Classic Historic

The Mille Miglia part 3 Rome back to Brescia

For the final day of the Mille Miglia the cars raced from the Villa Borghese in Rome back to Viale Venezia in Brescia. Leaving at 6.15am meant a long day’s drive, highlights of which were driving through the centres of Sienna and Florence. At last the rain stopped and the sun came out. Golfer Colin Montgomerie, co-driver aboard a 1937 BMW 328 said that ‘racing the Mille Miglia is as thrilling as a hole-in-one’. About the BMW he commented, ‘It is a noble car, but it is tiring. It is tiny and therefore not easy to handle when traveling with two. The major obstacle is the rain. The car is open, so it is difficult to read the road-book and be the navigator when it rains, or at night or due to the sun.’

The cars left from the Villa Borghese, crossing the centre of Rome, before heading out towards Cassia. In Campagnano di Roma, where the Vallelunga Autodrome is located, the first Regularity Trial of the day took place. Then, leaving Lazio behind them, participants made their entrance into Tuscany with the breathtaking scenery of the Sienese hills and the tiny picturesque villages of the region giving an unbelievable backdrop to the vintage cars.

In a small town in the Val D’Orcia, known as Radicofani, the crews were subjected to a Time Control and underwent a further Regularity Trial. Time Controls give a time in which the competitors need to reach pre-established points: they serve in uniting groups of cars, and are placed on long-distance stretches of several hours. Vehicles receive penalty points based on the minutes of error over or under the established time.The route was accompanied by the enthusiasm of all the onlookers awaiting along the roadside to greet the magnificent cars. A Regularity Trial in Pieve a Salti followed, then a Time Control in Buonconvento and participants entered breathtaking Siena, for a Passage Control. This prevents competitors from cutting the route short as they are obliged to get stamps at the passage controls. In the Piazza del Campo in Siena, the cars actually had to struggle in order to get through the masses of people who had turned out to watch.

There was a short lunch break at San Casciano Val di Pesa and then cars followed on towards Florence for a further Passage Control, the last one prior to the two Apennine Mountain passes. Even the two mountain passes Fuga and Raticosa, so beautiful yet tough, have become a part of the Mille Miglia legend.

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Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport of Steven Adler and Jakob Greisen in Florence

In the only real deviation from the traditional Mille Miglia race route the cars visited the towns that suffered from the earthquake last year. The race not only brings press attention to the municipalities affected. The Mille Miglia has set up a charity called Drying Little Tears,  that helps children affected by the earthquake. A centre for traumatized children affected by disasters will be built using the proceeds from the project. Every single penny will be used towards the project known as “The Firefly” which is a therapy center for children between 3 and 18 with different types of disabilities.

With only 7 regularity stages to go the Argentinian Juan Tonconogy was still in the lead, behind the wheel of his 1927 Bugatti T 40. He was followed by Giordano Mozzi in a 1933 Alfa Romeo Gran Sport. In third place was Giordano Moceri in his 1933 Aston Martin Le Mans.

In Brescia the crowds were out to see the cars return home. First the Ferrari Tribute cars drove over the finishing ramp on Viale Venezia, led by the Dutch team of Cees and Hans Visser.

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The Ferrari 512 B/B of C & H Visser

Then the vintage Mille Miglia cars started arriving. The overall winners, who had led consistently through out the race were Argentinians Juan Tonconogy and Guillermo Berisso in their 1927 Bugatti T 40. They celebrated winning the 2013 Mille Miglia with a spray of Champagne that left the air smelling sweet. For a moment the rain tasted of Champagne, although not enough to distinguish the exact blend of Pinot noir, Chardonnay and PInot Meunier in the wine.

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In a cloud of Champagne spray – winners Juan Tonconogy and Guillermo Berisso

So the Mille Miglia was over for another year. It is a tremendous meeting of beautiful vintage cars and beautiful scenery. All that was left to do was give the winners their prizes, which took place at a ceremony the next day in the impressive neo-baroque Teatro Grande.


Winners Juan Tonconogy and Guillermo Berisso

The Mille Miglia is a unique event that celebrates the beauty of both vintage cars and the Italian landscape. Enzo Ferrari described it as the most beautiful race in the world and that is a description that still stands today.

Classic Historic

The Mille Miglia part 2 – Ferrara to Rome

The Mille Miglia part 2 – Ferrara to Rome

The first cars in the 2013 Mille Miglia had only reached Ferrara around 00.30 on Thursday evening, having left Brescia and passed through some of the breathtaking towns around Lake Garda. The drivers of the open cars had got a soaking, but they still paraded through Verona’s Arena and many fans braved the inclement weather to get a glimpse of the vintage cars as they completed the first stage of the race.

