After the sealing and racing and technical inspection procedures, the first stage of the 2018 Mille Miglia got under way yesterday. A record-breaking edition, with a total of 440 crews taking part, plus 10 more in the "Military Category", adding up to a total of 900 people from 36 countries across every continent.
The 450 cars accepted to take part in the 2018 Mille Miglia are of 72 different brands, and Alfa Romeo has a very large group, with 47 cars entered from the official and private teams.
The first touch on the accelerator was at 2.30 pm yesterday on Brescia's Viale Venezia, alongside the Rebuffone Gardens. Enthusiasm, passionate excitement and speed combine with the sensation that time has stood still.
Journalist Giuseppe Tonelli, writing in 1927, described the Mille Miglia as "something undefined, with a touch of the supernatural, which recalls old fairytales." Time has not really stood still, so a historic re-evocation of the legendary race of the past is to be embraced with open arms.
To quote Tonelli again: "There is something about the name Mille Miglia that conjures up ground-breaking vehicle design and human daring.”
The roads along the route were packed and as evening approached, more and more people thronged the pavements and verges to see the passing cars. The Mille Miglia excites everyone, irrespective of age, gender or automotive knowledge.
What matters is being there, the applause that rings out as the cars go by, and the roar of the engines that transforms the everyday roads. For once, as the caravan passes, Italy's irresistible postcard beauty takes second place, to a beauty in motion, made up of moments to be captured.
One of the first clues to this unique, all-Italian splendour came between Desenzano del Garda and Sirmione, where, for once, the restaurants set out their tables right on the kerb, and clients seated under the pines along Viale Matteotti had a ringside view of the regularity trial.
This was followed by the placid backdrop of the lungo lago Diaz lakeside promenade before the cars bade farewell to the Sirmione peninsula and headed for Monzambano. Another regularity trial, and more roadside tables, but this time for picnics, on the edges of the vineyards and outside country homes.
The passage through the Parco Giardino Sigurtà was especially memorable: the crash barriers were rose bushes in bloom, and the wheels ran noiselessly through freshly mown lawns and impeccably laid paving.
The journey towards the final destination of Cervia-Milano Marittima was broken up by a series of timed checkpoints and stamp inspections. At the start, every competitor receives a timesheet which must be stamped at specific times, which vary depending on the car's starting position. Apparently complex, this system becomes more and more natural as the race progresses.
The route, set by a roadbook, also includes time trial sections. These have to be covered in a given period of time, at a specific average speed.
Darkness was setting in when the first car reached Milano Marittima. The hardness of the road was making its effects felt, but competitors’ fatigue was relieved by the lapping of the waves on one of the Adriatic Coast's most attractive resorts, immersed in the Cervia pinewood.
The summer season has not yet started but Milano Marittima is warm and stylish, and the "globally unique travelling museum", as Enzo Ferrari once defined it, was inevitably the evening's big draw.
Photos: Mille Miglia 2018: Alfa Romeo / FCA Heritage Photo Project: "The Mille Miglia in 90 Places"
Videos: Preview / Scrutineering / Day 1