You can easily name great Italian artists, evoke typical buildings or landscapes, enjoy the best Italian suits which allow you to move freely and comfortably and if I say coffee you can almost smell the signature aromatic scent of a ristretto. When talking about “sports cars”, I bet the charming Italian beasts appear in the mind’s eye to most of you, arousing the pulsation of their engines immediately right in your heart. Although, Italy is not in the top 10 in terms of motor vehicle production quantities, Italian sports and luxury cars enjoy a reputation worldwide for design and speed.
And Italians know how to treasure their racing heritage too and celebrate design and speed, of course.
Just imagine the atmosphere at the Mille Miglia, one of most historical races held on Italian soil. It was first organized in 1927 to demonstrate the auto-mechanical leadership of Brescia. It considerably over-achieved its mission by not only strengthening Brescia’s position over Milan, but also shaking up the nation and car-manufacturing in the age of post-war apathy. Mille Miglia slept for a while before returning in the 80’s more as a feast of joy and the carnival of the finest vehicles ever produced. The entire parade is jaunty, lovable, chaotic, addictive and truly Italian down to the core. It is indeed one of the few true sanctuaries of car racing, where by looking at the metal-horses and listening to their snorting still young and ready to compete; even the toughest guys shed a tear or two.
The rebirth of Mille Miglia in the 80’s has been closely associated with Chopard and our first experience with the car show kicked-off with their welcome dinner, too. Couldn’t have had a better start!
The Brescian Conte Aymo Maggi (Italian racing driver) and Il Conte Franco Mazzotti Biancinelli Faglia (Italian noble man, racing driver and aviator) together with two other gentlemen Renzo Castagneto and journalist John Canestrini were the organizers of the first Mille Miglia. They were inspired by the thrill around car racing experienced by Mazzotti in the United States and were driven by the will to regain power from Milan as it increased weight by inaugurating the Monza circuit in 1922. In contrary to Milan, their idea was more of an open road tour race starting from Brescia by the latest general model cars and not racecars. Throughout the years the route changed, but the roughly 1,000 miles have always been taken between Brescia and Rome with milestones like Verona, Ferrara, San Marino, Siena, Firenze, Bologna or Modena. With tough and spectacular speed races it gradually attracted more and more viewers.
Until the WWII the race was mostly dominated by Alfa Romeos (made in the Enzo Ferrari workshop). After the war, the first race was held in 1947, but the coming years brought many conflicts. In the last decade of the classic Mille Miglia Ferraris dominated. They were only beaten three times: Alfa Romeo in 1947, Lancia driven by Ascari in 1954 and Mercedes 300 SLR in 1955 led to victory by Stirling Moss. Between 1953 and 1957 the Mille Miglia was also a round of the World Sports Car Championship. Mille Miglia restored Brescia’s top position, and in spite of WWII the 1927-1957 period burned more adrenalin and fuel in Northern Italy than anywhere else on the planet.
In 1957 the whole race series ended with a huge tragedy: Alfonso de Portago (Marquis of Portago, the godson of Spanish king, XIII. Alfonso) caused a fatal crash during the race with his 4.2-litre Ferrari 335 S. The crash, blamed on a worn tire, killed not only Portago and his co-driver Edmund Nelson but also claimed the lives of nine spectators. The terrible event meant the end of Mille Miglia as it was banned by the Italian government.
The fantastic history of Mille Miglia is captured by the exhibition situated in Sant’ Eufemia della Fonte monastery, which is a magical building on its own, dating back to 1008. Museo Mille Miglia is a place of pilgrimage to serious classic car enthusiasts. The Museum, dedicated to the famous Red Arrow, was opened to the public 10th November 2004.
In 1977 the legend was revived and the “International Rally 1000 Miglia” or Mille Miglia Storica was born. Instead of a crazy scud, the competition became rather a skill race where each segment of the course has to be taken in a specified time frame or at a specified pace.
Mille Miglia Storica is a kind of retrospective event, dedicated to the heydays of car racing. Only cars produced until 1957 can compete, those that have already at some point participated in the race. The car models that can enter for the Mille Miglia are those of which at least one specimen took part in one of the speed editions (classification periods – C, D, and E: 1927-30, 1931-46 and 1947-57), or completed the registration formalities for one of these editions – state the Mille Miglia regulations.
In 2015 it was held between 14-17 May and the route covered a total distance of 1,760.92 km detailed in the road book. As always, the competition began with sealing the cars to ensure that the same car arrives to the finish that took on 4 days ago. After the attestation, the first stage took place from Brescia to Rimini on 14 May 2015. Next day the second leg was from Rimini to Rome. On 16 May drivers headed to the Province of Parma, one of Italy’s most emblematic provinces, located in Northern Italy. The fourth leg ran on Sunday from Parma back to Brescia with the finish line in Viale Venezia.
The entire race included 76 regularity stages (PC), 8 average speed regularity tests, 16 time controls (CO), and 17 passage controls (CT). Drivers collect points if they arrive at the checkpoints at the right time. Between the checkpoints there are tests that require the driver to cover a precise distance in an even more precise time. On the regularity trials the goal is to get from A to B at an exact average speed. Contestants collect negative points by missing out checkpoints and even for every 1/100 of a second early arrival or delay on the regularity stages and similarly for minutes early or late on time control sections.
Chopard and the Mille Miglia
Vintage cars, timed stages with penalties for being early or late, all happening at one of the most picturesque scenes of the Mediterranean – is it a wonder why Chopard got involved? And there’s one more reason: Karl-Friedrich Scheufele, the Co-President of Chopard is a vintage car enthusiast himself, who since 1988 has taken part in the race. That is circa 27,000 miles already under his belt.
Chopard has sponsored the event since 1988 and they have produced dedicated Mille Miglia sports watches each year. There is also a limited “Race” edition which provides the Official Timekeeper to the Storica event. Each contestant including the driver and the navigator receive one. The Chopard Mille Miglia series has a common colour code: it combines red, black, white and sometimes green and wears the little signpost-shaped logo of the race. On the design Chopard has drawn inspiration from the greatest historical cars of the race. Just as with other models of the company, precision and reliability play a great role in the Mille Miglia collection, especially since these watches are the drivers’ companions in the competition. Since 2015 all timepieces in the Mille Miglia line (excluding the chronograph version) come with a COSC-certified manufacture movement that ensures top precision: the manual Calibre 01.08-C beating in the GTS Power Control and Calibre 01.01-C in the GTS Automatic.
They are tightened to the wrist by the awesome Dunlop-pattern rubber strap originating from the 1960s, or the cool punched out leather strap.
From 1927-1957 Mille Miglia gave a boost to Italian car manufacturing. The new age has a different mission: it has to find a way to the new generations, opening their heart to the grumbling of these cars, to capture their mind and infect them with the love of these beasts in order to preserve the masterpieces of design and speed forever. Mille Miglia today is rather a celebration and I can say without exaggeration, a volcano of national pride.
The winners of the Mille Miglia 2015 were Juan Tonconogy and Guillermo Berisso with a Bugatti T 40 (1927). The second place went to Andrea Vesco and Andrea Guerini, on FIAT 514 MM (1930) and Ezio Martino Salviato and Caterina Moglia on Bugatti T 40 del (1928) took home the bronze medal.
Photo credits: Chopard, Alexandra Pauli for Chopard, 1000 Miglia S.r.l., Loupiosity.com.
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