by Mark Geessink
Anyway the Amilcar made it, though the magneto gave some trouble due to the rain. Luckily we had a technical team following us for such circumstances. Mike Kastrop and Frido Roetgerink were following us in the van of Lammertink, fully prepared for anything that might happen…
Next up Sander Drijber and Fons Aarents were ready to start with the Salmson 2300 sport. Comfortable and dry at least, and enough horse power to keep up the speed. Myself, I left the starting line with Djuri Jambor in the Alpine A106, which had done the race twice before and also finished.
Now you may ask yourself the question, what is the secret to finish in the Mille Miglia? Most of all, it is about acceleration and keeping the speed up. There is absolutely no time to have a coffee stop. You are allowed to do almost anything, since there are no speed limits, but also passing a red traffic light or catching up from the right or left side, everything is allowed in the Mille Miglia. If I would try this at home in the Netherlands I would be in jail for at least a year. During the Mille Milgia it is the opposite, the police it supporting you to speed up and do all things that are normally against the law. And not to forget the audience along the streets and roads, all enthusiastically cheering and supporting the gentlemen drivers with horns and little flags. Another fun situation is when the carabinieris on their motor bikes with flashing lights come to let the traffic make way for the heros who are driving the Mille Miglia. This would be hard to imagine in the Netherlands, but in Italy that’s all possible.
The second day we drove from Rimini to Rome along the east coast to the south, towards the eternal city. Sadly the Amilcar had to stop in the hell of the very high altitude San Marino. The magneto died, probably due to the very wet first day of driving.
Edwin and Frank were so disappointed that they were almost about to take the first plane back home. You work for such a long time towards this event, so it is really a depressing situation, but next year we return without a doubt! That’s also part of the Mille Miglia, because due to accidents and breakdowns, 100 of the 450 participating cars did not complete the race and that is a lot. And then I have not even mentioned all the damage we have seen. My God, a BMW 507 that lost its complete front fender, a Gullwing without a front, a Healey upside down on the road with injured passengers. Myself, I did survive, but it almost went wrong when someone came thru the green traffic light and I had an almost head on crash. Yes, you are reading this right: by someone who drove thru green and I could barely dodge. It should not get crazier.
In the rally we had about 70 regularity tests and we had to try to do those perfectly, which means within hundredths of a second. To do so, you need a so-called Blizz. An instrument that we don’t know in the Dutch rally sport. In fact, it is an egg timer where you can store 250 times, as you drive from one regularity to the other. Navigation is the bullet & dart system, which is not so much of a deal. Everywhere you see signs and marshals to direct you to the right route. Against newcomers we sometimes say: If there are no people anymore, then you know that you are really lost.
Obviously the entry into Rome was amazing. The cars were assembled at the Via Veneto and in convoy guided across the ancient Rome along the great sights, with police forces in front and around us in cars and on motor bikes with flashing lights. This happens in groups, under departure pandemonium, and you are welcomed by many large groups of tiffosi standing there waving at the participants.
As exhausted as you are you walk into your hotel at night, while at the parking complete mobile garages are built for the mechanics to work on the cars all night in order to get them ready for the third day to drive thru Toscane. Obviously your complete rhythm is messed up and it doesn’t even feel strange to munching a complete buffet with wines and all at 00.30 am. Then a few hours sleep and we head again for Parma!
The third day was very hot. All the cars had to drive via Siena and Florence in convoy thru the Passo della Futa and the Passo della Raticosa. I think the temperature was at least above 30 degrees, with many cars coming to a boil and many breakdowns. The Alpine gave some trouble as well. In the middle of a regularity test, the capacitor broke down. Coincidentally we got help from the technical assistance team of the Mille Miglia, which was not that helpful. They were not able to identify the problem, pulled here and there and eventually left us there and took some parts of the Alpine with them. To make it even worse, they also took our spark plugs! Fortunately our own technical team arrived and the capacitor was replaced within minutes and we quickly continued our journey. Nice to mention is of course that you can drive thru the center on the famous Piazza del Campo in Siena and cross all the streets. Overnight we passed the Ferrari Museum in Modena. And again, in the middle of the night, we arrived in Parma where we were able to plunder the buffet, and then around two o’clock at night plop into bed.
The fourth day is a bit shorter, at least it feels like that, as we were heading for the famous Monza circuit with its banking, dating from 1922. Both the Alpine and the Salmson were going very well at a good speed and the finish seemed to be coming closer and closer. That last day you only want one thing: reach the finish line. And here you see the occasional stranded classic car with a very disappointed driver, who just did not make it. After all, you want the coveted “Eleven Cross” as we Dutchmen say (the medal given to all who finish that grueling eleven towns ice-skate race in winter in Friesland).
The finish is back in Brescia and passing the elevated podium gives you the feeling of being a true winner, because not only the team but especially your car has done the job. And I admit I did abuse him a bit. The roads are really bad with bumps and holes. In addition, the cars are not spared. In rain and heat we stepped them on their tail. But that is simply the Mille Miglia. Before the start of the Mille Miglia some drivers have their cars blessed at a church. The priest expressed it well: “As we all seek in our lives our destination, we sometimes hit the wrong exit or we drive into a road with a dead end. Not the final destination is our goal but the journey towards it.” And that is what the Mille Miglia is. The Azzuri and the organization wish all participants and cars luck and they do so with the statement “in Bocca al Lupo”, which means “at the mouth of the wolf.” That’s how we felt at times during those amazing days. As I write this I have regained my energy, and I stop again for the red traffic light, but I can’t wait…