In our ongoing series on the History of the Mille Miglia, we take a look at the drivers that made these races so special. These are not just the winners, but the men who we remember for doing something special.
Alberto Ascari was an Italian racing driver and twice Formula One World Champion. He was a multitalented racer who competed in motorcycle racing before switching to cars. Ascari won consecutive world titles in 1952 and 1953 for Scuderia Ferrari. The son of one of Italy’s great pre-war drivers, Alberto Ascari went on to become one of Formula One racing’s most dominant and best-loved champions. Noted for the careful precision and finely-judged accuracy that made him one of the safest drivers in a most dangerous era, he was also notoriously superstitious and took great pains to avoid tempting fate. But his unexplained fatal accident – at exactly the same age as his father’s, on the same day of the month and in eerily similar circumstances – remains one of Formula One racing’s great unsolved mysteries. Learn more.
Clemente Biondetti was an Italian racing driver who earned his place in the motorsport history as a record-holder with four wins at the famous Mille Miglia race (1938, 1947, 1948 and 1949). He also added two wins at Targa Florio (1948, 1949) to his account. In Grand Prix racing, he raced a lot before the World War II but also after the war. He finished fourth at 1936 Mille Miglia in an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900. In 1937, he retired at Mille Miglia in the same car and then, in 1938, the first victory came. In that race, he was driving the #143 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Spider MM Touring, sharing a car with Aldo Stefani. In 1938, Biondetti was also third at Coppa Ciano in an Alfa Romeo Tipo 132 and made a debut at Le Mans 24 Hours in an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B. He was sharing a car with Raymond Sommer. They retired after 219 laps because of an accident. Sommer and Biondetti raced together also at Spa 24 Hours, not finishing the race. Learn more.
Motor racing driver. Born in Terni, Umbria, Italy, Baconin Francesco Domenico Borzacchini was named by his parents after a Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin. At the age of 14, be began work in a garage as a mechanic, and after serving in the Army during WW1, he began racing motorcycles before moving to cars in 1926. During the next two years he won six Italian hillclimb events driving a Salmson. He began to gain successes in other races as well as class wins in the 1926 and 1927 Targa Florio, and this led to him joining the Alfa Romeo team in 1927. In 1929 he set a new Flying 10km land speed record at 153mph in a Maserati V4. There were further successes in the Circuito do Alessandria and the Tripoli GP. In 1930, Italy was then run by a strict fascist government and Borzacchini was pressured into changing his name from that of a Russian anarchist to Mario Umberto Borzacchini. He was enetered in a Maserati in the 1930 Indianapolis 500 but retired with mechanical problems, but won the Tripoli GP again that year. In 1931 he signed for the Ferrari team to drive their Alfa Romeos but his year was dogged by bad luck finishing second a number of times. In 1932 he won the Mille Miglia. In 1933 he re-joined Maserati but at the Italian GP at Monza, motor racing had one of it’s blackest days. Oil had been spilled on the South Curve by a car in the previous race and sand placed there to make it safe. All drivers were warned about the hazard. When the race started, Borzacchini and his team mate and good friend Giuseppe Campari both crashed on the bend with fatal consequences. Learn more.
Giovanni Bracco (6 June 1908 at Biella – 7 August 1968 at Biella) was an Italian racing car driver. He lived in Biella, home town of other racing aces such as Mario Porrino and Lamberto Grolla. Before and after World War II he had been racing Lancia Aprilias. He had won the 1948 Italian Grand Prix (2-litre class) in a Maserati A6 GCS, before joining Ferrari for 1950–52, winning the 1952 Mille Miglia in a Ferrari 250 S. With his younger pupil, Umberto Maglioli, he got second in the 1951 Mille Miglia, driving a Lancia Aurelia B20. He raced a Maserati 200S in 1955. He once lost control of his Delage 3000, accidentally killing five spectators standing too close to the road at the 1947 Italian Grand Prix. Learn more.
