This spring, which all of Italy is enjoying after its hard winter, is becoming a particularly lovely season for the Ferrari car makers of Maranello. Over the flat, brake-testing 12-hour run at Sebring five weeks ago, the Ferraris took first and second in record time, and early this month in the Giro di Sicilia a Ferrari won again. Now, this Saturday, comes the big race of the sports car year, the Mille Miglia. As the cars from all Europe move toward the starting line of the Mille Miglia course that snakes through the coastlands and mountain spine of central Italy, almost everyone's eyes are again on Ferrari.
On the eve of the race, in his simple, workaday office at the Ferrari factory, Proprietor Enzo Ferrari, a man who flunked out of technical school and has come on to produce more championship cars than any other maker, observed, "Mille Miglia costs nothing to look at. It is the race of the people. One may say that the whole of Italy leans forward with her eyes on the tarred strip of road somewhere along the course on Mille Miglia day. It is the day when I feel that my life is useful, that I am accomplishing something. When I decide to take part in a race," Proprietor Ferrari elaborates, "I do not think of my competitors. I don't say to myself I must beat Maserati or I must beat Mercedes. The importance of any race and of Mille Miglia in particular is the technical result. The results of a race are only due 50% to the car. When you have created a car that can win, you have come only halfway. The moment has come to find a driver."
Proprietor Ferrari remains closemouthed about Ferrari's chances in the Mille Miglia, but in this good year an unusual look of satisfaction is shining through his spectacles. The 12-cylinder 3.5-liter Ferraris have proved they can endure and win. At Mille Miglia, as at Sebring, one of these front-running Ferraris will be driven by Juan Fangio, the very best driver of them all; the other by Gene Castellotti, who teamed with Fangio at Sebring. Two years ago the Lancia factory ended Ferrari's domination of the Mille Miglia and then retired from the sports car swirl. Mercedes, which outplanned and outran Ferrari last year, with both Fangio and Stirling Moss mounting 300 SLRs, is ostensibly out of competition this year.
But even though Ferrari's top drivers, Fangio and Castellotti, will be backed up by the Englishman Peter Collins and the cautious Luigi Musso, both mounting 4-cylinder 3.5-liter cars, the tortuous way of the Mille Miglia is not wide open to Ferrari. The neighboring factory, Maserati, is also going all out this year. One of Maserati's three-liter factory cars will be driven by last year's winner, Stirling Moss. "Moss has the eye and the courage," the Italian experts remark, remembering Moss's mad front-running last year. "He hurls himself and last year, hurling himself, he won." On the winding Mille Miglia course a man who hurls himself may also end up in the bottom of a ravine. It is in the stretch between Rome and Bologna, as the cars rip through the last mountain passes around Radicofani, that the race is usually lost or won and, to support Moss, in its other two cars Maserati has good mountain men: Cesare Perdisa, who can read those passes like the face of his watch, and Piero Taruff, who is overdue for some good luck on the Mille Miglia course.
April 29, 1956
In any usual year the course would favor the light, 840-kilo, maneuverable Maseratis over the heavier Ferraris, but with Fangio in the Ferrari the odds tip back this year. The course has been torn up by the ragged winter. For weeks hundreds of extra workmen have been pouring tar into these surface wounds. This extra effort to repair the course has been delayed by pelting rains, and on race day stretches will still be pitted with holes, putting tires, wheels and transmissions—and the nerves of drivers—to a hard test. An impetuous man like Moss may well dash his chances in a pothole. Fangio, with his unerring feel, will have a silver-thin fraction-of-a-second advantage over any rival in courting the rough troubles of the road.
As one of the bitter lessons learned at the Le Mans tragedy last year, Mille Miglia officials are limiting the field to 400 cars this year and to drivers of competence. No dreamers of glory will be allowed to swell the field to 721, as happened last year.
On the rough road, even with this limited entry list, it is possible that an amateur might slip through to win while the factory rivals fight each other out of the race. If this should happen, the winner might well be Mercedes, for privately owned Mercedes 300 SLs are entered and while the Germans have not officially entered a factory team, they are playing it cosy. These amateur Mercedes owners at Mille Miglia will enjoy Mercedes services as if they were true kings of the road. Mercedes has rented its customary garage at the Brescia starting line, and in this garage and from two service lorries along the route the amateurs will enjoy the labors and loves of official Mercedes crewmen. Racing Team Manager Alfred Neubauer is on hand to command the effort, and Karl Kling, the masterful German driver with the slide-rule mind, is coaching these amateurs around the tricky curves which almost killed him last year.
The odds favor Fangio and Ferrari, but Enzo Ferrari only shrugs. "We are ready. In any case, one sometimes learns more from a lost race than a victory."