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Mille Miglia: A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a friend

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Pam Wright

For self-described ‘gear head’ John Gautrey, participating in the iconic Mille Miglia is the realization of a childhood dream.

“I watched and read about it as a boy,” the Bright’s Grove resident said of the Italian car race.

“You don’t know how psyched up I am.”

Mille Miglia means “a thousand miles” in Italian — roughly the distance of the race that dates to 1927 and is regarded as one of sports’ great milestones.

Now a “rally” instead of the original open-road endurance race, the Mille Miglia took place 24 times from 1927 to 1957, before and after the Second World War.

It was halted in 1957 after a number of drivers — and spectators, which numbered five million in the race’s heyday — were killed in horrific crashes.

The Mille Miglia was revived in 1977, Gautrey said, for classic and vintage model cars, the types the competed in the original race. No car built after 1957 is allowed.

Gautrey was ecstatic when childhood friend Steve Dixon asked him to co-drive his MGA through Italy.

The two attended primary school together in the U.K. Gautrey immigrated to Canada in 1982 and Dixon moved to the Isle of Man, but they managed to remain friends for nearly 70 years.

“With all the targets and the sections, it’s quite a test,” Gautrey said, adding rain gear is essential because the sports car has “no roof nor no real windshield.”

Weather in Italy’s northern mountains is unpredictable and it could snow.

The 2016 route from Bresica to Rome and back is similar to that of the original race. Gautrey said the speed of the cars is closely regulated to comply with speed limits.

The race allows for two overnight stays.

“I know it’s going to be busy… I know I am going to be tired,” Gautrey said, “but I know it’s going to be a real blast.”

He’ll navigate, making sure they don’t break the rules, and drive when Dixon takes a break.

There are penalties for exceeding, or not meeting allotted times for various segments, he explained, with the winner being the team that most closely meets the outlined objectives.

In the original race, driving teams made no stops and no special provisions were made. Sheep, people, and common traffic were all potential obstacles.

The pair will leave the U.K. on May 15 and drive to Italy in two days. The race runs May 19-22.

Some 450 cars are expected with entries coming from as far as Australia and Russia.

Gautrey said Tyrolean green MGA is modified only slightly, as the rules specify vehicles remain as close to manufacture condition as possible.

The MGA was a precursor to the more widely known MGB, he explained.

“Any MGAs’ that are seen here are usually imported by Brits like myself,” Gautrey said.

Stirling Moss holds the record for the fastest time. In 1955, the legendary racing driver completed the route in a Mercedes in 10 hours, seven minutes and 48 seconds.

Moss drove an average speed of 97.96 mph (157.65 km/hr) on roads open to pedestrians and traffic.

Others who have taken part in the reenactment include comedian Jay Leno actor Jeremy Irons and Brian Johnson of AC/DC.

Leno’s Mille Miglia documentary can be seen on YouTube.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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