Born in Biella, Italy to an aristocratic family on the 27th of December 1905 the Marchese “Tonino” Brivio began racing with a 1,199cc supercharged Derby in 1927. In 1934 he joined Bugatti, and drove a Type 59 to 2nd place while setting fastest lap in the Belgian GP. The German teams boycotted the race when the Belgian Customs Authorities attempted to levy a 180,000 franc duty on their special racing fuel. He would gain his greatest success in sports cars winning the Targa Florio in 1933 and again 1935 driving for Alfa Romeo . He turned down an offer from Auto Union in 1936 to stay with Scuderia Ferrari, with whom he won the Mille Miglia in 1936. Learn more.
Grand Prix motor racing drivers and opera singer. Born Cavaliere Giuseppe Campari near the city of Lodi, south west of Milan, Italy, he left school to work for the Alfa Romeo factory which eventually involved test driving factory cars. As his interest in cars grew, he entered in local hillclimbs and in 1914 he came fourth in the prestigious Targa Florio. After WWI he resumed racing with Alfa Romeo cars and in 1920 won his first major race at Mugello. In 1921 he came third in the Targa Florio and in 1924, as part of a strong Alfa team with Brilli-Peri and Ascari in Alfa Romeo P2s, he won the French Grand Prix. Campari also loved food, and ate heavily, as well as opera. He had a world-class baritone voice. The 1925 season was not so successful as Alfa withdrew from racing after the death of his team mate Ascari. In 1928 he won the Mille Miglia and a 2nd place in the Targa Florio. He continued to gain successes and became one of the leading Grand Prix drivers.By 1933 he’d joined the Maserati team and at the age of 41 had decided to retire at the end of the season to concentrate on opera singing. At the Italian GP at Monza in September, in his final race, he crashed on spilled oil whilst leading. His team mate Borzachini who was immediately behind him skidded off the track and was also killed. After the restart, a third driver crashed and was killed. Learn more.
Three European Championships in Formula Grand Prix (1935-1937 and 1938) with the Mercedes-BenzW 25, W 125 und W 154; three European Hillclimb Championships (1930, 1931 and 1932) with the Mercedes-Benz SSK and the Alfa Romeo P3. In 1931 he is the protagonist of another feat: he becomes the first foreign driver to win the Mille Miglia. Not only: on January 28th 1938, Caracciola sets the speed record (432.7 km/h) on the highway connecting Frankfurt to Darmstad with a streamlined W125 Rekordwagen A still undefeated record. “Caracciola was for me», Alfred Neubauer remembered, «the greatest driver of the ’20s and ’30s and, perhaps, of all times. He was an exceptional mix of focus, physical strength and intelligence.” Learn more.
Eugenio Castelletti would be Hollywood’s version of a race driver from that era, dashing, handsome and dating a famous Italian actress. Even his nickname was fitting, ‘Il Bello’ – The Beautiful and Stirling Moss said he was “everyone’s idea of a racing driver-dramatic good looks, like a bullfighter or something.” In 1953’s Mille Miglia, although he didn’t finish he had been running second at one point. His performances led to the offer of a drive with the Lancia sports car team for the Carrera Panamericana where, in a Lancia 1-2-3 finish, he and Carlo Luoni came home third in their D23. During the year he had victory in the Troeo Sardo, the 10 Hours of Messina and also won his first Italian hill climb championship (he won this again the following year). Ferrari drives that year included a 340 Mexico, a 225S and 250MM while other Lancia drives (in a D20, D23 and an Aurelia) included the 1000km Nurburgring (with Bracco), the Coppa Inter Europa (Monza) and the Supercotemaggiore at Merano. 1954 saw him race alongside JM.Fangio, P.Taruffi, A.Ascari and L.Villoresi at Lancia and he contested a number of sportscar events. Although he retired from the Sebring 12 hours, Mille Miglia and Targa Florio, he won at San Bernado and Firenze-Siena and had podiums in the Tourist Trophy (with R.Manzon) and at Porto. Learn more.
