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2011 Mille Miglia — The View from the Podium

It's loud, hectic, exhausting and thoroughly addictive. Lovers of concours d'elegance may shy away from getting their cars hot, dirty and occasionally battle scarred, but there's no denying the enduring appeal of the world's greatest classic car rally: the Mille Miglia.

The past four years have seen the Daddy of all car tours change dramatically as a new organizing syndicate has reshaped the legendary event to suit its own vision and budget. Having made a knockout bid in 2007 to wrest control away from its long term licencee, they've had to find new ways of paying for changes which include lavish marketing, worldwide roadshows to promote the event and an army of staff. Sponsors now have greater visibility and priority than before; for example of the 20-odd Gullwings entered, three quarters were corporate. Car manufacturing sponsors are also allowed entries outside the strict criteria that cars must be of the exact type which competed in the original event between March 1927 and May 1957. Ever more celebrities, ex-racing drivers, actors and politicians pepper the entry list, and the teams are now drawn from around the world: this year they came from as far afield as Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Israel, New Zealand, Australia and of course the USA.

Opinion is divided between the old Mille Miglia and the new, but regardless the event is oversubscribed every year and even a place on the waiting list is prized. Your classic motoring CV isn't complete until you've taken part even if it's only once.

Argentine team celebrates midnight finish
Bunga bunga? Really?

Useful tips if you're thinking of having a go: entries are limited to 375 cars; the entry fee is fixed at around €6,000 for a two-person team; cars must be of the model which took part in the original race (unless you're a sponsoring car manufacturer- see above- which will cost you rather more than €6k...); be ready to drive for over 30 hours during a two and a half day period, so don't expect much sleep or time to sample the gourmet delights of Italy; and finally, there's lots of queuing in your overheating pride and joy for public appearances on the podium in Brescia (the start), Rome (you've made it halfway) and Brescia again (your car needs a rebuild but you can say you finished) where you'll wish that Kidston fellow with the microphone would stop talking and let you get to your hotel (which won't feature in the Relais & Chateaux guide either).

The MM attracts celebrities like no other old car event
Evocative Carrera Panamericana livery for Porsche 550RS

If that's not enough, from August 2011 you'll be able to take part in the Mille Miglia Tribute North America which will see over 100 cars tour California over three days, finishing in Monterey just in time for the historic weekend. Alternatively, if your taste veers more towards bling than barchettas there's always the Ferrari Tribute to the Mille Miglia which allows owners of more modern cars bearing the Prancing Horse- usually with polo shirts, caps and racing booties to match (apparently not a requirement for entry)- to terrorise the locals on the MM route before the old cars come through at a moderately more sedate pace.

See you on the starting ramp in 2012.

Satisfaction usually beats fatigue despite gruelling MM pace
Rapturous welcome for 'bike legend Giacomo Agostini on his first MM

And here's what the entrants say...

Pierre G Mirabaud, Switzerland (Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing):

"What a beautiful experience to take part in this exciting rally. The name "the most beautiful race in the world" is well chosen and does not disappoint. This year again the organisation for so many cars was perfect, and the roadbook was exact (other than one single roundabout!!) . The pace remains hard and sleep short but that's exactly the fun of it. The passages through so many historic towns make for well deserved relaxation breaks, as the tension for the driver and co-driver is immense during the mountain sections. The special regularity stages demand concentration and good driving, especially when waiting for your turn to start: indeed, and this may be the only slightly critical remark, the start of these competitions are very often at the beginning of a hill which is hard on the clutch of our old ladies! Why not think of having the car wait downhill instead? The Mille Miglia remains the best time any driver might dream of and a special thanks should be addressed to the motorcycle police who push us hard! The hope of any participant is to be once again accepted for registration next year!"

Dapper Swiss banker Pierre Mirabaud is a MM veteran
BMW entered 1940 MM winning streamliner

Marc Newson, England (Ferrari 225S Spyder):

"This year was my 4th MM and by far and away the most enjoyable, largely due to unusually perfect weather. The car went extremely well considering it came straight from an engine rebuild.... Now looking forward to next year and an improved gearbox!"

Designer Marc Newson entered freshly restored Ferrari 225
Mr Bean and BMW top brass Ian Robertson co-drove ex-MM 328 roadster

Luigi Carlini, Switzerland (Siata 300BC Spyder):

"As usual the Mille Miglia provided the ultimate high for every  car enthusiast: the  quality of the cars involved, the ever growing public and the noise of the engines creates an unforgettable atmosphere. The only sad note: we have to wait 12 month for the next one!"

Pierre Mellinger, Poland (Ferrari 500 Mondial):

"After 3 MMs and 5 Tour Autos (my preferred events) I'm certainly more relaxed, and this helps in view of the crowds, the heat, the traffic, the Schumi-wannabes, the dangerous lunatics, to make sure we safely enjoyed this MM to the full. Being amongst the last 100 cars, contrary to popular opinion, is much better. Less traffic jams, less support cars and even, when we got lost, an empty scenic road just for ourselves. Driving all the way up to the Terminillo pass under moonlight in the crisp cold will be remembered as one the highlights of the 2011 Mille. The special stage on the top, at 10pm- so happy we did it as the stewards where still waiting in the cold at the check point- was almost surreal. Do they wait until midnight?"

Pair of ex-Works MGAs raced 1,000 miles in perfect formation
Mellinger's Ferrari Mondial with original paint revealed beneath later red

"The departure from Rome, reminiscent of the Italian Job, in the "third lane" with the help of the police, of course, cannot be forgotten. One would do the MM just for this experience. Then you reach Siena and drive in the middle of the crowd through the old city. Little bit less crowded when we arrived, but still we feel so priviledged to drive through the historic square. Only in Italy..."
"When everything stopped - actually just the engine - near Firenze, instead of lamenting ourselves, we went to the best local restaurant and celebrated with Spumante, local red wine and fantastic pasta. This is the Mille spirit and this is why we will come back. We don't need to win, or even pretend to, we need an excuse to enjoy our cars in the Italian countryside, among the tifosi. And this is just what we achieved."

Juan-Manuel Fangio II and Mikka Hakkinen wowed crowds with 300SLR: a sound which could have been invented by the Gods (Teutonic Gods of course)

Martin Sucari, Argentina (Maserati A6GCS):

"This year's event was outstanding! Great weather which explains 50% of the success and the fun, especially when you are in an open car with no protection other than your hat!! People in the street as crazy as always and they really get wired when they see the Ferraris and Maseratis coming their way. It's a pity that the number of such cars is so small, smaller than ever...they need to revise this and give these cars the highest [regularity handicap] coefficient to make sure they all show up!  It was an outstanding event only matched by the even more exhausting driving of the Tour Auto,  the two world class events. The winners are those who make it to Brescia after 3 days of fun!"

Co-driver Emanuele Collo shows off our flying carpet
Event commentators Simon Kidston and Savina Confaloni

Footnote: how do the event commentators leave after the last car and always arrive at the next stop before the first? Twelve cylinders, six litres, two turbos and 621bhp certainly come in handy. Whilst it wouldn't have been my obvious choice of transport we were sorry to give it back after almost 3,000 rather brisk and very enjoyable kilometres. Many thanks to Bentley Motors for their generosity. Got a spare one?

Congratulating double Le Mans winner Gijs van Lennep and ex-Dutch PM Jan Peter Balkenende
Dusty SSK during a brief pause in the action- macho vintage motoring at its finest