2013 Mille Miglia: Thursday

The Mille Miglia gets underway.

If you haven’t already, you can get up to speed by reading Part One. Okay, ready?

Thursday Afternoon

This is the day when we just sit and wait. The start is tonight at 8:30. Right now, it’s pouring rain, and I’m sitting next to Gina Lollobrigida. But I digress. Here’s what has happened so far.

The Welcome Dinner

Last night, Mercedes-Benz threw a giant welcome dinner for its team: fifteen cars, including ours, supported by about forty people. Mercedes has rented out the Museo Mille Miglia, and the museum store has actual Ferrari engine heads for sale. It has an original Mille Miglia scarf from around 1950 that you can get for about 1,500 euros. There’s another one from the 1960 Mille Miglia that’s silk, priced over 2,000 euros. Original posters for sale! Reproductions, too. I just love it.

For dinner, all the drivers sat at a long table, and all the support staff filled the museum around the drivers’ table. David Coulthard is proving to be very funny, very nice, and very friendly. Jochen Mass is a total joker. He’s a riot. Karl Wendlinger is very serious. We haven’t seen him smile once in two days.

By the time they were getting ready to serve the meat course, we were full and finished in every way. Team USA, with our faces inches from the plate, decided it was better to leave. We repaired to our rooms, and I hit the hay and woke up at 7:30 a.m. without having moved once. The other American members of the team reported doing the same.

We Consider Ourselves Warned

This morning, we gathered at the Fiera di Brescia, a giant open exposition center where all the cars were and where the tech inspection took place. Steve Cannon and I took out our #303 Mercedes 300SL and drove around in the parking lot. We needed to get used to the very bad feeling of drum brakes, which I remember from 1970. I’d forgotten just how bad the brakes were.

We kept telling ourselves over and over again: As you’re driving with these brakes, you’ll get used to them. They’ll feel really good. You have to remember to pump.

Next we had a personal seminar from one of the mechanics. He told us, “Every Gullwing is different. There’s a row of switches and buttons that are not labeled at all. They’re fuel, and interior lights, and fuel pump, and heater. There’s also a hidden one that will release air from underneath the dash and blow cold air. This is very important because this Gullwing has an exhaust system running underneath the floorboard, so on a really hot day your tennis shoes will get very tacky, because the floorboard gets so hot.”

Not on a day like today, when it’s cold and rainy. We feel like winners as we watch other people in open cars driving in the pouring rain, looking just miserable.

Jochen Mass Lends His Perspective

We did notice, however, that the windshield wipers were at about eye level on their upward motion. They didn’t seem to get much higher than halfway up the windshield. So I corralled Jochen Mass and asked him, “How many of these have you been on?” He flashed his fingers through the air. Five, ten, so many times I couldn’t count, and he laughed. I asked him, “What’s the most important thing to worry about: the windshield wipers or the brakes?” He said, “Both. The windshield wipers are here [putting his hand horizontally across the bridge of his nose], so you have to brake differently.”

I’m pretty sure that what he meant is, neither one of them is exactly perfect. I can’t tell you how many times one of the mechanics has already come up and said things like, “The brakes will be very bad. The tires will be like driving in snow. Please be very careful.”

I’ve already decided that if I crash this million-dollar car, I’m planning to die in the wreck. I won’t want to come home and face the music.

Auspicious Beginning for the Navigator

An hour later, we were suddenly called to our cars by the team and told to go to the Piazza della Loggia in Brescia. We jumped into our cars and lined up to go. Steve was driving. I opened my route book, and it’s at that point I realized we had no directions. None.

We followed the cars in front of us. Within minutes we lost the car in front of us. That’s when I pulled out the beautiful Mercedes-Benz map and realized it was no use to us, because they put the symbol for where we needed to be across the map in such a way that it completely obscured the names of the streets. We were somewhere in the city of Brescia, but where? Great start for this navigator who was so highly touted by everyone from Stirling Moss to herself.

Steve noticed a sign for Centro, so we decided, that’s it. Go for the center and look for the castle. I said to Steve, “We track like guided missiles. Actually more like scuds.”

We wandered around. Another Gullwing was following us, which we thought was hilarious. We found a cop who couldn’t speak English but gave us the idea that we had to turn right three lights up and look for a street. Then we saw another cop. She took one look at our car, then pointed everyone else to the left and us to the right. Suddenly, we found ourselves in a line of cars going where we needed to go.

We Felt as Important as Any Movie Star or Formula 1 Driver

The streets were mobbed, despite pouring rain and gusting wind so strong that there was a stack of inside-out, broken umbrellas at every corner trash can. Some guy off to my right was yelling, “Attenzione! Attenzione!” I turned around, and it was an old guy, who said, “Buona Giornata!” He was just trying to get our attention so he could wish us a good day.

Once you’re going slowly, the car gets a little hot and steamy with the rain coming down and the exhaust heating up. We opened the gull wings and were driving slowly with the doors open. Some kid put his head into the car. We couldn’t quite understand what he was saying, and then we realized he was asking: “David Coulthard? Karl Wendlinger?” And he took our picture.

Then We Met True Italian Royalty

They put a sort of zip tie around the steering wheel shaft of the car. We entered the incredibly ornate opera house in Brescia, the Teatro Grande, which has a ceiling that resembles the Sistine Chapel. The SLR Club, the whole team, and all the drivers were there. But everyone bowed down to Gina Lollobrigida, who is eighty-five and has not a line on her face.

We had our team photo taken inside the opera house. I just saw Aida in Detroit last Sunday, so I was especially excited to see an original poster for Madama Butterfly, which opened here in 1904.

Ready to Start

Any minute now, we’re going to get in our cars and head back to the museum. The start is at 8:30 tonight.

We’re not nervous at all. Steve is the nicest guy in the world: really calm, really excited, comfortable driving in the rain. Also, the only person I’ve met who drinks as much coffee as I do. He keeps talking about bucket lists; I think he’s already overflowed his.

The story continues tomorrow!

Read more over at!