Reflecting On The 2014 Mille Miglia
by Ian Skellern
Quill & Pad co-founders Ian Skellern and Elizabeth Doerr went to the 2014 Mille Miglia: Elizabeth as the guest of principal sponsor Chopard, Ian (in a support car) covering Roland Iten, a main sponsor with five cars in the event. Mr. Roland Iten himself competed in the race in a 1953 Porsche 356 Pre A Coupé 1500, driving more than 1,000 grueling miles through the Italian countryside.
Ian, Elizabeth, and Roland now discuss this unique adventure and invite you to listen in.
IS: Ian Skellern
ED: Elizabeth Doerr
RI: Roland Iten
So, what were everyone’s expectations before arriving in Brescia for the start on May 15, 2014?
RI: My expectation was to drive an old car . . . meaning a leisurely drive through the countryside. But it was REALLY a rally; some of the cars (including ours) were totally driven to their limits. I remain fascinated by how old cars can retain so much power and performance.
IS: I was expecting to see a fantastic range of historic sport cars being used as their makers intended; to meet interesting people with shared passions; to experience the excitement of a hotly contested competition; to appreciate the stunning scenery and towns of northern Italy; and to taste the delicious food that the region is known for.
While my five days covering the event delivered the first three items listed in more than ample abundance, the frantic pace and extremely long days (2-4 hours sleep for four nights running) meant that there was little time for appreciating the finer things the region had to offer.
ED: As I was not participating in the race, but merely “spectating,” I was hoping to see some cool cars, bump into a few celebrities and enjoy the Italian spirit of racing. Two out of three ain’t bad…As a rock fan, I would have been overjoyed to chat with Brian Johnson of AC/DC, but, alas, it was not meant to be for me. Pictures I saw of him enjoying himself so much really warmed my heart, though!
When you think back to the event, what sticks out in your mind most positively?
RI: I felt hundreds of tiny little positive experiences driving through the villages where you felt like a superstar with all the people waving and cheering you on. You feel really loved.
ED: I can relate to that, Roland! Last year, I had the good fortune to drive for a day in Lamborghini’s 50-year anniversary “Giro,” and I remember entering the villages to literal cheers and Italian men shouting, “Brava, signorina!” They were as happy as could be – and so was I!
IS: It is difficult to put these in any order, but I was blown away by the sheer number of sensational cars being driven fast and hard despite many of them being worth well upwards of a million dollars and a few well over 10 million dollars. Those driving in the event – including quite a few stars and celebrities – were without exception in my experience relaxed and very friendly when not racing. And the locals lining the route in cities, villages and countryside were absolutely inspiring in their joy and enthusiasm.
ED: In fact, I would call that my most positive impression as well: the general joy in these beautiful machines from the inside and the outside of the race. I watched the 451 cars start from a prime spot on the Chopard VIP tribune, and right next to me was a little boy about 7 years in age. I marveled at his powers of concentration in watching the starts and following the list of cars and drivers, which he held open on his lap the entire time.
Did you have any negative experiences?
RI: Two hours sleep at night was the low point. But it was not so negative that it would keep me from wanting to race the Mille Miglia again and again!
IS: My biggest problem was lack of sleep. Short nights are okay for one, even two nights, but by day 3 they took their toll on everyone. Though I’m sure the Mille Miglia isn’t meant to be an enjoyable Sunday drive.
ED: I guess I got lucky, then, with my 4 to 5 hours!
And the cars!
IS: Imagine the best classic car museum you can possibly think of and multiply that by 1,000. Not only could you see and touch the cars, but you could also talk to owners and drivers and see and hear them in action.
RI: I was amazed at how powerful the Jaguars and Ferraris were. And the skill of the drivers of the Mercedes and Bentleys from the 1920s and ’30s was nothing short of phenomenal.
ED: As most of my experience is with modern automobiles, I was fascinated to learn so much about these vintage machines. I couldn’t help but draw the same parallel in my mind again and again: that car engines and watch movements have gone through such similar evolutions. In fact, driving a 1953 Porsche 356, for example, you could fix it with your own two hands when it broke down. It wouldn’t be so easy with a modern Porsche.
And so it is with watches for the most part today…not even a skilled watchmaker would necessarily be able to access a 2014-made movement if there were a problem along the way.
Who were you most excited to meet during the event and did you get that chance?
RI: Yes! It was my guardian angel, and I met her 1,000 times every day – around every curve and sandwiched between every truck we passed.
Was time/your watch important to your race participation?
IS: The Mille Miglia is a time trial competition, so timing is essential. I have to admit, though, that my most critical timing instrument was my iPhone because it had the difficult job of waking me each morning when I just wanted to sleep.
The watch I took along for this event was a De Bethune DB28, and it got me to the start line each day and reminded me how late I was getting to bed each evening. Did I mention lack of sleep was an issue for me? 🙂
ED: I chose to take my trusty Chronoswiss Opus to the race with me. I took this particular watch because it reminded me of Gerd-Rüdiger Lang, one of my horological heroes and its creator. Mr. Lang drove the Mille Miglia himself a few times as he was a collector and connoisseur of vintage Jaguars. I half expected to run into him somewhere there this year.
Like with Ian, however, my Chronoswiss reminded me all too often that I should be heading off to bed when there were still far too many people to meet and interesting conversations to be had!
RI: It’s a rally, it’s all about time! When you are too slow, you are penalized. And when you are too fast, you wait. It’s actually given me an idea for a new watch movement for rallies like the Mille Miglia. To be accurate in your time trials, phones would be ideal but are forbidden – so I’m now working on an easy mechanical reading of average speeds and seconds that can be incorporated into a watch.
Would this sort of road race be possible in another country outside of Italy?
RI: Let’s just say it would be a very different race. First of all, Italy is a very beautiful country with amazing diversity and the scenery is a very big part of the race’s attraction. And the Italian people are so warm and engaged in the entire event. It’s a very special combination.
IS: Not a chance. Certainly not in any other European or western country where road rules are generally respected. During the race, the roads were not generally closed to other traffic and while the competition rules stated strongly that all road rules should be obeyed, I saw no evidence of that being followed.
ED: That’s certainly half the fun, Ian! It was the same during Lamborghini’s Giro.
Would you recommend Mille Miglia participation to others?
RI: Absolutely. I will be there again next year.
IS: I certainly would. If you love cars like this, then just going to the exhibition of cars as they register on the day before the race is worthwhile in itself. It is easy to get close to the action, and perhaps too easy to get too close at times.
Also published on Medium.