On paper it seems so easy. A classic car regularity race covering 1000 miles spread over four days which (counts fingers) is an easily achievable 250 miles per day. Average 50mph and you’ll be behind the wheel of your jalopy for a mere five-hour day and take the chequered flag after a refreshing cruise through beautiful Italian countryside. Sure, figure in an extended lunch break and remember to slow down a little to shout ‘ciao bella’ to all the pretty ladies and your day will be lengthened. But only slightly. So, it ain’t no big thing. Right?
Wrong. This is the 2014 Mille Miglia and crankandpiston were in the mix accompanying the Jaguar Heritage Racing team. And what an incredible year to be involved with the marque for “the most beautiful race in the world”. With over 30 entries – and Jaguar Heritage Racing fielding about a third of those – never have so many Coventry cats strayed onto Italian Strada in an #OldIsGold onslaught of #GoodToBeBad.
The original Mille Miglia ran between 1927 to 1957 and was a truly spectacular open-road race that would test the stamina of both man and bella macchina in a balls-out race against the clock. Legend tells the tale of drivers downing amphetamines to stay awake and maintain concentration although, it has to be said, Sir Stirling Moss most definitely did not resort to performance-enhancing drugs when he conquered the Mille Miglia in a record breaking time of 10:07.48 in 1955. Well, he probably didn’t. Maybe.
In 1977 the Mille Miglia was reborn as a regularity race spread out over a few days but, either by cunning design or Italian organisational skill, it still presents a massive challenge to the participants in tackling the traditional 1,000 mile, Brescia-Rome-Brescia, event. It is a strange combination of leapfrogging your way through regular traffic (the Mille Miglia is not a closed road race) and flat out elements when opportunity arises. Legal speed limits are still (officially) enforced – as is stopping for red lights – but almost everyone in Italy is so passionate about the Mille Miglia that (unofficially) the highway code is thrown out the window, it is every racer for themselves and pinning the accelerometer is actively encouraged. And that also includes the Polizia demanding a bit more velocità if they see you easing off. Although they still frown upon amphetamine abuse.
Day one begins with the traditional ‘Sealing of the Cars’ in the stunning Piazza della Vittoria in Brescia. This is the first opportunity for the public to clap their peepers on the collected historic machinery as they parade through the quirky L-shaped piazza. And while a passion for Italian marques runs deep within the veins of every individual in the gathered crowd, there is an undeniable true appreciation of all things automotive transcending country of origin of the collective marques. And then the Jaguar begin to creep into the piazza…
It is almost like a friendly rivalry to be the first to shout the name of each car as it appears in the narrow cobbled streets that lead to the Piazza della Vittoria. A Mexican wave of “Jag-wah. Jag-wah” audibly ripples along the collected car aficionados as they heave against the barrier. It can barely take the strain. And then they notice the occupants and all hell breaks loose.
Jaguar has successful been playing a cheeky PR game of late that manages to announce their return with a car they can finally be proud of after decades in the wilderness while nonchalantly flicking the bird at other manufactures. And yet, somehow, they’ve managed to leave us with a warm and fuzzy feeling of affection for the brand due to a clever mix of humour and faux arrogance. For the #JaguarMille, a whole host of A-list celebrities were drafted in to drive priceless Jaguar Heritage Racing machinery and the reaction from the folk of Brescia was spectacular.
The first of these famous-type pairings to battle their way through the heaving masses was the unlikely duo of Jay Leno and Jaguar’s ‘Master of the Magic Crayons’ Ian Callum in the 1951 Ecurie Ecosse XK 120 Roadster. I fought hard to grab at least a few worthy snaps of old LXO 126, a car that will forever be associated with Sir James Scott-Douglas, but the paparazzi had un-blockable elbows aimed squarely at my face. Even this paled into insignificance when Bruno Senna and Martin Brundle trundled into the piazza in the long nose D-Type. If you want to get Italian blood excited then the combination of race car royalty and ex-Formula 1 drivers is a heady mix. I didn’t stand a chance of getting a shot when these boys rolled into Brescia.
The afternoon continued in a similar fashion with an excitable expectation of which Jaguar would be entering the piazza next and with which drivers on board. Legendary AC/DC lead singer, Brian Johnson, getting mobbed so badly before even entering the piazza that he’s quickly whisked out of his Jag for fear that it wouldn’t make it through to scrutineering in time to start the race. With the crowd suitably thunderstruck and their attention diverted it was left to the JD Classics team, tasked with vehicle support for the Heritage Racing cars throughout the event, to get his Jaguar to its destination.
It is not until 18:00 that the race begins with the first car leaving Brescia en route to Padova via Verona and Bassano del Grappa. It is a short stage of only 228km but I hang around in Brescia for a few hours grabbing shots of these historical racers leaving the city. As the sun begins to set on the ‘Leonessa d’Italia’ it is time to get a wiggle on, hit the road and try to make it to Padova before the cars cross today’s finishing line. This is going to be a major task but, thankfully, Jaguar have kindly provided me with an F-TYPE R Coupé to try and keep pace.