From passion to prestige... how a legend was born. The history of Mille Miglia part 1

2017-03-06 From passion to prestige... how a legend was born. The history of Mille Miglia part 1

For lovers of vintage sports cars, every Mille Miglia race is a great celebration. But this year’s edition will surely be unique. It has been 90 years since the first race of the Red Arrow has been organized, 60 years from the moment when the event was suspended and 40 years from the decision to revive the iconic rally in a new formula. For Poles, Mille Miglia 2017 will be special for one more reason. We will once again have the opportunity to cheer on the Perlage Team crew, which, just like a year ago, will set out for the Brescia - Rome - Brescia route. We will yet again be able to feel great satisfaction, seeing the bottle and can of Cisowianka Perlage, which will once again be the official water of Mille Miglia, in the hands of the rally participants. The presence of the Polish brand as a sponsor is not accidental - this event was created by enthusiasts from the very beginning.

If "Fast and the Furious" was recorded in the late 1920s, its heroes could be four young Italians who invented the Mille Miglia rally. They were joined by love for motor racing and ... rage at the Italian authorities, which in 1925 transferred the Italian Grand Prix from their beloved Brescia to the newly built Monza track. In order to visualize the anger that this decision caused, try to imagine such a situation. The Polish Ski Association is building a new ski jump, be it in Jelenia Góra, and transfers the World Cup competitions held there so far to Wielka Krokwia. The inhabitants of Zakopane, deprived of this prestigious and eventful publicity, were certainly not satisfied and it could not be ruled out that they would grab onto their axes.

No one took hold of their shepherd’s axes in Brescia then, but the frustration was enormous. And it’s hard to be surprised, because it was in this city that the tradition of Italian car rallies was born. Already in 1899, it was the place of the Great Street Race, then Motorized Weeks were organized for three years, and the race track in nearby Montichiari was for years the arena of the finest rally events, including the first Grand Prix Italia in 1921. And suddenly, a year later, all this disappeared, and Monza took Brescia’s title of the automotive capital of Italy. And it would have probably remained this way, if not for four creative and crazy youngsters who invented something that overshadowed not only the events played on Monza, but other races of the world as well.

The idea for a rally other than anything seen before was born in a car that Franco Mazzotti and Aymo Maggi were driving along the roads near Brescia. These two aristocrats who were in love with fast cars regularly went for a ride to nearby Milan, and their favorite part of this tour was the section between the towns of Romano and Bariano. The road led here along railway tracks, thanks to which Franco and Aymo could race with the train. They quickly became bored with regularly winning duels with the locomotive, but they considered racing itself an exciting challenge. From here, it was only a step to create an extreme rally, which, unlike the famous Le Mans or the hated Grand Prix Italia on Monza, will be played not on the track, but on ordinary roads. Their idea took on its final shape in December 1926, when Mazzotti and Maggi met Renza Castagneto and Giovanni Canestrini. The former was secretary of the Royal Automobile Club in Brescia, and although he had held this function since recently, he became known as a great organizer. In turn, Canestrini was a journalist who wrote about car races for "La Gazzetta dello Sport". The conversations of these four quickly gave rise to a crazy plan to create an unusual rally. The postulate of the rally was easy - it must be murderous for drivers and spectacular for the public. Choosing a route in this situation was a formality. The event had to start and end in Brescia, so that all Italians would remember that this city is the cradle of rallies, and the halfway point had to be Rome, because, as is known, all roads lead there. When they drew the route of Brescia - Rome - Brescia on the map and calculated the distance, they got an even 1600 kilometers. And then Mazzotti, who had traveled all over the United States a year earlier, said that it was no less or more than 1000 miles - mille miglia. The similar sound of these two words meant that you no longer had to invent the name of the race, because Mille Miglia fit perfectly. However, it was necessary to organize the rally, which was taken on by Castagneto. And he quickly confirmed that he deserved his opinion of a man capable of arranging everything, especially what was not possible to be done. To be able to carry out a race on public roads leading through villages and towns, Castagneto had to convince the local authorities to this idea. He had dozens of meetings and during most of them, he heard that he and his colleagues were out of their minds. Seeing the opposition of authorities of the regions and towns through which the Mille Miglia route was supposed to lead, Renzo decided to use his acquaintance with Augusto Turati, who had been secretary of the National Fascist Party for several months and enjoyed great trust of Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. Turati, who was also a resident of Brescia, liked the idea of an extraordinary rally. When he sent out a letter to the reluctant officials, where he hinted that the organizers of Mille Miglia had the support of Duce himself, all obstacles disappeared.

Author: Artur Grabarczyk