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Mille Miglia 2013

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The weather for the 2013 Mille Miglia returned to the classic wet and windy.  After several years of really good early summer weather in Northern Italy, we were treated to a serious deluge on the Thursday start day as well as the final Saturday afternoon/evening finishing stage.  Our spirits were not dampened, but it made the time keeping all the more difficult.


Wednesday 15th May, the sign-in and scrutineering day was bright with sunshine and warm breezes.  This is the first time that Automobile Club of Brescia have taken over the complete running of the Mille Miglia and we noticed the changes right away.  Scrutineering, which usually takes place outside, was within the Fiera exhibition centre under cover in the middle, and the cars were initially parked at one end, went to the middle for scrutineering and then placed at the other end on completion, after having first collected the all important transponder to record our progress.  This seems much more logical, and gives the organisers a useful visual indication of progress.


Signing on went smoothly as usual.  Although around us, there were people arguing and with raised voices attempting to resolve documentation inconsistencies.  For three years now we have never encountered any problems at this stage.  But there always seems to be some people who appear to be determined to battle against the pre-determined rules.  This year much greater emphasis was placed on having valid driving licences, which can only be a good thing.  Also, the police were much more involved this time, taking great interest over our driving licences.


With signing-on and scrutineering safely completed, we made our way to our hotel.  This was to be the same hotel that we would come back to on Saturday night.  Because we have stayed there before, we knew to book a parking place in advance of our arrival.  We had a light dinner, surrounded by other competitors who were all showing visible signs of the mounting tension.  


We awoke on Thursday morning to the sound of constant rain on the roof above us.  If truth be told, we had been hearing it from the early hours in the morning, but decided to try to believe that it was air conditioning.  Drawing back the curtains we were met with a very sorry sight.  Major puddles everywhere.  We had agreed the night before to give another couple a lift to the Fiera to pick up our cars, and at 09:30 we struggled through the morning traffic jams and the torrential rain.


As in previous years, the drive to the sealing ceremony in the Piazza della Loggia is organised in shuttles, with the police motorbike escorts leaving every 30 minutes or so.  Except when we took up our position in the queue, we waited, and waited, and waited.  Well, I would not blame the motorbike riders not wanting to go out in that rain if I were them either.  The drive to the Piazza was a much more restrained affair than in past years.  Was it the rain, or was it a new found desire to show that we were now more aware of the safety aspects of the race?  But we arrived at the Piazza by 11:30 and it was at this time that the wind decided to add to the rain.  What a difference a couple of years makes.  Previously, we had to make a very slow crawl, ending in switching off the engine and pushing the car, progress was so slow.  This year, with the rain hammering down, we all kept inside our cars trying to persuade the heater to keep us warm.  When we arrived at the Piazza, a cacophony of crashing advertising hoardings that made us think that the whole piazza was about to take off, the wind really took off and the temperature rapidly dropped.  Because of this, the trip around the stalls to pick up the goodies for the car was an extremely brief affair, with no one really enjoying anything.  In previous years we had always been treated to a jacket, or even two for the driver and co-driver.  And because of this, and the need to have to store everything in the car during the event, we had eschewed bringing car coats in expectation of getting new ones.  This year the jackets had been replaced by a straw hat – and only one for the driver at that.  Packed in an enormous box.  It was perfect for keeping the hat in pristine condition, but it took up very valuable storage space in the boot.  This did not go down well with the co-driver, who had already been making serious muttering sounds about the one, gentleman’s watch, which is always on offer.


Having gathered up our gifts, we then proceeded to the sealing ceremony, and then on to parking up in the streets leading from the piazza.  The rain rained, the wind blew, and the temperature did a good impression of not wanting to get above single figures.  When you have driving shoes that have let in what feels like half of the Po river and skimpy outer wear that fails to keep out the rain, standing around looking at equally sodden drivers and their cars, carries very little interest, no matter how exotic the cars on offer.  So we found a little café and whiled away the hours to the start.  Then it was off to the Mille Miglia Museum for the early supper.


For once the rain ceased and the sun actually came out while we were parked at the museum, and the driver even took the opportunity to leather down the car.  Well, the glass at least.  But once inside, the sound of the rain started again and we knew that it was going to be an “interesting” start.


And so to the start.  As always, there were cars with high numbers (we start in number order) parked up blocking the way for everyone else.  And as usual there is always someone with a very low number, who sets off from the museum far too late and then desperately attempts to carve a way through four lanes of stationary cars to get to the start by their appointed time.  Gradually, like the grains of sand in an hour glass, the cars move forward and fall into race number order.  Perhaps a college professor should study this some time to see if there is some immutable natural law that governs how this pans out.  The usual process is for each batch of four cars to be given a precise minute to start, and we leave at roughly 15 second intervals.  This year, it was three to a minute, and that made it a bit easier.  Except that he car two in front of us is suddenly stricken and is stationary, with much shaking of heads.  Our hearts went out to them, to have got so close to the start and then to be incapacitated.  And with the best will in the world, no one who arrives at that point is in any position to offer any assistance, as we all have only a few seconds until we are on our way.


