This year in May, the Targa Florio Australian Tribute team went to Italy on a fact finding mission. They got a rare behind scenes look at ‘One of the most beautiful Races in the World’, the Mille Miglia. Andrew Lawson, Director of the Targa Florio Australian Tribute provides his insights into their recent trip abroad.
This year Linda (my wife), Paul (my brother) and I returned to enjoy the Mille Miglia as guests after competing in the event in 2016. On this occasion we had the opportunity as the Targa Florio Australian Tribute team. We sought to understand the race from a behind the scenes perpective. We cannot thank Francesca and Alberto enough for their kindness and generosity whist running the 2019 event.
Linda joined Paul and I with the same smile that we have had since competing in the event. Ears pinned back she reveled in driving the event. Manically latching onto the back of the escort police. They created additional lanes for us to fly from town to town. I just needed to work out how I get back to the driving seat.
Local Italian Culture
Having an Italian in the car we enjoyed speaking to the gorgeous locals as we drove slowly in que through the historic towns past adoring crowds, Linda thanked them in Italian for coming out in the rain to see us…. ‘merita’ said the older lady “its worth it”. Thousands of volunteers help with the flow of cars seamlessly through and around their historic towns and hand out local food specialities including gelato, espresso and wine to the drivers and codrivers. The love for the event is very infectious.
A competitors point of view
Rather than just hearing from me, David Bredan, Editor of ablogtowatch.com sums up his experience in his first Mille Miglia event perfectly. David competed this year in his first Mille Miglia in 2019 and no doubt has well and truly become addicted to the event as we have.
The atmosphere of the event
Meanwhile, everywhere we went, the energy was such that it put F1 races to shame. From the most remote homestead to the busiest city center, people from age five to 105 were standing and sitting and running, waving, cheering, and photographing along the road. Not one single disapproving look or any such encounter — and I must say, the race does turn the lives of these tranquil little Italian cities upside down. Working days or school time, rain or shine: nothing was an issue. Well, maybe apart from that nice old lady who quite literally leapt through my lowered driver-side window to shake our hand, while shouting “Abarth!” and some unintelligible, but highly enthused Italian phrases at us. The love of cars and driving has, indeed, united people.
The whole point I am trying to make is that driving these cars is unusually hard, immensely thrilling and, as a result, highly rewarding. It’s not just driving around, though: The same adjectives could be used about navigating a thousand miles on the infamously hectic Italian road network. The route contains closed sections, including roads that lead through an ancient villa’s garden or across some breathtakingly beautiful valleys of Emilia-Romagna, as well as down the public road. Now, in my understanding, because some stages need to be performed as close to a pre-defined time as possible, things can get a bit out of hand if any one of the hundreds of serious participants fighting for the win gets held up.
The local customs
Desperate times call for desperate measures — or so they would in every other country. In Italy, the police rush to their assistance. We were part of such a delayed convoy of cars and witnessed three police bikes quite literally riding into oncoming traffic, with each rider pumping with their arms in the direction of either one of the two sides of the road, hence “asking” the traffic to make a path in the center of the two-lane single carriageway.
Making way for the competitors
As the road opened, and we were doing about 110kph (65mph) in a zone of 60kph (35mph), the police officers started urging us to drive faster and faster, waving their arms in a rather bossy fashion — and we were only happy to comply. This happened in a train composed of two Gullwings, a Porsche 550 Spider, a 356 Speedster and three other cars I couldn’t easily identify, nor do I remember anything about, I was so busy concentrating on keeping this 44.6HP Double-Bubble part of the train. Needless to say, this was as much of a hair-brained idea as it was an absolute thrill — and the way the traffic assisted us and cheered us along showed just how deeply integrated the love of cars is in Italy.
The fact that we overtook an ambulance that had its sirens on because its driver reached out the window and urged us to pass him (and gave us a thumbs-up as we blasted by with our roaring half-a-century-old cars) was well and truly over what I had ever dared to imagine. And when the night finally falls after a full day of driving full of such encounters, one turns onto some abandoned country roads chasing a 356 Speedster in an Abarth 750 — and that’s when, for a brief, passing moment, all is well in the world.
What an experience
Although Mille Miglia and all its crazy moments are a thing of the past, I can still play back just about every scenery and every overtake and situation in my mind like a movie – that’s how genuine this experience has been.
Replicating this experience in Australia
Enjoying the chance to experience both of the great Italian Rallies in 2018 and return to Australia, our family had the opportunity to get involved and build the Australian version of the Targa Florio. You have to be careful what you wish for. In February having agreed to take on the Targa Florio Australian Tribute event we set up Australian Classic Events. Whilst there is a lot to do it has been great to sit down and work to build the event for this year. We have started with great roads and an extended route which now totals 1200 kilometres over the 4 days.
We are working closely with the communities along the route to try and create as close an atmosphere in the towns as we enjoyed in Italy. This approach will see the event finish at the Italian Festa in Lygon Street, drive into a bigger Ciao Yarra Valley Ciao Festa Verde in Healesville and more opportunities for community events under discussion in all the other regions..
We have created a new website: www.targaflorioaus.com to explain the event and provide as much information as we can.