He was born at Valdagno on 13 April 1928, the son of the king of the Italian wool industry, Count Gaetano Marzotto. Soon after his 20th birthday he entered his father’s Lancia Aprilia in the Giro di Sicilia and came in second in his class. In 1950 he and his three brothers, Vittorio, Umberto and Paolo competed in Mille Miglia all driving Ferraris. He is most known because of his two victories at the famous Mille Miglia race, in 1950 and 1953. He scored both wins driving Ferrari cars. In 1953, Marzotto purchased a Ferrari 340 MM Vignale Spyder in which Luigi Villoresi recently won Targa Florio. Marzotto was racing in that car, carrying the number 547, at Mille Miglia, scoring his second win in the famous race. Partnered with Marco Crosara, he defeated Juan Manuel Fangio in an Alfa Romeo 6C 3000. In June, Giannino Marzotto made a debut at 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving the factory-entered #15 Ferrari 340 MM Berlinetta together with his brother Paolo. They were only of Scuderia Ferrari crews to finish the race, in the fifth place. Learn more.
Ferdinando “Nando” Minoia (2 June 1884 – 28 June 1940) was an Italian racing driver with an exceptionally long, distinguished and varied career. In 1907, he won the Coppa Florio driving an Isotta Fraschini. In 1923, he drove the world’s first mid-engine Grand Prix car, the Benz Tropfenwagen. In 1927, he won the inaugural Mille Miglia driving an OM. Finally, in 1931 he became the first ‘European Champion’, driving for Alfa Romeo, but without winning a single event. In 1931 he was contracted to drive for Scuderia Ferrari and SA Alfa Romeo. The Italian was very experienced and still fast despite his age and won the first European Drivers Championship when the A.I.A.C.R. introduced a European Championship for drivers narrowly beating his teammate Campari even though he had not scored a single win. In early 1932, Nando Minoia was appointed Cavaliere of the Italian Crown. He died on 28. June 1940 in his hometown Milan, aged 56. Learn more.
To say that his career was in any way a failure is not to know of the achievements that were made in his name in such legendary races as the Targa Florio, Pescara and the Mille Miglia . At home in any type of car he partnered with journalist Denis Jenkinson to win the historic Mille Miglia in 1955, the first foreigners since Caracciola and the only Britons to ever do so. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans he was partnered with Fangio in the lead Mercedes, Neubauer rightly believing that if they were to race in separate cars they would race each other to the possible determent of finish the endurance race. While leading the race they had to withdraw with the rest of the team after tragedy struck and 78 spectators lay dead. The result of a racing accident involving one of the Mercedes. Moss was considered by many as being the first modern professional driver who raced for the love of the sport but also was intent on earning a sizable income. Staying in top physical shape he would travel all over the world to race. Learn more.
Tazio Nuvolari a legend in his own lifetime, was known as Il Montavano Volante, the Flying Mantuan. He epitomized courage and daring and for 30 years he amazed the racing world with his exploits on both two and four wheels. He was born November 18, 1892, in Casteldrio near Mantua. His uncle Giuseppe was a Bianchi dealer and introduced his nephew to motor sports. After serving in the Italian Army as a driver he started racing motorcycles seriously when he was 28. He raced Nortons, Saroleas, Garellis, Fongris and Indians. The Mille Miglia of 1930 would go down in history when Nuvolari caught an unsuspecting Varzi while driving in the night sans headlights. Three kilometers from the finish he suddenly pulled along side, smiling at his startled teammate he flicked on his headlights and powered on to victory. For the Targa Florio of 1932 he requested of Enzo Ferrari a mechanic who weighed as little or less than he. Nuvolari took the young and inexperienced mechanic that Ferrari had given him and told him that he would warn him when they approached a particularly difficult corner so as not to unduly frighten the young man. As they approached a corner, Nuvolari would shout for the mechanic to take cover under the dashboard. The race was another victory for Nuvolari. His last Mille Miglia, in 1948, was a defining moment in his illustrious career. Driving as if possessed, his car taking a terrible beating, speeding along, the bonnet somehow became unfastened, and a gust of wind blew it over Nuvolari‘s head and down the mountainside. With his car literally falling apart under his super human effort the team advised him to quit the race at Bologna fore it was folly to continue under such circumstances and if anyone, Nuvolari had nothing to prove. Nuvolari answered with a derisive gesture, putting his foot down hard and shot away along the Via Emilia. Learn more.
