Mille Miglia bade farewell to Rome in the early morning, in bright sunlight. Amongst the many small popular miracles ascribed to the Red Arrow is the unique ability to cut through the morning traffic on Rome’s infamously busy ring-road, the Grande Raccordo Annulare. The passion is such that this year drivers were once again happy to forget the busy day ahead and enjoy the wonderful sight of the “travelling museum” going by. There were also admiring glances and great interest for Giulia and Stelvio: they belong to the official fleet of 30 vehicles which the brand is making available to the organisers as official cars. There could be no better way of getting first-hand experience of the Alfa Romeo DNA, steeped in history and competition and with the vigour of a legendary past, including unique records at the Mille Miglia. To mark the ninetieth anniversary of Alfa Romeo’s first victory in the Mille Miglia, today sees the launch of the “Alfa Romeo: the Mille Miglia in 90 places” project, retracing history through some key locations.
Road book in hand, the caravan headed for the Lake Bracciano Regional Natural Park and along the shores of Lake Vico, the highest of Italy’s major lakes. It is more than 500 metres above sea level, and there was almost a bite in the air. The roads were an open invitation to the drivers to take every bend in the style required by the test stages held here and on Monte Cimino. The umbrella pines of the Parco de’ Medici gave way to dense greenery along the roadsides and, after Viterbo, to the beautiful Tuscan hills.
It would be impossible to provide a detailed description of every town the Mille Miglia crosses, but the festive mood that reigned in every single place was always unique and unforgettable. The first of these warm welcomes was on Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, at Ronciglione, and it included the irresistible, carefree, slightly gap-toothed smiles of primary school children in their blue and pink uniforms, waving Mille Miglia flags as the cars went by.
The morning flew by as quickly and pleasantly as the tail wind along the route from Lake Bolseno to Tuscany. An endless sequence of enjoyment and bends, in marvellous settings that almost began to deceive the senses. The roar of the engines between Radicofani and Siena had the ring of a declaration of love to Italy. And it doesn’t matter if the cylinders occasionally sound off-key: grateful thanks still go to the hard, and often nocturnal, work of the mechanics who work with the delicacy of someone tuning a precise musical instrument. The passion was requited in Piazza del Campo, the culmination of the morning’s racing, before lunch in the fortified village of Monteriggioni.
The road book is the musical score, and there are no fill-in passages: every moment of the Mille Miglia is crucial. The kilometres rolled by quickly amidst the hills, vineyards and rocks, on roads where the history of Italian and international motorsports were written. The cars passed San Miniato and reached Lucca, the city of Giacomo Puccini. Constant passion, a fast-moving musical language, heart-rending motifs, clashing harmonies: coined to describe Tosca, these phrases apply equally well to an automotive race. Then Lucca was left behind and the Tyrrhenian Sea came into view; from Pietrasanta the route led down to the coast road, and then through Forte dei Marmi and Marina di Massa, lit by the setting sun. This was the picture postcard with which the race said goodbye to Tuscany to enter Sarzana, a major cross-roads ever since its foundation.
There was still a long way to go before Parma, and the high Cisa Pass to be climbed. It was late, but crowds worthy of a Grand Prix were still lining the road, thrilled and excited to see so many cars. Keen spectators, waving their encouragement to the drivers. Drivers whose performance, after fifteen hours at the wheel, was verging on the heroic. The road straightened out after Taro and from Collecchio the finishing point, the ancient capital of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, was finally in view. At the end of the stage, curiosity about placings started to penetrate the mists of fatigue, and the intimate satisfaction of finally removing driving gloves was tinged with melancholy: Brescia was drawing nearer and nearer. However, this year, as an additional celebration for the ninetieth anniversary of Alfa Romeo’s first victory, this morning the race will pay a celebratory visit to Milan and to the Museo Storico Alfa Romeo at Arese, where time trials will be held on the internal circuit with drivers Marcus Ericsson and Charles Leclerc, from the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 team currently taking part in the 2018 Formula 1 championship, also present.