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Cooper Jaguar of Derek Hood and Steve Riedling

However it was an earlier start for the drivers than the day before as the race to Rome began at 7.45am on Friday morning. Today’s route went through Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio where thousands of spectators would see the passage of this unique traveling museum. The morning saw the cars take the breathtaking drive around the roads of Mount Titano and the Republic of San Marino

German actress Hannah Herzsprung, the co-driver of a Jaguar C-Type said this was the best moment of the race so far. ‘It was amazing to go through those streets and the countryside between Romagna and Tuscany, on the road towards Sansepolcro. Despite the rain…I’m glad to be here, above all for the warmth of the people.’ However previous winner Giuliano Cane said that ‘Without a doubt, the passage through San Marino has been the most challenging one so far – especially because we had to stick to a very steep and tortuous part of the route.’ Car #1, the OM 665 SS from 1930 actually had to stop and let the engine cool down as the road was so steep!

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Ciisitalia 202 SC driven by Fabrizio Rossi and Fabio Teti

The Mille Miglia is about taking part and coaxing the machinery to the end of the course. However it is also a regularity race, with points scored everyday and Argentinian driver, Juan Tonconogy in his 1927 Bugatti T40, was in the lead after the first regularity trials. He maintained his lead ahead of Giordano Mozzi in a 1933 Alfa Romeo Grand Sport and Giovanni Moceri in his 1933 Aston Martin Le Mans.

Friday was a  hectic day for the crews who faced four regularity trials: San Marino, Pieve Santo Stefano in the Province of Arezzo, Province Umbertide in the Province of Perugia and Arrone, in the Province of Terni. Regularity trials require cars to race along a segment of a route – normally either closed or distant from traffic – maintaining a target pace. For example, a Regularity Stage of 3km could have a given time of three minutes and thirty seconds. For every hundredth of a second error, above or below the precise “target” time, the competitor receives a penalty.

This phase of the race led the cars through some of the most fascinating and beautiful Italian landscapes. One town that stood out was Gambettola, for its extraordinary welcome.

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The Mille Miglia has visited Gambettola for almost twenty years and the reception is fantastic. Each crew is received with the laughter, waving and an abundance of treats. These include a basket of fresh strawberries that the farmers’ cooperatives provide for every crewmember.

After Emilia, the Mille Miglia route wound through the splendid hills of Tuscany and scenic Umbria. It then continued towards the picturesque landscapes of Sansepolcro, Assisi and Spoleto before arriving in Rome along the Via Flaminia Nuova at around 8.30pm. At the Castel Sant’Angelo the cars were presented to a great throng of spectators. The rarest cars were displayed on the podium today, including the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR driven by David Coulthard. This car, which took part in the 1955 edition was driven by to Juan Manuel Fangio, winner of five Formula One titles. It is perhaps the most beautiful vehicle ever produced by Mercedes- Benz. Ferrari’s 375 MM Berlinetta Pininfarina followed, which was built in 1954 and commissioned by film director Roberto Rossellini as a gift to his wife, actress Ingrid Bergman.

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Aston Martin Le Mans, 1933 driven by Jan Ten Cate and Rob Pors

After reaching Rome the Mille Miglia cars toured the centre of the Eternal City, passing through some of the most beautiful corners of the Italian capital, including the Circus Maximus, the Colosseum, Piazza Venezia and Via Veneto. Then the drivers got a few hours sleep before departing for the final day’s drive back to Brescia at a rather early 6.15am.

