Mille Miglia in a 1938 Alfa
TG mag Editor, Charlie Turner, takes on one of the biggest challenges in motoring...
Posted: 17 Jun 2013
Mille Miglia Day 1: Brescia
Didn't sleep. It's raining biblically hard, and I have a food hangover. Italy wouldn't be Italy without a truly excellent eleventy course meal to celebrate the start of the legendary race, and as we head to bed in the early hours I found myself questioning the sanity of driving a priceless car on flooded roads for the next three days, or indeed the need for three different puddings. Still, the rain was pouring down outside through the night, and as we surface at the start of the day to have the car sealed for the event, it shows no signs of clearing. The day drags, as does the lack of sleep and the weight of responsibility.
7:10: Five minutes to go until our start, and the chaos of trying to get 420 cars to line up in order for their allotted start time has turned the Viale Venezia into a high octane game of car draughts as people arrive fashionably late and push, horn sounding, through the crowds to roost somewhere near their allotted start number. It is chaos. Very evocative, brilliant, amazing, beautiful chaos.
7:13: Time to fire the old girl up, check that my co-pilot is ready to go and more importantly confirm he actually knows where we're going..." Everything ok?" I ask, presuming that the answer is a foregone conclusion... "Have I got time to go to the loo?" "NOT NOW!"
7:15: I drive the Alfa up the ramp and almost into its awaiting crowd of adoring Alfisti. There are shouts of "Bella Machina, Buono Voyagi". In the pre-race interview - screened live to the whole of Italy - I mumble something about ‘only in Italy', though it may have come out as ‘Hffrrufle-mufurfle, Italy'. The flag drops and we're off. Next stop Ferrara...
We roll off the stage and down the Viale Venezia past crowds of people ten deep, all waving, smiling and shouting. The 6c might not be the fastest car here by some margin, but if enthusiasm could be translated into horsepower we're destined for a win. Or at least a place. Well, a finish. Possibly.
Turning right up the hill in Brescia you can see the words ‘Alfa' form on the lips of the adoring, car-savvy fans. The rain is easing, but still an omnipresent threat, making the best part of 1.3 tonnes of handbeaten Superleggera bodywork mounted on a ladder chassis something of a handful on slick cobbles. Still, so far so good, despite regular warnings from the passenger seat to ‘remember the brakes' helpfully and that ‘those cobbles look very slippery'. Resisting the urge to shout ‘I KNOW' at the top of my voice, we're though the tricky first mile, heading down the hill and out of Brescia. I begin to breathe again for the first time in ten minutes.
The Mille is just spectacular. Every roundabout is rammed full of spectators: from babes in arms, to great grandmothers who look like they might well remember the original event and Moss' legendary achievement. And they're all shouting, waving and clapping. The sheer, overwhelming passion is infectious. I feel like a rock star.
I probably don't look like one.
The 6c has woken up from its time resting in the museum, and as the road opens up we're beginning to blow out the cobwebs. Out of Brescia and onto Desenzano, we head through crowd-lined streets and onto Sirmione on the banks of Lake Garda. This is the first timed stage and an opportunity for Co-pilot No1. to show his talents.
It works like this: the modern version of the Mille Miglia is punctuated by regularity stages, where the whole priceless convoy stops and has to drive for specific distances at pre-agreed - and very specific - speeds (say 480meters at 43.5kph). Get it right and you're awarded points, and it's these points combined with signing in each of the pre-assigned route points at the allotted time that define your position in the event. So being able to operate a stopwatch, or more accurately 4 or 5 stopwatches at the same time, is something of a pre-requisite for Mille success.
"Right, first regularity stage, are we good?"
"I still need to loo..."
To make matters worse, the regularity stages are split into sections with each section requiring a different distance to be covered at a different average speed. As you cross the line for the first section you start the timing for the second and so on and so on... hence the multiple stopwatchery.
"Right then here we go, what's my average speed for this first section"
It's fair to say that what follows is somewhat shambolic and mildly shouty attempt at the first regularity stage. There's some confusion over the fact that as one section ends the next one starts, there are two or three exchanges based around: "Should I have started this one going yet?" "Yes you bloody well should have!".
A couple of moments that involved the phrase "Well, there's no need for that..."
And as we leave Sirmione I'm doing my best Mutley impression whilst defusing the situation with helpful comments like: "Well it's only the first one, now we know how to do it I'm sure we'll do a better job of the next one, unrepeatable mutterings..."
To ease tension we pull in for fuel and a quick pit stop and meet the other element of a successful Mille Miglia campaign: the support crew. Paola and Alessandro from Museo Storico Alfa Romeo are the perfect antidote to Mille stress, "Alle" is responsible for the engineering - read nursing - of all Alfa Museums cars and is clearly passionate, protective and yet oddly trusting with his pride and joy, whilst knowing every element of it's construction. He is delighted to see we've made it this far..."complimenti".
Paola is amongst the greatest things ever to come out of Italy. This is her 5th Mille Miglia and she is known and loved by everyone on the event. And although she normally follows the cars competing for the win (not something that given our current form we'll need to worry about), this year she's devoted to us and is currently firm favorite for co-pilot replacement after day one, something I feel it's best to keep to myself given we're about to tackle another batch of special stages...
As we head out fueled and drained respectively, the light dims and the crowds dissipate as we head ominously for our next battle with the stopwatch. Our fuel stop has dropped us into a glut of cars, so we have time to regroup as we wait for the stage.
"Ok, so there are six stages in this one and it's dark. So good luck"
Despite a hairy exploration into the maximum grip levels of the 6c on a particularly tricky downhill left, the regularity stage passes by without the swearing that marked the previous version and we're off and on our way to Ferrara still talking to each other. Just.
One final stage in Padova sees a return to form from the co-pilot seat and as we arrive into Ferrara and park up, the atmosphere in the car is best described as tense. The monosyballic Q&A is broken by the arrival of our support crew and the promise of beer and sleep. The 6c is tucked up in its Museo Storico silver onesie, and we head to the bar.
As we sit watching the live feed of the other competitors arriving into Ferrara the reality of what's just happened - and more pressingly what's going to happen in the next couple of days - dawns. Day one done, 158 miles covered, 845 to go.