The Italian Mille Miglia has often been called the most beautiful race in the world. Legendary racing driver Jacky Ickx tells us why
“The Mille Miglia. What is it? It’s a race born from the minds of some wealthy businessmen or aristocrats in Italy in the early days after World War I. They started the first race in 1927. It was reserved for gentlemen, or people who were able to buy a beautiful car because, except for Ford with the Ford model T, the cars racing at Mille Miglia were generally accessible only to the privileged.
It lasted until 1957 and stopped thereafter because of a huge accident on the open road. A car finished into the crowd, leaving 16 or 17 dead. So Mille Miglia was banned. But it was the history that was interesting. Historically it was to start from Brescia to Rome and return, all on normal roads. The race was an open door for legendary action, in a way. It also charted the evolution of the automobile industry.
For example, Stirling Moss was a great champion from the 1950s. He ran with Fangio and all these people. Around 1955 he completed the race in under 63km/hr average. It’s a lot when you consider that covering that distance on normal roads, passing mountains and all, it’s not easy. They are the legendary people.
In those days, racing was also made of heroes. It was a risky job. Unlike today where you benefited from the fatalities of before. Now everything has been made safe. Circuits are wider, competitions are regulated, cars are safer… But ultimately the unique referee here is the public. If you have a large crowd, it means you’re producing a great show. If you get less people, then ask yourself why.
What makes Mille Miglia such a beautiful race is the passion that reunited people from different frontiers. They come from everywhere to form a reunion of different people: drivers, collectors, amateurs… There’s also the part where there are no limitations. You can access almost everywhere, unlike in other systems where you are only allowed to stay in one area, maybe the grandstand. And if you want to go somewhere else, you have to pay extra. Mille Miglia is free!
So everyone from the towns, people come from far away to stand on the side of the road, to go to the town to hear the roar of the engines, that’s why it has become so strong now. From a forgotten race, it returned to be a legendary one because Chopard as the sponsor created a new atmosphere where we don’t race anymore but rather, participate and just enjoy the drive.
What keeps me coming back to Mille Miglia?
Italy and Italians, with their Italian food and their enthusiasm on the sides of the road. It’s really a beautiful country. Beautiful.”