By Sandy Cotterman, Motorsports Enthusiast
2014 Mille Miglia
at the start to reclaim
their 2011 title, Giordano Mozzi and Stefania Biacca driving an original Mille
Miglia car, the 1928 Lancia Lambda tipo 221 spider Ca.Sa.Ro.
Who wouldn’t want to go to Italy… to watch the start of the
Mille Miglia? When the opportunity presented itself to rendezvous with my
daughter, I was thrilled with the timing. I was about to repeat last year’s
the Mille Miglia on one end and Concorso d’Eleganza Villa
d’Este on the other.
Today’s Mille Miglia is on many a bucket list. As a spectator
verses entrant, there are huge differences in approaching this event, as one
would expect. All the same, it was still exciting and a thrill to watch the
field of this year’s 435 official entries go through the scrutineering and
start day fanfare, before they actually took off on their four day adventure,
the third weekend in May.
Brescia’s Piazza della Vittoria maintains its historical
significance to the Mille Miglia.
It all starts in Brescia, about an hours drive east of Milan,
Malpensa being the airport of choice. Everyone discouraged me from renting a
car in Italy, including my native Italian friends. Forget it! I had a blast
driving the narrow hilltop roads and autostrade, during our two-week stay.
Brescia has a rich motorsports history starting at the
beginning of the 19th century, as a hub for auto manufacturing and its Brescia
Motoring Week and Florio Cup. Originally, hometown to the first Grand Prix of
Italy in 1921, it was that event‘s organizer who pulled the rug out from under
Brescia, quickly moving the event the very next year to a newly built circuit
in Monza, establishing the Italian Grand Prix, as we know it today. The
betrayal is what ignited the imagination of a small group of young sportsmen
referred to in the history books as the Four Musketeers, Giovanni Canestrini,
Aymo Maggi, Franco Mazzotti and Renzo Castagneto, to put together the Mille
Miglia, in less than three months time.
Overlooking scrutineering at the Fiera di Brescia.
First, for those of you who want to check this off your bucket
list, here are a few travel tips. Arrive Wednesday morning, before Thursday’s
start, and head directly to scrutineering at the Brixia Expo-Fiera di Brescia,
a large exhibition venue, on the outskirts of Brescia. Bring, and I emphasize,
bring your GPS from home, downloading
Italy’s roads beforehand. A GPS is invaluable and costly, if you rent it at the
airport, as we did. We walked right into the Expo and there before us were many
of the classic and historic cars, plus a section of newer cars, all going through
the paces of registration and technical inspection. I found it fascinating, a
sort of history lesson, as all the cars were examples of those raced during the
span of the event from 1927-1957.
A walk back in time, during registration and tech checks.
Moving through scrutineering.
This year’s official registration list noted 71 cars that had
participated in the original races. Sixty four different marques would be
arriving from 34 countries around the world, with the most, 113, from Italy. From
the total 435 teams, 62 were composed of members of the same family, father and
sons mostly. Thirteen female teams were listed, in addition to quite a few
husband and wife teams counted in the family total.
Jay Leno and Ian Callum at the start in a 1951 XK120 Sports
We got to meet and talk with a few owners; otherwise most of
the cars were unattended. This was the best opportunity to take time and look
over the cars without competing crowds. Outside the hall, Jaguar Heritage
Racing with their ten celebrated 1950s models and celebrity drivers were
milling around. Jay Leno, who commented that he favors the XK120 era and his
co-driver, Ian Callum, Jaguar’s design director, would drive one of the Ecurie
Ecosse race cars. Andy Wallace, ex-Jaguar Le Mans winner, whom I cheered on at
Goodwood last fall, was there to drive a famed 1952 C-type. The celebrity list
of Jaguar drivers was impressive.
This first early afternoon, at the Expo, was also an
excellent time to make souvenir purchases, without crowds. At this point, I
will mention that the Mille Miglia, like my recommendation for the Goodwood
Revival, is an
excellent trip for spouses. There are so many opportunities
for shopping, eating, sightseeing, and wine tasting… after the car enthusiast
gets his or her fix of the cars.
The Bentley Driver’s Club in Sirmione, a favorite stop for
car club rallies during the Mille Miglia.
Accommodations for the Mille Miglia were tricky, yet they
need not be. I asked friends who had participated in prior years and got an
excellent recommendation to stay at the Best Western Master in Brescia. Jaguar
thought so too, as the Jaguar Heritage team was also staying there! Unfortunately,
the prices are so inflated that it’s hard to recommend actually staying in
Brescia. Like the original races, promotion and tourism are still key
objectives of the event.