As usual the beginning of the course is up and over the winding road around Brescia castle.  But unlike in previous years, this is was not a special timed stage this year, so there is no need to go mad, sliding the car around the corners for the benefit of the crowd.  Or so I am told by the co-driver.  And then into Brescia rush hour and out of the city.  This year we were taken around much of the rush hour traffic, and the drive out was much less fraught.  But we did keep to fairly major roads, which was a pity as the early evening drive through the little country roads after having battled your way through the traffic, is always something that lingers in the memory as a great contrast.


But the rain rained and the wind blew, etc., etc.  So much so, that part of the course was washed away, and necessitated a high speed detour at 100 kph plus on a motorway for what seemed hours, but was probably only just over 30 minutes.  But in the pouring rain, it was enough.


As on previous years the crowds of supporters were out in force, only a little depleted due to the rain, lining the route.  Now that we are more relaxed about the beginning of the race, we can take in their cheering and waving.  They also allow the co-driver a little relaxation as their continued presence is a very good indication that we are still on the correct route!

 

By the time we reach the overnight stop at Ferrara the rain has stopped and the temperature has risen a little.  This year, we are promised a buffet in the town, before we shuttle to our hotels.  Having been through enough for the day, we just want to get to our hotel.  Parking, this year is on both sides of a long street.  This makes sense, but does make us a little worried about the security aspect.  At least when we take over a multi story car park, you feel psychologically that the car is “safe”.  We are directed to the head of the parked cars to get out shuttle bus.  Once there, we are told that for our hotel, we should be at the opposite end of the street!  After a bit of argy-bargy the organisers relent and say that the waiting coach can take all of us to the other rendezvous place.  This takes 15 minutes.  Goodness knows how long it would have taken us to walk it.  Once there, we have to wait yet again for the appropriate coach to fill up, and then finally, we are off.  Surprise, surprise, our hotel is the last on the dropping off list.  And so it is some ninety minutes after attempting to get a shuttle, that we are deposited at out hotel.  Having learnt from past experience, the co-driver equipped with the appropriate paperwork and is dispatched as soon as the coach stops to reception to check us in.  While the driver collects the bags from the bowels of the coach and plods back to the hotel.  We have learnt not to expect anything great about the hotels in Ferrara, and we were not disappointed, yet again, this time.  That is the one minus point about using this town as the overnight stop off.


The morning dawned, and it was still not raining!  Not warm, but also not wet, so our customary wait at the front of the hotel in the early dawn light for the shuttle back to Ferrara only included a small amount of shivering.


Again we have learnt from past experience.  Pop into the restraint for breakfast and you can see three or four shuttles come and go.  Then when you are ready, that is when there is a long pause in the schedule.  Leaving you fretting and all hot and bothered when you do eventually arrive at your car.  So give the breakfast a miss, and hop on the first shuttle that comes along.  That way you can get the car warmed up and in line at the right time, and pick up a snack at one of the many historic village stops a little later on.


Friday usually follows a well trodden path.  Out to the sea-side at Ravenna, then on to the little mountain top principality that is San Marino.  On through the Umbrian countryside that is all small hills topped with tall cypress trees and orange villas, to Assisi, Spoleto, and finally across Italy to Rome.


This year we were lucky enough to pick up two police motorcyclists at Terni.  The one thing that you do learn about the police motorcyclists, is that if they come in front of you, you should hang on to their rear mud guard like mad.  That way, when they whizz past a slower vehicle, you can grab a passing moment at the same time.  Let them get away, and you are back to trying to battle your way past the general traffic who usually are totally ambivalent to your desire to get a move on.  Having two outriders was a definite plus point as they could each let each other know what was coming up and by default also let us through.  Having been given a thumbs up query from one of the police and returning it with a broad grin and another thumbs up, off we set at a fair old pace.


After a while the lead police man decided to take off and we never saw him again.  And then a moment of hesitation by the driver, meant that the remaining policeman disappeared off into the traffic, and we were left to our own devices.  Ten minutes later we passed him by the side of the road, chatting to a collection of spectators.  To our surprise almost immediately, he turned up again, popped past us and then proceeded to lead us at ever increasing speed out through the increasing gloom of the countryside.  What a drive.  We absolutely flew.  We were not going to let him get away for a second time, and hung on like grim death.  I am certain that on some stretches of hilly country road we were seeing 120kph on the speedometer.  Suffice to say, we arrived at the check point in Rome in cracking speed, if a little out of breath.  And having deposited us at the check point he was off again, and we never did get the chance to say thank you.  Luckily the organisers had cancelled the penalty for early arriving in Rome so we were able to complete the formalities for the day and queue up for the procession around Rome prior to being presented underneath the Vatican walls.


It was only the following day at another check point that we spotted Mika Hakinen tinkering with the Lancia that he was driving.  His car, like ours was light blue.  It was bodied by Pininfarina, like ours.  We were both convertibles.  It then began to dawn on us.  Had the policemen mistaken our car (which in the gloom was a dead ringer for Mika’s car) for the Formula One driver’s?  That is something that we will never know, but it did give us a ride of our lives.


After the presentation in Rome, yet more queuing, to then process around Rome yet again.  Was it our imagination, or was the pace less frenetic than in past years?


Thursday May 16th - Sunday May 19th