the past but this time only a stamp point the Piazza Sordello was much less crowded than in the past. We arrived in Ferrara at the Castello to have dinner in the wonderful Teatro Claudio Abbado, the best location for a dinner one could imagine.

With the dinner being included in the timing the first leg was not really in a hurry as a late arrival only reduces the time spent at lunch before the journey goes on. Soon we left Ferrara and the sun set and the first trouble hit the car. With more and more miles under the tires, we started to hear a noise coming from the rear right and the cracking became louder by the hour. So, we stopped at a petrol station and called the service team of Noci Motor Classic who looked after our car those days in Italy. What first sounded like a problem with the wheel bearings or a half shaft turned out to be a broken wheel as the old cast metal was obviously tired and cracked around the wheel nuts. Fortunately, we had two spare tires with us but this problem should follow us the next days. After the tire was changed, we were back on the road and thanks to the fast service we finally arrived in time in the finish of the first day, in Milano Marittima.

Thursday started with another morning in glorious weather. For some open car the weather might have been even to sunny and hot but fortunately we had a roof to protect us from the sun and the fold-out windscreen gave us some fresh air. 6:52 am was our starting time after a decent sleep and we were off to the Italian capitol, the traditional and current turning point of the MM. After passing Forli we went towards San Marino, one of the most visited spots during the Mille Miglia. After climbing up the hill for another special stage we passed the historic town centre below instead of going all the way up. What was a little bit disappointing for the spectators as well as for me certainly helped the cars as going up in the usual traffic around the narrow serpentines in the historic centre in these hot conditions would have stressed the little Lancia as well as the racers following us.

A few more trials showed that the Lancia sometimes lacked power as going uphill the car did not make all the distance between the tubes in time once slowed down the trial before to adjust the speed to the time, but other than that the car went well.

We then arrived in Urbino for a small coffee break and the bar opposite to the waiting area certainly made a lot of business that day but also generated hectic as there was not enough waiting time for us to make it in time to the time control. After Urbino we left the east-coast and went inland toward Lago Maggiore where we had the lunch stop in Passignano sul Trasimeno. Beautifully located at the lake a buffet was served outdoors and the Italian gelato gave some cooling down at least for the crews. After farewell with local folklore, we headed towards the Autodromo di Magione greeted by the bust of another famous Italian racer, Mario Umberto Borzacchini. Unfortunately, soon after the cracking sound from the back axle reappeared and another stop was due. This time it was not the wheel itself but the chromed disc that held the wheel in place and also served as ornament. Fortunately, we were able to drive without them and so we continued but we were running late at that time. People often refer to the Mille Miglia as a parade of the beauties but this very much depends on the car. When you have a powerful post-war car, the average is easy to achieve but when you are running at 40 hp every delay means you are in a hurry for the next time control. With the delay for the repair, we were just on the edge of the timing and approaching Terni it became obvious that we were in a hurry. As Adriano was still confident to make it in time, we followed the Police into Terni and speeded up, the passage through Terni may have earned my driver the nickname “Stirling” but it was also nerve wrecking to sit in the passenger seat seeing the little Lancia flying through the city. We just managed to arrive in time and with less than two minutes to go we made it to the front of the line to get our time stamp at 19:12 just as intended. After a short stop Adriano handed me the car to calm down and my first miles as a driver in the MM were in a beautiful alley surrounded by a bunch of Oscas and two Ferrari towards a sunset into Rome.

Before Rome we changed again and prepared the car for the arrival in the night. Adriano fitted a separate LED light to the front to add to the spare original lighting and I cleaned the windscreen for some unobstructed views when driving into the eternal city. As there were no time penalties for arriving early, we took the ramp in between several Ferrari and my favourite car of the weekend, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL prototype.

After passing the ramp we were escorted by the police through the city towards our hotel. The police were rather quick so we had a blast past the landmarks of the city like the colosseum. Finally, we arrived in our hotel at about 11pm and a quick dinner and a shower ended the day.

Day three might be the biggest difference between the “old” MM storico and the new concept. Whereas the third days was also the last and longest day in the past going all the way up to Brescia we now were only half in the rally. Once again at about 7am we left Rome from the Parco di Medici towards Radicofani, the first leg of the day. Unfortunately, soon after leaving Rome behind us the car started to misbehave, either it did not get enough fuel or the ignition was off but the car started to stutter and lacked a few of the 40 horses. So, we had to do another service although the mechanics checked the car over the evening before without finding any problems. The search for the problem took a while and so we ended up with very much a completely new ignition including new plugs. The car then went off like nothing ever happened and we were happy to be still in the race. As we were already passed by cars in the region of the numbers past 300 there was no way to make it in time to the time control at Radicofani so we took it more relaxed. In Viterbo Adiano still started to speed up and passed a few cars in traffic very much to the annoyance of some of the officials who thought it might have been too much even for MM standards and so we had to endure a lecture before we were allowed to drive on. The next part of the journey was too good to be raced through anyway as the passing of the Lago di Bolsena on unpaved roads and the approach of Radicofani might be the most beautiful part of the entire MM. I remembered countless of spots where I stood over the years to take pictures and yet I was astonished to see so few of my colleagues around, it seems that less of them followed this year’s edition on the road. Finally, we came to Radicofani after accepting our time penalty for late check-in and we got a new starting time. What was not so good for the classification was certainly good for me as now we were among a group of later cars giving a few different motives from the day before.

