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.

Mm roma 6

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.

Mm alfa romeo 6c 1750 gs

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.

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