Classic Historic

The start of the Mille Miglia – the most beautiful race in the world

Enzo Ferrari called the Mille Miglia the most beautiful race in the world. Unless there are a bevy of Botticelli’s Venuses training for next year’s London Marathon he is probably right. 400 vintage cars built in the years from 1927 to 1957 take part in the race from Brescia to Rome and back. These range from a 1925 Bugatti T35A to a 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL300. Don’t ask the value of these unique machines, just enjoy seeing museum-quality cars being driven on the open roads of Italy. 11 bugatti flaneur 1925 Bugatti T35A on the starting ramp in Viale Venezia The streets of Brescia are not just lined with the cars taking part in the official race. For one weekend at the end of May the northern Italian town is filled with exotic machinery, including over 70 Ferraris that drive in front of the race in an official Ferrari tribute. IMG 0877 flaneur The Ferrari Enzo driven by Giovanni Recordati and Massimo Soffritti   There are not many places where a 70-strong gang of Ferraris can be upstaged, but if there is one it is Brescia during the Mille Miglia. On Thursday the modern Ferraris were all parked on Via Goffredo Mamelli, looking shiny and potent amongst the small boutiques and cafes. But the roads around Piazza Loggia were filled with the participants in the actual Mille Miglia. Parking space after parking space was filled with exquisite vintage machinery. An Austin Healey here, a Bugatti there, a Frazer Nash over the road. The rest of the centro was filled with amazing cars whose drivers had come to watch, or media cars that were going to follow the race. These were often Ferraris, the owners happy to slap a MEDIA sticker on the doors and the bonnet. Even the vintage cars were covered with race number stickers. I hope they all come off OK, or there will be a lot of exotic cars needing resprays next week. The current Mille Miglia is a recreation of the original pedal-to-the-metal race that took place between 1927 and 1957. Only cars that date from that period are allowed to enter. Each has a driver and a co-driver given the task of driving from Brescia to Rome and back via cities such as Ferrara, Siena and Florence. Celebrities are attracted to the fun and this year’s race included Daniel Day Lewis and David Coulthard. Day Lewis was co-driver with Jim Gianopulos, CEO of Fox Entertainment and they had the hood up on their black Jaguar XK 120. This was probably sensible given the British-like drizzle at the start, but many others were braving the elements. IMG 0948 flaneur Loes Van De Velde preparing for a wet Mille Miglia in an Austin Healy Silverstone Most of the cars taking part were open, and the raingear worn by many of the drivers looked impressive. David Coulthard was driving the Mercedes 300 SLR that Juan Manuel Fangio drove in the 1955 Mille Miglia and which Sterling Moss described as the ‘greatest sports car ever built.’ Coulthard flaneur David Coulthard and Thomas Rommerskirchen in the 1955 300 SLR It was the perfect car in all respects, except one – on a wet day like today. It lacked a roof. David Coulthard’s wet weather gear appeared to consist of a blue cap. Maybe as an ex-F1 driver he had access to more accurate weather forecasts than the rest of us, but I feared he was in for a soaking. The cars start from a ramp in Via Venezia to the west of the city, before racing around Brescia and out towards Desanzano. The numbering system gives the oldest cars that competed in the original 1927-1957 races the earliest starting times. So the more modern, faster cars leave last, giving everyone a chance to arrive at the first night’s stop at Ferrara at a similar hour. On the ramp the rain held off for the starting ceremony as Simon Kidson introduced the drivers to the crowds and wished them well before sending them on their way. It is amazing that these cars still exist, let alone that they can be driven to Rome. Nowadays speed is not of the essence and the participants are limited to 40 or 50kph, depending on the road. The participants have come from all over the world to compete in this premier competition for vintage cars. The drivers come from 31 different countries and 76 different marques are represented. The sight of these vintage cars weaving their way through the narrow streets of an Italian centro storico is stunning. Engines boomed round the centre of Brescia as car after car drove past the cafes and bars. Everyone waved at everyone, driver, co-drivers, cafe habitues, Campari drinkers and tourists. Being in Brescia for the Mille Miglia lets you see cars being driven that would normally only be seen in history books. There is plenty of room along the route for everyone to get a good view and the police presence, though high, is relaxed and allows the fans to get close to the cars and drivers. The first car left Brescia at 18.45, an OM 665 driven by Marcus Brennecke and Wolff Schimiegel. They led the race out towards Desenzano and a night’s stop at Ferrara. After that the route headed to Rome on Friday and back to Brescia on Saturday. Cars set off in batches continually until after 21.00. They started off with police escorts, but by the time they left Brescia they had merged with the normal traffic, giving the Italian commuters an attractive mobile automotive museum to look at as they drove home. ‘Motoring Royalty! Have a good one!’ Simon Kidson’s voice boomed out over the PA. Another car descended the ramp and headed off for a lap of Brescia before heading to the open road. People having dinner in a pizzeria on Corso Magenta suddenly found themselves in the best seats for a world-class vintage car rally. IMG 1258 flaneur That is one of the great things about the Mille Miglia. Anyone can turn up in Brescia and watch the action. There is no need to buy expensive tickets, you can wander around and see hundreds of amazing cars close up. You can admire the cars and talk to the drivers. They tend to be repeat performers in the race. Once bitten by the Mille Migla bug drivers need their annual fix of motoring through the beautiful Italian countryside. I think I’ve been bitten. I just have to buy a car that was made between 1927 and 1957. around and see hundreds of amazing cars close up. You can admire the cars and talk to the drivers. They tend to be repeat performers in the race. Once bitten by the Mille Migla bug drivers need their annual fix of motoring  through the beautiful Italian countryside. I think I’ve been bitten. I just have to buy a car that was made between 1927 and 1957.