Radicofani was a little bit disappointing this year. Normally the stairs in front of the small church are somewhat like a natural stand but this time only a handful of people waited for the cars. Overall, it has to be said that on some places this year’s edition lacked a little bit of audience whereas other places were packed.

The next stop certainly is the most spectacular of the entire MM when entering Siena and after following the narrow alleys of the historical town centre all of the sudden the Piazza del Campo is opening up in front of you with thousands of people waiting for the car. The place is impressive even without the cars parked there but with hundreds of classics this certainly is a sight to remember. Unfortunately, beside a quick lunch there is not much time to be spend there as the road is waiting on the way towards the coastline in Viareggio. There is the saying that a Mille Miglia without rain is not a proper Mille Miglia and this leg certainly proved this right. After the hot days all of the sudden we had a shower pouring down barely giving the teams the possibility to raise their hoods and once again we were happy to have a proper roof. Within minutes the air cooled down giving a much-needed refreshment. Nevertheless because of the conditions we did not get along as intended and even without service we were arriving late, giving us another time penalty.

Out of Viareggio we enjoy the police escort and the presence of a few interesting cars on our way to Parma. After the last special stage of the day, we drove into the most incredible sunset on basically deserted roads before our final destination of the day. As the wheel cracking reappeared just before the finish the service was on duty again over night. To safe the last wheel for any case the attempt was to give the cracked wheel a welding to get some miles out of it.

So, when we left Parma for the last leg the premiss was to drive without to many loads in the corners to safe the wheel. This worked pretty well in the beginning until we arrived at the test track of Dallara for the special stage. The car in front of us actually managed to get lost on a race track and then re-passed us screwing up two sectors of the tube trial. After that the caution was a little bit gone and just at the beginning of the next regularity the noise reappeared. So, we finished the stage and stopped to check the wheel and were a little bit shocked about the cracks and wholes we saw, the wheel certainly wouldn´t have last much longer. So, with the help of one of the technical support cars of the MM (as we were in a stage were the assistenza was detoured) and their proper jack and torque spanner the last of the spare wheels was attached and this was intended to get us over the finish line. The next miles were rather uneventful when even the police were not able to help us any more in the traffic jam towards Monza for the final trial on the autodromo and a last lunch in the paddocks. Right at the end of the MM we once again experienced “grande casino” as the exit of the race track was rather narrow with upcoming traffic giving the marshals a hard time to get the waiting cars to the time control in their given time while other cars were still coming in. Now we were already on the final of the 1000 miles and although the finish approached with the prospect of becoming a “finisher” of this year’s MM there was also a bit of melancholy that it was about to end.

Finally, at 16:49 on Saturday our Mille Miglia officially ended with handing over the papers for the last stamp of the event. The Unuci Squadra Corse lined up for the last time to follow the police in a group to the final chapter of the rally, the arrival at the ramp on Viale Venezia were it all started 4 days prior. Being welcomed on stage we got our finisher medal and drove off, a last time through the row of spectators who welcomed us back in Brescia.

So, what it is like to drive the Mille Miglia? If you ask entrants, they will all agree that it is exciting and that it is a blast to chase behind the police through Italy. Many will tell you that the love of the Italians for all machines moving fast and the design of the various coachbuilder is unique in the world making the atmosphere incomparable to any other rally. A few of the seasoned entrants might remark that the quality of cars is not the same as it was 25 years ago, the enthusiasm might be also a little bit less and the excitement and exhaust from the drive all the way up from Rome to Brescia might be missed by some. But apart from that different people on the different ends of the fields might tell you very different impressions.

Those starting early with the pre-war cars are mainly the contenders for the overall victory as their coefficient is much better than the one of the later cars. So mainly those in the 1950s sports cars are not driving to compete but more for the fun of it, some not even having a stop watch with them.

Early cars start early and arrive early compared to the later cars. With early sunrise and late sunsets, they barely drive in the night, whereas the cars in the 400s are starting later but drive hours in the dark. Especially down to Rome this might be less fun, particular in the rain. Rain is also a good indicator of your rally as it might be that on end of the field does not experience rain at all but the other end does for hours. The later cars usually have more power and are easier to drive so many teams are well ahead of their time and have time to do coffee stops whereas teams with slow cars like our Lancia are always under a certain pressure to make it in time to the control points if they want to be competitive. But if they are not interested in the classification the pre-war cars have plenty of time to arrive as they can just drop back in the field. Late cars in the contrary cannot have major problems as the control points close soon after the last car being expected, so an hour repair like our ignition problem means that they chase behind of the field to make it to the control points. Many of them are required to take short cuts.

I am happy to be able to have fulfilled a dream and I am very thankful for the opportunity both to the military team as well as to Paolo Mazzetti to make it possible.

Would I like to do it again? Sure, maybe in a few years and maybe with a more powerful car later in the field to compare.

So, remains to be said that we ended 114th out of 342 in the classification, one place ahead of Ellen Lohr in the works Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. This probably will be the only time in my life that I finished ahead of a former DTM driver and race winner in a car related event... but this was certainly more due to my driver than me. About myself I have to say that apart from one roundabout where we had to turn, we never lost orientation and stayed on the route all the time, which maybe does not make me completely worthless as navigator.

Next year I will be back roadside to take pictures but with the memory to once have competed in the “most beautiful race in the world”

Report & gallery images … Peter Singhof