Tuesday 14 July, 2009 - 09:10 AM EDT
The origins of the Mille Miglia race are closely linked to those of the Brescia Automobile Club. In 1927, the RACI (the Royal Automobile Club of Italy), established a public Vehicle register office and handed down the levying of car taxes to the various provinces. As a result, the Milan Automobile Club became an independent entity and severed its ties to Brescia, until then a section of the Milan Automobile Club.
However, the motor sport links between the two cities had become increasingly strained, the circuit had been built in record time in the park of the Royal Villa
In 1922 race was given to Monza, the organizers were able to take advantage of some of the technical innovations, such as the banked bends that had been developed at the Ghedi circuit in Montechiari. In the same year some of the first speedboat races to be held in Italy took place on nearby Lake Garda and the city's pioneering spirit was again underlined in 1909 when the Brescia 'Circuito aereo' introduced competitive aeronautics to Italy.
When the Brescia Automobile Club was formed the insult still rankled and it was clear that something had to be done - something spectacular that would be a satisfactory response but, at the same time, would not offend the sensibilities of the RACI or the ACM, both headed at the time by Senator Silvio Crespi.
The Club was formed under the leadership of a group of prominent young racing drivers with Franco Mazzotti Bianchelli as Chairman and Count Aymo Maggi di Gradella as vice-Chairman (together with Oreste Bertoli). It also attracted some influential political figures to its Board, including Member of Parliament Alfredo Giarratana and the future Brescia provincial Party Secretary Innocente Dugnani who was closely connected to Augusto Turati of Parma, Secretary of the Brescia Fascists from 1923 to 1926 and later of the national Fascist Party.
To add to these influential political connections and the considerable financial backing of its motor sport enthusiasts, the Club had the organisational experience of Renzo Castagneto of Verona a well-known cyclist, motorcycle racer and founder of the Polisportiva Ravelli club.
Castagneto had been a member of the volunteer force that had proclaimed an independent state in Fiume [Istria] in 1919 and was close to Mussolini until 1924. From 1923 onwards he proved to be a successful organizer of motor sport events as the General Secretary of the ACB, assisted by Baron Flaminio Monti, the Vice-Secretary.
What was decided was that the Club would organize a long distance race for production cars that would differ from the French Bol d'or [dating from 1922] and Grand Prix d'Endurance de 24 heures, 'Coupe Rudge Whitworth' [held from 1923 onwards and later known as the Le Mans 24 Hours] and other similar events such as the Gran Premio Turismo, a 24 hour race, run only once at Monza in 1926. It would not be linked to any circuit, would be easy to service and supply and would cover a large part of Italy, virtually taking the cars to the front doors of potential buyers. This was the equivalent of an advertising brainwave and attracted strong interest from the car manufacturers, which were struggling to sell their products at the time. It gave them an ideal opportunity to overcome the poor reputation their products had for reliability. It was also popular with the Government. It would present the modern face of Italy to the world as well as stimulating the popularity of motor vehicle use and thereby benefitting the industry, providing jobs and increasing revenue from taxes.
The Italian people would also derive a marginal benefit from improvements to the roads used in the race - a lingering problem from the time of the birth of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
To complete the organising team, later known as the 'Musketeers', Mazotti, Maggi and Castagneto needed a top-class journalist. As the story goes, they turned to Giovanni Canestrini of the influential 'Gazzetta dello Sport', a pioneering sports newspaper backed by motor industry leaders Giovanni Agnelli and Edoardo Bianchi [before control was bought by Alberto Bonacosso in 1929. Since 1909 this newspaper had been in competition with the 'Corriere della Sera', which supported the revival of the Giro d'Italia, a non-competitive road race that had taken place in 1901, and it was organising the cycle race of the same name, under the capable direction of Armando Cougnet who was the newspaperâ€™s director.
Cougnet and Castagneto soon put together the details of the Mille Miglia Cup race. It would be run from Brescia to Rome [to flatter the Fascist regime] and back to Brescia, a distance of around 1600Km. This flattery paid off when the Government [or, at least, Turati] dismissed Senator Crespi's objection that the race would be 'too dangerous'.
It was at this time that the legend surrounding the origin of the name Mille Miglia was born. It has been recorded, with some variations in the details, at least three times by Canestrini over the years; in the 1930 edition of 'Numero Unico', in 1962 in his 'Una vita con le corse [a life in racing]' and, finally, in 1967 in 'Mille Migliaâ€™.
[Source: Chopard Mille Miglia's Official Web Site ]
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