Classic Historic

Preview of the Mille Miglia – a museum in motion

What is the Mille Miglia?

In order to better understand this legendary Italian race, it helps to hear two of its most famous descriptions. In the 50s, Enzo Ferrari called the Mille Miglia the “most beautiful race in the world”. It was also Ferrari, otherwise known as the “Drake di Maranello,” who came up with a beautiful description of “a museum in motion, unique and charming, in a beautiful framework of jubilant visitors” while assisting in the race revival in the ’80s in Modena.

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Mille Miglia Roma photo: Mille Miglia

The original race ran from 1927 to 1957, with drivers racing on public roads from Brescia to Rome and back again. The first winner took 21 hours to complete the course. The race was cancelled after two bad accidents in the 1957 edition. The worst took the lives of the driver and co-driver Portago and Nelson, as well as nine spectators, including five children. However since the eighties the Mille Miglia has run as a celebration of vintage cars from the era of the original race.


Footage of the original race

The special “race recipe” that was created in 1982 is a lively and bubbly mix of sport, culture, tourism, performances, and international friendships, held in locations that are among Italy’s most artistic and historical gems. It is these places, along with their architectural and natural beauty that made the Mille Miglia become much more than a simple revival.

In the past, the mere passage of the Mille Miglia was more than enough to make it famous. Since 1927, half of Italy has been able to simply go to their doorsteps and watch it first hand. There was no need for advertising. Mille Miglia’s acclaim came about with the beautiful passage of great drivers and brilliant automotive creations. And the nicest part of all is that no one needed to buy a ticket in order to take part.

Nowadays the Mille Miglia is a joyous event, not only for those who live and work along its 1,600 km route. It is a spectacularly unique and popular celebration that takes places in some of the most striking regions in Italy and attracts millions of individuals to watch.

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Alfa Romeo 6c 1750 gs Photo: Mille Miglia

Who competes? Which cars are allowed?

Every year around 380 crews from over 30 countries participate in the reenactment of the historical race. Over the years, individuals from 50 different countries around the world have participated. Only cars that were produced during the dates of the original speed race from 1927 to 1957 are allowed to depart from the famous ramp on Viale Venezia.

Under no circumstances are automobiles built after 1957 considered for entry. However, some special vehicles, produced in the early twenties and participants in early races, may be considered for entry. All vehicles admitted are rigorously checked to ensure that every single part of the automobile is authentic.

The rating/handicap system

Cars are attributed a coefficient which takes into consideration the period of the car’s design and construction as well as the diverse technical characteristics and capabilities of the varieties of sport and classic cars in the race.

The coefficient acknowledges that there are profound differences between a car built in the twenties and one from the late fifties, and between a racecar and a comfortable Grand Touring vehicle. It also takes into account the various differences in driving the actual car. Consider, for example, the difference between drum brakes with external levers from the twenties and disc pedal-controlled brakes from 1956/1957. The basic principle behind the coefficient is that the older cars and cars that are more of sports cars are assigned the highest coefficients.

Moreover, the coefficient can be increased in the event that a car has a historical relevance, such as those cars that have won a Mille Miglia historical race. A bonus will be assigned to cars that participated in one of the twenty-four editions of the Mille Miglia speed races. The crew with the highest number of points will win. In practical terms, the ranking is the sum of points obtained by each crew during the regularity race multiplied by the coefficient assigned to the vehicle. Therefore, the higher the ratio, the more likely one is to win. Let’s bear in mind, however, that it takes much more than just the car itself to win…

How do you win the Mille Miglia?

It used to a straight speed race –  Brescia to Rome and back, quick as you can. As it is held on public roads it has now become a regularity race. If the fastest car doesn’t win, what exactly does it take to win the Mille Miglia? It is a little bit complicated. Drivers must respect pre-established “target” times rather than finishing the race as quickly as possible; arriving at the finish line earlier or later does not make a difference. In fact in both cases the competitor will be penalized.

In a regularity races, cars are normally classified according to three criteria: Time Controls, otherwise known as “C.O.”, Passage Controls, known as “C.T.” “Regularity Stages”, otherwise called “P.C.”, which are the same as what is known as “special stages” in a rally.

The Time Controls or “C.O.” indicates the times in which the competitors need to reach pre-established points: they serve in uniting groups of cars, and are placed on long-distances stretches of several hours. Vehicles receive penalty points based on the minutes of error over or under the established time.