Born in Florence, he was one of the greatest drivers from the “Florentine School” alongside Emilio Materassi, Gastone Brilli-Peri, Clemente Biondetti and Giulio Masetti, and won two editions of legendary Mille Miglia races, in 1935 and 1937. After retiring from racing he lived in Argentina where he opened a grocery store. He died in Buenos Aires at 70 years old. In 1937 experiencing electrical problems, Carlo drove without lights, following his teammate Farina to the finish, winning his second great victory in the Mille Miglia on time. Pintacuda became well known in Brazil for his victories in the GP of Rio de Janeiro at the Circuito da Gávea in 1937 and 1938. In 1937 beating the Auto Union of Hans Stuck. Learn more.
Piero Taruffi was born in Rome, Italy on October 10th, 1906. Like many of his peers Taruffi started his racing career on two wheels but unlike others he continued to race motorcycles after gaining success on four wheels. He won his first race on two wheels in 1925, when he was 19 years old. In forty-one races he scored twenty-two wins. In 1956 with Moss, Behra, and Schell he shared the winning wheel in the 1000 Kilometer Race in Nurburg and in 1957 set the seal upon his brilliant career by winning the Mille Miglia. Learn more.
The mist rose from the wet track as the famous 44 year old racing driver, immaculate both in his dress and his driving, sped along the Bremgarten track in his 158 Alfa Romeo during practice for the forthcoming 1948 Swiss and European Grand Prix. It was back to Alfa Romeo for 1934, and Varzi won 9 races with his P3 as well as the Mille Miglia in a Monza Alfa. Varzi was declared Italian Champion for the second time. Nuvolari rejoined Scuderia Ferrari (who raced the Alfas) in 1935 so Varzi went to Auto Union. In 1936, he won at Tripoli, with a record lap of nearly 142mph, but during the season his health started to fail. He had a torrid affair with another driver’s wife, and became addicted to morphine. He was out of racing for much of 1937 and nothing much more was heard of him until after the war when he made a surprise and welcome comeback to his old form with two successful seasons in the Alfa 158. He had two successful forays to South America and became very popular with the Argentineans. Learn more.
Luigi Villoresi was born in Milan, Italy on May 16th, 1909. Nicknamed “Gigi” he came from a prosperous family and began competing in local rallies at the age of twenty-two with a Lancia Lambda and a few years later acquired a Fiat Balilla, which was very popular with aspiring Italian racers. For the 1951 Inter Europa Cup meeting at Monza, Enzo Ferrari entered him in a Ferrari 340 Coupé. Not only did he win the race but he enjoyed it so much he asked Ferrari it he could race the Coupé in the Mille Miglia. Ferrari refused, saying he would have a Barchetta like Ascari, but Villoresi persisted. Eventually he was allowed to race the Coupé, and won the event. “Enzo Ferrari didn’t understand that the Coupé was actually a better car for the Mille Miglia. The race was wet, but I felt comfortable and was very happy to win.” In 1954, Villoresi switched to Lancia together with Ascari but was deeply affected by Alberto’s fatal accident at Monza in the spring of 1955. He retired from Grand Prix racing in 1957 but continued rally racing and won the Acropolis Rally in Greece in 1958 before retiring. Learn more.