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This year’s Mille Miglia was my third. It’s even more popular than it was 20-odd years ago, and with more traffic on the roads the driving was as exciting as ever. Our team was meant to comprise three Frazer Nash Le Mans Replicas, each to be driven by our respective wives, all of whom are the actual owners. Regrettably, we had one drop out prior to the event, so it was a two-car team that turned up for signing on and scrutineering.
Wednesday night was taken up with wonderful Italian hospitality, meeting collectors and viewing one breathtaking collection that could have made up half the event’s grid. There was a torrential rain storm, too, which washed down some of the roads that lead into the town. This didn’t bode well for the next day, so we made another supermarket run to buy more yachting kit…
In fact the rain cleared, so we packed the cars with all the stuff you can never find when you actually need it and set off. The plan was to share the driving, but I never took the wheel at all. It was a great team. The two girls drove masterfully, setting a pace that saw almost no-one overtake us – apart from the odd World Champion intent on picking up as many penalty points as possible.
Best of all, the navigator in the other car was David Richards, who in-between running F1 teams, Prodrive and Aston Martin was also a World Champ rally co-driver. This meant the menace of the road book was a breeze for him, and that whenever I lost my place and my driver started to get tetchy – we have some experience with this, ever since on one rally she caught me holding the route book upside down – I could just issue the instruction to ‘follow that car’. It worked brilliantly, and got us through without a hitch.
I thoroughly recommend the Frazer Nash’s cockpit. It’s very comfortable, but its cosiness meant that every goodie bag lobbed into the car at the controls was a nightmare. Even eating flat-out I was unable to keep up with the steady flow of cakes, biscuits and chocolate that cascaded in. The Italians clearly count these as vegetables, and part of a balanced five-a-day diet…
Now, I hate to sound too much like an old grouch, but I feel that some of these sponsorship requests are getting out of hand. I’m more than happy to pay up to see my elderly friends running marathons and climbing mountains, or, even better, unicycling from Lands End to John o’Groats dressed as a Teletubby.
But more and more expeditions seem to involve a high level of comfort and sight-seeing, and all too often sound like far too much fun. Recently, one chum was so busy riding an old motorbike across the unforgiving terrain that is the South of France, I don’t think he could remember which particular charity was benefiting from his exploits. If anyone would like to sponsor my tour of the Loire châteaux and their three-star restaurants, do drop me a line.
Rather more worthy was an event organised at Silverstone. Starlight, a charity that tries to fulfil the wishes of children with serious illnesses, had worked with the BRDC and Ferrari to assemble a showroom full of new California Spiders, along with an equal number of the BRDC young SuperStars (and a few old lags) to whirl a group of kids around the national circuit.
Some of these guys might look as though they shouldn’t be out of school on a weekday, but in fact they drive brilliantly, and it’s a fairly safe bet that Britain’s next F1 champions are going to come from this group. Their successes from just the one previous weekend earned enough trophies to equal my entire career’s…
The SuperStars scheme supports a number of young drivers in different formulae, and when it comes to studying form the Club is clearly a lot better at it than John McCririck. Obviously there was a careful briefing for the drivers, emphasising the need for caution, consideration and safety. After which the children (who had clearly missed the briefing) encouraged their drivers to push on in a way that suggested they’d all make very capable F1 team managers.
The only really worried faces were those of the dealers who had kindly provided their demonstrators, and they winced a little as the light aroma of brake pads and hot metal heralded the arrival of a car into the paddock. But all vehicles remained undented and ran incredibly well throughout; I remember track days years ago where there didn’t seem to be a car made that wouldn’t start rumbling, steaming and juddering after just a few brisk laps…
Pink Floyd’s drummer and a great car enthusiast, Nick has raced classic and modern cars for the last 30 years and has written two books: one on cars, Into the Red, and one on his version of the history of Pink Floyd, Inside Out.