The Passage Controls or “C.T.” serve the purpose of preventing competitors from cutting the route short. Competitors are obliged to get stamps at the passage controls indicated by the race organizers.

There are approximately seventy regularity stages in the Mille Miglia, which serve as determiners of how cars are later ranked in the race. Race regulations require cars to race along a segment of a route – normally either closed or distant from traffic – maintaining a “target” pace. For example, a “Regularity” Stage or “PC” of 3km could have a given time of 0:3 ’36 “, that is, three minutes and thirty seconds. For every hundredth of a second error, above or below the precise “target” time, the competitor receives a penalty. The winner of the regularity stage is the one with the least penalties.

In Mille Miglia, but not in other races, the result of each regularity stage is given a point value: the winner is the one with the highest score (after the appropriate coefficient has been applied).

How do drivers maintain the correct pace?

In order to meet the target times imposed, drivers and co-drivers use an apparatus, which is in fact a small computer, equipped with all the necessary timers. During the race, at a given checkpoint or at the “pressure check” prior to a regularity stage, the driver merely presses a button that starts or stops the time. To ease the transition, these devices emit a countdown “beep”, which every driver sets as he wishes for the last ten, five or three seconds, of a stage. If you should see a driver with earphones, it is not because he is listening to music on his iPod, but gauging the seconds remaining to the end of his regularity stage.

These time gauges count down the seconds remaining and serve to assist the driver in seeing whether he is maintaining the proper speed on the stretch of the road he is traversing.

One of the most important rules of the regularity race is the maintenance of a steady speed along the route. The C.S.A.I. (Commissione Sportiva Automobilistica Italiana) that oversees all of the Italian automotive races, imposes a speed of no more than 40 km/h, or 50 km/h on flat stretches for races involving classic cars.

To a layman these speeds may seem rather slow and not particularly appropriate for a race. Yet these speeds are everything but that, as we need to take into consideration that with the exception of speed trials, the entire route is open to traffic, time is lost while traversing historical city centers, as well as for refueling and maintenance. Bear in mind that the most recent car in the race is at least fifty years old, so we can certainly define these speeds as “racing speeds.” The important thing is to never stop, or at least to stop as little as possible.

It’s the taking part that counts

So in addition to having natural talent and the right car,  one needs lots of dedication and commitment. Just as all of those who have raced the Mille Miglia can confirm, what is more important than the victories, or let’s say one of the most profound joys one can feel – is to see the crowds that await you after 1600 km – all of them cheering at the finish line in Viale Venezia, Brescia

When is it?

In 2013 the Mille Miglia leaves Brescia on Thursday 16th May and returns on Saturday 18th. The Flaneur will be there to capture all the excitement of this vintage, mobile museum – stay tuned for updates from the world’s most beautiful race.

Endurance FIAWEC

Did Capability Brown design the racetrack at Spa-Francorchamps?

Capability Brown’s work can be seen all over the grand estates of England and his influence as a garden designer has never been in doubt. Less well-acknowledged is his influence on race-track design. One would have thought that few were the patrons asking the 18th Century master gardener to squeeze a racetrack between the ornamental lake and the ha-ha. However, if ever the hand of Capability Brown can be seen it is in the racetrack at Spa-Francorchamps.

IMG 3114 flaneurThis is no Hermann Tilke designed safety-first circuit. It is cut through the Ardennes forest with a verve that echoes the undulating landscapes and unexpected vistas of the classic Brownian garden.

When Capability Brown is mentioned thoughts turn first to Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle and Milton Abbey. It is not even recorded in official biographies that the master ever visited this part of Belgium. He is quoted as refusing work in Ireland as he had not yet finished England! Yet here is a racetrack with all the characteristics of a Capability landscape. The eye of a painter would be delighted with the vistas that appear as one wanders around the track.

I was at Spa-Francorchamps for the FIAWEC World Endurance Championship and was immediately struck by the similarities between the recognised designs of Brown and the track that twisted through the Ardennes countryside. There were the watercourses and trees, the carefully placed hillock to provide a perfect view, the disappearing carriageway. If Capability was not involved then someone has been very free with his ideas of perfecting nature to make something more beautiful, giving nature a helping hand, a tweak and a leg up to achieve something more special.

