Sir Stirling Moss and the Mille Miglia
"I certainly had an appreciation of the danger which to me was part of the pleasure of racing. To me now racing is - the dangers are taken away: if it's difficult, they put in a chicane. So really now the danger is minimal - which is good, because people aren't hurt. But for me the fact that I had danger on my shoulder made it much more exciting.”
- Sir Stirling Craufurd Moss OBE on retiring
There is absolutely no hyperbole in calling Sir Stirling Moss one of the greatest drivers who ever lived. To list his many accomplishments behind the wheel would take hundreds of pages just to get started. We’re just focusing on the Mille Miglia for now.
Moss participated in a number of Mille Miglias, but he truly made history in 1955 when he was the first Englishman to win the endurance race which had been dominated by Italians and two German wins in the races prior.
Stirling Moss’s victory at the 1955 Mille Miglia can be chalked up to two things: Pure driving skill, and intelligence.
It’s said that, for a true master of a game, be it sports racing, Chess, or Donkey Kong, the game is won before he or she ever steps into the field of battle. They simply have the abilities and the knowledge on their side from the beginning, and there’s nothing the opposition can do about it.
For Stirling Moss, the game began not at the starting line, but several days earlier, when he and his navigator, British journalist Denis Jenkinson, had driven along the course several times over with Jenkinson taking notes of the area.
The Italian drivers already knew the area, having been born and raised in Italy, and this is a major component of the near endless streak of wins Italy has had in the race. Simply put, foreigners have always been at a disadvantage from the start of the Mille Miglia. By familiarizing themselves with the course beforehand in their Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR, Moss and Jenkinson were evening the playing field, so to speak, and may the best driver win.
Sir Sterling Moss, Mercedes-Benz, the number 722 and the 1955 Mille Miglia
Stirling Moss and Denis jenkinson at the 1955 Mille Miglia
Throughout the race itself, Jenkinson would feed Moss notes and information, more than just simple “turn right here”, he kept Moss up to speed on everything from how the weather would affect a given road to when the next train was coming. This was still an innovative technique at the time, but certainly more than a few have employed it since. In fact, this is pretty much where the whole concept of “pacenotes” got started.
There was one other thing that helped Moss take that race: Amphetamines.
At the time, amphetamines were entirely legal, and Moss certainly wasn’t the only driver in the 1955 Mille Miglia using a concentration-aid to keep his mind active, so it would be false to say that this compromised the sanctity of the race. In fact, Moss has always been a diehard proponent of good sportsmanship, even when it costs him the race, as it did in 1958, when his rival Mike Hawthorn was threatened with a penalty when he was accused of reversing in the track after a spinout at the Formula 1 World Championship. Hawthorn finished the race exactly one point ahead of Moss, costing Moss his shot at a championship (this was Hawthorn’s only win to Moss’s four that year).
Moss and Jenkinson sped over the finish line with a record time of ten hours and seven minutes, nearly a full half hour ahead of teammate and rival Juan Manuel Fangio, shattering the pattern of Italian winners that had persisted in the eight previous years. Fangio, one of Moss’s greatest rivals, was actually a much more sombre character, preferring to drive alone after the loss of his co-pilot in South America.
If you want to do yourself a real favour, get a copy of Jenks: A Passion for Motor Sports. The book collects many of Jenkinson’s best articles on sports racing including With Moss in the Mille Miglia, documenting the entire journey from beginning to end, the report is considered one of the finest in the history of sports journalism.
Sie Sterling Moss after 1955 Mille Miglia
The Legend Loves On - the new McLaren SLR 722
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