Autocar has completed the 2015 Mille Miglia in a BMW 328 Berlin-Rome Touring Roadster - follow the blog report here:
Sunday 17 May, 18.15pm: And so the epic adventure of the 2015 Mille Miglia comes to an end, and true to form today served up highs and lows of emotion as well as more challenges than my sleep deprived brain can do justice to.
First up, it's worth acknowledging the challenge of the event. Over three days on the road (but four in time, given the late start and early finish) we've covered 1000 miles of everything from autostrada to mountain passes. We've had rain and shine, and everything in between. We've had very short sleeps but - crucially - never too little. The atmosphere of this event ensures you are always alert.
The irony of all this is that the enormity and excitement of finishing an event that carries such a historic name (albeit from a rather different era of competition) rather overshadows the dramas Ian and I went through today. At 6am, stood in a cold hotel car park, we discovered that reverse gear had gone. A failing bearing was suspected, but there was no time to change it, so on we went. And then first and second started to get a bit tricky...
You might have guessed that Ian didn't get to where he is today at the top of BMW without being both determined and single-minded. So as the problems mounted, so he forged a plan to maintain momentum and get us closer and closer to the finish in Brescia.
Our technical problems weren't over, though - after a halt in Monza, we got to do a set of time trials taking in first the famous, historic (and steep) banking and then a whole lap of the race circuit (at a strictly monitored 50kph average, so it didn't quite do enough to invoke thoughts of Gilles Villeneuve. Anyway, for reasons unknown our GPS system gave up and stopped reading our speed, making it nigh-on impossible to avoid heavy penalties. In the final reckoning, we fell from 76th to 82nd overall, albeit while managing to remain the second all-British crew of 49 entered.
From there, Ian negotiated close to 100 roundabouts on the 100km run to Brescia, managing to make up time despite being restricted in his choice of gears. In these situations, even with our trusty police escort in tow, there's no time for hesitation, and it was quite fun watching it all unfold from my ringside seat.
The crowds in Brescia, as everywhere, were amazingly enthusiastic and provided a grandstand finish as I crossed the line. Why I? Because Ian was gone as the engine idled to a halt, rushing for a plane. As I write this he's stood in Trafalgar Square introducing a BMW-sponsored concert. All that was left was for me to pilot our trusty 328 back to our hotel and the brilliant BMW Classic crew, who worked tirelessly throughout the event.
So that's my first experience of the Mille Miglia, and I have to acknowledge that I feel amazingly privileged to have been part of such a special event in such a special car. It's easy to be sceptical from afar about what could be perceived as a watered down version of an old classic, but having seen it for myself the special regard in which the event is held by manufacturers and wealthy participants makes perfect sense. I'd come back and spectate as readily as I would take part again. It really is that good.
Sunday 17 May, 2.50pm: A word of thanks to the amazing support teams that also follow this event. While not all competitors have such a luxury (word is there is a crew here that compete in a Bugatti that they drive to Italy in and then sleep in between legs, although I’ve yet to find them) most do. I’m told there are around 2000 cars aligned to the 750 crews, which helps explain the busy roads and rammed hotels.
We’ve been expertly looked after by a team of BMW Classic technicians. A more knowledgeable, likeable bunch you’d be hard-pressed to find. I guess that’s inevitable - you’ve got to have a drop of Castrol R in your veins to want to work on these classics, and a dedication to the cause to want to traipse over Italy at high-speed, mostly with little to do but with a need to work fast and in improvised surroundings when you are called upon. In all seriousness, I have witnessed men working in the searing heat, cutting and shaping raw bits of steel to fashion replacement engine parts in the field. How this is possible I’m not sure, but they’re doing it.