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The official history of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit makes no mention of Capability Brown. It goes so far as to say that it was originally designed in 1920 as a 14km track using public roads. As Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown died in 1783 there is a large discrepancy here. Has he been deliberately erased from the record books? Is it a conspiracy? Are the Belgians unwilling to admit that this great circuit was laid out by Capability years before the official date? Or has Capability merely been an inspiration to the unnamed designer who originally laid out the circuit between the towns of Spa, Malmedy and Stavelot in the Belgian Ardennes? If this is the case then it would appear that the Alpine watercolours of Turner have also played a part in the design of the track.

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Where else do spectators for a major sporting event lounge languorously on rocky slopes, hidden among the trees? But Turner also is missing from the approved history of the circuit. According to this, Spa-Francorchamps staged its first race in 1922 and two years later hosted its first 24 hour endurance race. The diagram below shows the original layout of the track, which was a high speed circuit popular with drivers and spectators.

NewImageSafety issues were not at the forefront of the circuit’s original design. The track used public roads and there were the usual trees, telegraph poles, walls and houses next to the circuit. Unlike the run-off areas of modern tracks, Spa was unforgiving and it became notorious for bad accidents. All but La Source were high-speed corners, and combined with the changeable weather in the Ardennes Forest and the lack of run-off areas accidents were often fatal. After multiple fatalities during the 1973 and 1975 24 Hours races the circuit was going to have to be altered to remain relevant in the modern era.


In 1979 the circuit was dramatically shortened to 7km.  The relationship between the old and new tracks can be seen above. Clearly the new layout has a lower potential for absurdly high speed, lacking as it does the straights either side of the Masta kink. But the new circuit is still fast and hilly, and still heads off into the Ardennes forest. The weather can still be entirely different on different parts of the track and the ability of the driver is still tested to the limits, especially through the famous Eau Rouge/ Radillon combination.

Spa-Francorchamps is a classic of world racing and whilst it remains uncertain whether Capability Brown was the original creator of the track there is enough evidence to suggest that his influence has been heavily felt by those who did craft this magnificent circuit. However…circumstantial evidence that Capability was involved with race tracks does exist elsewhere. Capability worked at Stowe in England. Can it only be a coincidence that there is a corner called Stowe at Silverstone? I think not.

Endurance FIAWEC

The pit stop ballet – Krohn Racing style

One of the teams competing in the FIA World Endurance Championship is Krohn racing. You can always tell them at the race track by their love of green. Everything about them is green from the car to the drivers’ overalls. It’s an elegant Italian green derived from a shirt bought in Sienna by team owner Tracey Krohn. I was sitting in the main grandstand at Spa-Francorchamps watching the race when the Krohn Ferrari came into the pits right opposite me. I couldn’t have been better positioned to watch the action. A pit stop is always an exciting event, even more so in an endurance event where the drivers are changing over. Mechanics race around the car, all knowing exactly what they are supposed to be doing. So here’s a documentary of the procedure, like a high speed noiseless ballet in the midst of a high octane six hour race.

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The Krohn racing mechanics wait for the moment of action. The new driver stretches and gets ready for his high speed stint in the team’s green Ferrari F458.

IMG 3044 flaneurWith the car moments away all the mechanics line up. The lollypop man, the refuelling guy, the next driver and the mechanics with the new tyres.

Krohn 1 flaneurThe car arrives and the drivers change over. The refuelling rig is connected and the fuel tank refilled. Mechanics race in with the new tyres.

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A mechanic straps the new driver into the car.

Krohn 3 flaneurThen the car is raised off the ground and the wheels are changed.

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Finally the new driver sets off down the pit lane and returns to the fray.

I wish that I had had a stop watch timing the pit stop so that I could tell you that the whole thing only took x seconds. Unfortunately I was too busy taking photos. Suffice to say it was quicker than the service I get at my local garage.

Extras Historic Other

The George Abecassis Centenary Exhibition

2013 is the centenary of the birth of the racing driver and team owner George Abecassis. This was recently celebrated with an exhibition by the Vintage Sports-Car Club at Silverstone. In the paddock was a jaw-dropping selection of cars that Abecassis had designed and/or raced over his career. Abecassis raced between 1935 and 1956 so there was a superb selection of cars for enthusiasts to enjoy.

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HWM-Chevrolet – The Stovebolt Special, 1950

In the early 1950s Abecassis was the co-owner of HWM and entering cars in Grands Prix. This stunning car was crashed by Stirling Moss whilst leading the Naples Grand Prix in 1951. It was later sold to MGM and used in the movie The Racers starring Kirk Douglas.

