With screaming vocal cords to the end (Octane 12-20)

Hands off our Pien (Alpine), I will never let her go, never. Liesbeth Nagelkerke and Marjet Winsemius about their Mille Miglia in an Alpine A106.

Finally the time has come! We can start. Because the Renault Alpine A106 Mille Miles from 1957 is still such a young thing, we have been given starting number 397, out of the 410 in total. For us, this means that we actually drive a race more than the others. Because the organization’s “End Car” is right behind us, and if it catches up with you, your race is over. It also means that we are only allowed to cross the starting podium at a quarter past four. Our ideal finish time is 00.15 am. A short driving day compared to the other days, but a later one.
We can’t wait and, together with all the other drivers, we walk impatiently and a bit nervous across the courtyard where all the classics are parked. We do have discussions with each other, but to be honest, little of that comes in. The Classic Mike team checks all cars one last time. And then we can go!
The stage, the people cheering, the cameras. It is all unreal. We drive off, assuming that the Mille Miglia is a rally in which you drive a beautiful route that is physically demanding, but also one with police escort that allows you to surf quickly, safely and easily through traffic.
Well, that turns out to be a wrong assumption. Within ten minutes you are heroically overtaken left and right by the few cars behind you. We learn that the “Pien” accelerator and the exclamation “throttle on the shelf” were invented here. With us, the button is turned. We can do that too. Without power brakes we pass through red crossings and countless roundabouts. We overtake left and right, go against the traffic and tear through the bends with screaming vocal cords. So, we’re on a roll. We overtake a lot of cars, and end up behind a pace car that we cannot just overtake. We are now far ahead of our ideal time, the End Car is nowhere to be seen. Dinner in Ferrara’s beautiful concert hall is not eatable (as all packaged and prepared corona proof), but the ambiance is beautiful.
On to the last part of the ride. We have to start at the back of the row in our own place of 397. We have to earn our lead again. This is done about twice a day.
This is done about twice a day. We soon end up in very dense fog. With a high view from five meters. We cannot register the indication from the road book that a sign is arriving.
Only the pole is visible, the plate disappears into the white plumes. Finding the throttle was exciting, but this mist ride certainly is. We do not find our way with screaming vocal cords but with dead silence. At 11:45 pm we arrive more than half an hour before time. We made it! Wow, what an exciting day. Sleeping is not yet possible. The adrenaline cannot be put to sleep just like that.
We start at 08.30 am for day 2. Ideal finish time in Rome is 11.45 pm. The longest day is ahead of us. Kind of fresh and fruity we join the queue. Number 396 (the Hungarians) and number 398 (the Italians) have now become our buddies. They don’t speak a word of English, but apparently we all speak the same language in the automotive world. We have fun together and wish each other the best of luck. As always, team 398 quickly overtakes us with their Porsche. We do the same with the Hungarians.
This day is dedicated to the climb to San Marino, a tour in Urbino and the Apennines. Many cars die in San Marino because they start the climb up hot. Pien can ride at a great pace, but has little power up, so we take it easy. Once at the top, the drive through the narrow streets of San Marino is fantastic. The people on the side of the road are pressed against the walls to let us through. They cheer and shout, so do we. What a party. In Urbino there is even a man who has looked us up in the starting list and shouts out, “Yeaahhh! Liesbeth and Marjet !!!! “We don’t know the good man, it gives us energy.
We regularly receive a beautiful bag filled with food from the organization. Pien’s backseat is starting to look like a takeaway. Time to do something about it. At the end of the afternoon, just before we enter the Apennines, we stop at an intersection where marshals, a policeman and two photographers are standing. We hand out our ‘backseat’, they are happy, we are happy and we get into conversation. Marjet in her best Italian and I with the photographers who turn out to be Dutch. They take some nice pictures of us and then we have to move on. The ideal time imposes itself.
The roads in the Apennines are narrow, two-way traffic, and have no hard shoulder. No street lighting in combination with our 6Volt Pien (weak headlights) means that we have little vision, just like the first night. The hairpin bends alternate quickly. We have to concentrate.