Following the start and a spin through the streets of
Brescia, the cars work their way up to Lake Garda and the quaint touristy town
of Sirmione, no more than 45 minutes north. They drive through the entire town
and historic section. It would be my recommendation to find a hotel in
Sirmione. We followed our two-night stay in Brescia with another two in
Sirmione with rates about two thirds less, and directly on the lake.
Thursday morning, we noticed cars beginning to park near the
race start, so heading back into Brescia
from Sirmione for the entire day may be just as realistic as staying in town. You
may not even feel the need to be at the
which for spectators means lining the streets and watching the cars zoom by. Heading
back to Sirmione around 3pm, in time to line its streets, might be just as
We were told that Thursday before the start, the museum,
Museo Mille Miglia, hosts a pre-race diner for competitors. Knowing this, we
adjusted our Thursday itinerary to arrive at the museum shortly after it opened
at 10am and took our time. If you are driving to the museum you will have to be
creative in parking. We saw a line of newish Ferraris parked along a chain link
fence across the street from the museum and tucked right in. In hindsight, they
were probably part of the Ferraris doing drives as a Tribute to the Mille
The museum is situated inside the Monastery of Saint Eufemia,
a beautiful building with historical significance itself, built in 1008. Opened
to the public in 2004, you step back in time, not only into the history of the
original Mille Miglia but the entire Italian social and political culture of
those years, with multi-media displays and historic cars creating a sense of
being there. Written in Italian with
English translations, the museum book is an excellent walk through each
individual year with a concise summary of the road infrastructure challenges
petrol and tyre rationing, facing
the 1947 start up after the war and seven year pause of the event, as well as
the final demise due to a tragic accident and unsuccessful attempts to sustain
Italians Francesca Grimaldi and Lucia Fanti in their XK120
OTS Jaguar maneuvering the narrow streets off the Piazza, before they take off
to victory in the female team division.
German’s Peter and Dr. Claus-Peter Amberger in their 1928 4.5
Bentley fight the crowds out of the Piazza towards the start.
I find the tidbits of history fascinating for this event. Initially
it was meant to be a one-time race. More of a shot in the arm for the Italian
people, especially Brescians. A sporting event on local roads which would not
only capture the spirit of sports car enthusiasts, but would hopefully inspire
technological innovation from the auto industry and road improvements. The
route was determined to be half of Italy, Brescia to Rome and back… 1600km, or
1000 miles, thus the title, Mille Miglia.
This event spawned the pleasures of grand sports motor
touring that many of us enjoy today.
At high noon on Thursday, the itinerary calls for the cars to
congregate in the Piazza della Vittoria, the location where pre-checks were
moved to in 1932. One must keep in mind, the original Mille Miglia was
continuous. Stopping only for fuel and repairs. The 1927 first place winner, in
a hometown manufactured O.M. (Officine Meccaniche), clocked in at a total time
of 21 hrs, 04 mins, 48 secs. Today’s event is actually a four
day regularity run.
At the Piazza, you get the same sense of these cars as you do
when the Pebble Beach cars end their road tour in Carmel… pandemonium. When you
think about it, like Pebble Beach, these are million dollar cars, just parked
for mobs of onlookers to see… and admire. That is another very nice thing about
this event. It’s approachable for the public at no cost other than getting
Another recommendation is to make lunch reservations at one
of the local restaurants just off the Piazza when you arrive race day. It takes
the edge off things, when everything gets crazy at lunchtime. We actually
didn’t do that, but there was a silver lining. While walking out of the city
towards Viale Venezia, the
remembered friends mentioning they sat at a cafe on the street and watched the
cars go by. We caught a late lunch and got to watch them, presumably en route the
Museum tour and dinner.
American co-driver Mark Gessler, president of the
Heritage Vehicle Association, in an
original Mille Miglia Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 GS Zagato accompanies Manuel Elicabe
to a stellar 11th place finish!
About an hour and a half before the 6pm start, we were front
and center, a coveted location we were thankful to secure as media guests. We
made friends with our media mates on either side of us. Everyone was staking
out territory for the perfect shots. To be honest with you, the most
interesting shots are more likely back at that little café along the roadside. Every
inch of road is a good spectator spot to watch the Mille Miglia, so don’t
worry... you’re so close you can do a high five with the drivers if you want!
We admired every driving team for undertaking the journey. It
was fun to have spotted the winning teams when they were driving in the Piazza
before the start and to have caught a glimpse of most of the cars as they
rolled up onto the start stage.
On the lawn at Pebble Beach in 2013 to the start of the 2014
Mille Miglia, Tony Shooshani is all smiles in his 1921 Alfa Romeo G1 with
driver Craig Calder.
And off they all go…
When I see the red arrow, a logo they
say has been around from the beginning, it will forever draw me in because
there has to be a fantastic story behind who’s wearing it or sporting it on
their vehicle, even if they were like me… a spectator. It was magical just