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HWM-Alta Tasman Grand Prix car

Driven by Lance Macklin in 1952 this front-engined monster came first in the Silverstone International Trophy. In 1954 it was supercharged by HWM, and Abecassis described it as ‘…undoubtedly the most exciting and fastest HWM that we ever made’. Still looking superb in Racing Green it must have been a thunderous sight when it first appeared sixty years ago.

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Abecassis raced this 2.5 litre Riley-engined Healey Silverstone in 1950. It belonged to a friend named Charles Mortimer who also raced it and wrote about his experiences in a 1951 book, ‘Racing a Sports Car’. It has since spent much of its life in Australia, but is currently back in tip-top condition, lives in Germany and can be seen at events around Europe.

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This 2-litre HW Alta was driven by Abecassis in the Madgwick Cup at Goodwood in 1949. It was the second car to be built by HWM at Walton-on-Thames and its success encouraged HWM to enter a full season of Formula B racing in 1950. Since then it has taken part in many classic events, including the Mille Miglia.

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This Alta dates from 1937 when it had a 1.5-litre supercharged Alta engine. The original owner, Philip Jucker, was tragically killed in it, practising for the summer’s Isle of Man race. It was rebuilt over the following winter and gave Abecassis a superb 1938 season, winning nine times. After the war it was refurbished and in 1946 Abecassis took it to the Grand Prix des Nations in Geneva. There he made the final but was forced to retire. The car is currently being rebuilt and will be returned to racing when completed.

As well as the exhibition, Abecassis’ centenary was celebrated with a race for many of the classes of cars that he drove during his career. Entrance was by invitation only and included as many of the cars actually raced by Abecassis as could be found in current racing trim. The race would have no official winner – the emphasis being firmly on the machinery on display. With an entry list of twenty-seven cars, including Sports Altas, HW-Altas and HWMs, Aston Martins, Austin Healeys and Healey Silverstones this was forty minutes of action to savour.

Endurance FIAWEC

Electric hybrid racing – The World Endurance Championship moves to Spa #FIAWEC

It took me over six hours to drive to Dover, so I arrived at Spa-Francorchamps for the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship feeling I had all the skills necessary to actually take part in the endurance race. Though the cars have to compete non-stop for six hours, each car is driven by three drivers. On that basis I was more than ready. If any of the drivers fell ill – a surfeit of moule-frites, perhaps – then I was ready to step in. I didn’t actually walk up to Audi or Toyota and offer my services, but if the start of the race approached and word went round that McNish was ill or Davidson had a dicky tummy then I would cough politely and show them my driving licence.
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Greaves Motorsport Zytek Z11SN Nissan

The Spa-Francorchamps racing circuit is one of the greatest racing circuits on the racing circuit circuit. As Anthony Davidson pointed out, it is one of the original F1 circuits still being used today, along with Silverstone and Monza.The track used to be a lunatic 14km of fast corners and even faster straights but in 1979 it was shortened and made safer. That hasn’t made it an undemanding trip to the corner shop though, it is still a 2 minute/ 7km lap and the essence of its brilliance remains. ‘Spa is wonderful, the track is beautiful,’ Lotus driver Vitantonio Liuzzi told me and indeed it undulates through the Ardennes forest like a carriageway through an English country estate. I had been warned that the weather can be sunny at one end of the track and pouring with rain at the other – although in that respect it is no different to any British High Street. And this weekend I didn’t need the brolly that had seen such sterling service at Silverstone three weeks ago. The sun shone on the 35,000 fans that were packed all around the circuit.

IMG 2500 flaneurThe battle for supremacy in the top LMP1 class was again between Audi and Toyota, continuing from Silverstone where the first round of the World Endurance Championship took place on the 14th April. Back then Audi stormed away with both the win and second place, along with the superb Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy. Toyota had to settle for 3rd and 4th. But here at Spa Toyota were due to premiere their updated 2013 car.

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Toyota TS 030 Hybrid


So was it advantage Toyota? Possibly. Although Audi had brought a new long-tail car to Belgium. So it was probably deuce. But then, Audi were entering three cars in preparation for Le Mans. So maybe it was advantage Audi… Calling this one was impossible. It was going to be a race to savour.