And then it happens, just after a really sharp hairpin turn up, the engine cuts out. We stand still and the silence around us overtakes us. We realize that this is a life-threatening place, where you can only start with an inclination test while the ravine is very deep at a distance of two meters. Marjet takes a flashlight and goes madly on the other side of the bend to indicate that people should drive slowly. I’m calling Mike, our service hero, but I’m just out of range. In the meantime I stay in Pien, I have become one with this car. Nobody can get me out of here, I will not let her go, for nothing. After three exciting endless minutes, Pace Car 401450 comes to our rescue. The men block the road and look cleverly at our battery – everyone who comes to Pien comes to me, that is clearly visible, I can tell by them. We try to start the engine again and suddenly, after fifteen minutes, Pien is working again! Off we go. With Pace Car 401450 on our heels. Our new friends for life. Arrival in Rome is a release. The guys from Classic Mike run after Pien and make sure she can’t just turn off again.
Saturday is another long day ahead of us. After 398 has overtaken us at full speed and we have left our Hungarian friends behind, we become more and more enthusiastic. With our JBLbox at 10, we race honking and enthusiastically waving to anyone who wants to hear it. Spectators must keep their distance, which means that people are scattered all along the route.
This third day is the most beautiful. Straight through Tuscany, ending in Parma. It’s raining cats and dogs. We are not spared hail either. The black skies, interspersed with lightning bolts, and the beautiful Tuscan autumn dress: beautiful! There is no question of screeching tires today, but of sliding, so we are careful. In the beginning then. We fully enjoy the surroundings and tear with a nice round engine faster and faster on the country roads. Meanwhile, Pien is no longer dry inside. A trickle of water enters my shoe regularly. Ah, a pleasant refreshment in between all efforts.
We also learn what a 6Volt dynamo likes and dislikes. Windscreen wipers and headlights on is not the intention. There is a nice cadence between the wiper once on, then off, until we really don’t see anything anymore. Headlights on when we enter the unlit tunnel, off when we leave. Forbidden to drive with high beam. For example, all buttons that our Pien has are frequently operated.
The many time trials and regularities are going smoothly. While Marjet urges me to go faster or slower, I can’t resist making a movie while I’m aiming for a steady speed, up hill, down hill, because how beautiful the surroundings are.
Siena is enchanting. To drive through there with Pien, and then come to a stop on red and white runners in the main square, is breathtaking. We feel privileged. The road continues, we are full of energy, it is going great! We can handle the second night through the mountains.
After some beautiful country roads we arrive in Lucca. We drive over the city walls at a golden sunset. Awesome! Then fate strikes. We drive out of Lucca and just like that a terrible noise cuts through our soul. We immediately put Pien aside. Just like last time, I remain petrified at the wheel. Nobody to Pien !!! Our friends from Pace Car 401450 are next to us in seconds. They quickly nod sadly ‘no’. Mike quickly comes to our rescue with his team. The End Car joins us and asks us to return our stamp card. We stretch and stretch, but after fifteen minutes we have to. Our race is over. But maybe we can still finish the Mille? With five big men and a spectator around us, we get the terrible news that we have stupid bad luck. An engine problem that cannot be solved at that time. We were beaten by a 1950 propeller, which resulted in a broken piston. Tears when I really have to let go of the steering wheel and hoist a tow truck Pien up. Suddenly everything is over. No reason.
The next day we continue our way to Brescia with a characterless rental car full of buttons, brakes and power steering, heating and so on to congratulate the others on their finish. We say goodbye to the men of our now “Safe Car” renamed 401450 and Claudia. Slowly we are happy again from the wonderful three full days that we have been able to experience this spectacle. Who knows, we might ride him out someday.
Mark Geessink: thank you so much for this unforgettable trip! For the reader: Mark dared to lend us his car, taking care of everything down to the last detail. Also all respect and awe for the Classic Mike team (Mike Kastrop) that was available day and night for all of us.

Text: Liesbeth Nagelkerke

Images: Niko Bloemendal, