Sleep is for wimps: drinking when not driving on the Mille Miglia
Attending the start of this year’s Mille Miglia vividly brought back the only time I have taken part in the retrospective. It was 2003 and I was to share a Mercedes-Benz 300SL with Jo Eberhardt, then MD of Mercedes in the UK. The plan was to share the driving but after I’d made a pig’s breakfast navigating the first special stage and he’d spent a few miles driving this car with its marvellous engine but inadequate brakes and tricky handling, we’d soon worked out which seat suited us best.
The event was wonderful because the Benz was more than fast enough to hang onto the Ferraris and Maseratis that populated the sharp end of the field, but predictably entirely uneventful. I truly don’t think it occurred to me that the car might break down until, three hours from the finish, it did. We smelled fuel, stopped and saw petrol leaking from a filter. Naturally a modern Mercedes appeared from nowhere brimming with mechanics and spares. And, yes, they had the bit we needed and it could be fitted in five minutes — but only after the engine had been allowed to cool for an hour. Which left us with two hours in which to do three hours of driving.
On the long roads back to Brescia, I cruised it at 135mph, Jo grinning, me not quite believing what was happening. We overtook more than 100 competitors and arrived back in Brescia occupying the same slot we’d vacated.
Touchingly, Jo’s first thoughts were for the mechanics so suggested we joined them for ‘a quick drink’. I don’t know how long it took to have that drink, but I do remember being surprised to see daylight as I left the bar the following morning. Looking at my watch I realised it was 24 hours since I’d woken in Rome, already tired from two days on the Mille Miglia. And, aside for 60 minutes at the side of the road, I’d been drinking or driving for every one of them.