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Map of Spa-Francorchamps by Will Pittenger

Spa is a great racetrack for watching the action. The paddock is located within La Source hairpin (1) and the huge roof terrace of the PIt Building gives great views of the Pit straight, as well as the acceleration towards Eau Rouge and Radillon. It is not until you see the track in real life that you appreciate the incline from Eau Rouge, which continues up until Les Combes. Patrick Pilet, factory driver for Porsche spoke of the compression that the drivers experience as they bottom out through Eau Rouge, before taking the blind corner heading into the Kemmel straight at two hundred and something kph. ‘It is one of the few racetracks where the driver can make a difference,’ he added, explaining why he liked it so much.
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Aston Martin Vantage. With most of the car missing…

Saturday was race day and had blue skies and sunshine, with veterans commenting it was the best weather they had ever seen at Spa. The race started at 14:30 and with Audi first, second and third on the grid you might have expected them to process to the first corner in formation. No chance! When the lights went green Loic Duval in the #2 Audi took the lead from the second row, whilst Andre Lotterer’s #1 Audi had dropped from pole to 5th by the end of the first lap. Not the start that Audi would have wanted, although they still retained first and second positions.

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Eau Rouge at Spa. Sometimes it’s hard to remember you’re at a race track.

I’d watched the start of the race from the main grandstand opposite the grid, a fantastic view of the pre-race band and the cars rushing into La Source to head right round the sharpest corner of the track. There was also a big screen showing action from the rest of the track. However at Spa spectators can walk all the way from Eau Rouge along the Kemmel straight to Les Combes. After an hour’s racing the safety car was deployed after Antonio Pizzonia’s Delta ADR spun into the wall. The frenetic pace slowed for a while and I took the opportunity to walk around the track.  With the safety car coming in I enjoyed the almost constant overtaking that comes from having different classes of cars competing in the same race. Endurance drivers have to be very aware of the other traffic on the track, constantly allowing faster cars through whilst battling with those in their own class. The World Endurance championship is a complicated beast, with different classes of cars and drivers all competing on track at the same time.

It was a hot day and just when I thought I could walk no further and was contemplating how the drivers were coping inside the cockpits, I stumbled across a very welcome sight…

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A bar overlooking the race track near Radillon

Refreshed by a glass of the local Jupiler beer, I joined the fans watching from the grassy banks above the Kemmel straight. The views of the action were stunning, looking down onto the track from slightly above. The #1 Audi which had regained the lead had suffered a puncture and had to pit, handing the lead to the Toyota. In the other classes Rebellion led the privateers, Pecom led LMP2 whilst the Ferraris of AF Corse and 8-Star motorsports led the LMGTE PRO and LMGTE AM classes.
The concentration required of the drivers in a six hour race is immense, but the technology also has to be reliable. Unfortunately the 2013-spec Toyota entry had to retire with a hybrid issue. Before then it had led the race and showed sufficient pace to suggest that if the problem can be overcome they will be a force in the future. The lead was returned to Audi, and they were to keep it until the chequered flag with the #1 car of reigning champions Lotterer/Treluyer/Fassler taking the win. The statistics will show that they also started on pole, but they didn’t have it as easy as that suggests. Silverstone’s winners McNish/Duval/Kristensen were second. Before the race the 3rd Audi car had deliberately been set up with Le Mans spec, as a test for the next race in the WEC series. With the car not being optimised for Spa Di Grassi/Gene/Jarvis were pleased to finish third. The other classes were won by Pecom racing, AF Corse and 8 Star Motorsports.
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Audi drivers celebrate their 1-2-3 at Spa-Francorchamps

Now the World Endurance Championship moves to Le Mans on 22-23rd June. This is the big one, a race lasting an almost unbelievable 24 hours. I’d say it was impossible, except that – excluding wartime – it’s been completed every year since 1923. The distances the cars cover in the 24 hours grows annually, and the manufacturers use it as a testing bed for new technology that will eventually be seen on road cars of the future. Spa brought fantastic racing, but Le Mans is a legend in its own right. And all positions get double points. See you there!


Vintage Sports-cars galore!

The Vintage Sports-Car Club’s Spring Start was a weekend devoted to historic automotive beauty. Enjoy this brief glimpse of the cars on show, and see more of the images by clicking here. The VSCC is a club for enthusiasts of pre-war motoring and Silverstone hosted a staggering collection of machinery on April 20-21 2013, not just sitting in the paddock looking pretty and polished but heading at top speed down the pit straight and around the National circuit.

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Awards and trophies were competed for all weekend, including the illustrious Boulogne trophy and other historic prizes such as the  GP Itala and Lanchester Trophies, the Fox and Nicholl Trophy and the new Halford Trophy for special vintage racing cars.

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As the event lasted two days there were more races for spectators to enjoy, including those organised by the Historic Grand Prix Cars Association and the Commander Yorke Trophy race for F3 500cc cars.

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Cars from around Europe and the world came together to compete, including a grid of pre-war Aston Martins to help celebrate the marque’s centenary.

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See more images from the Spring Start here.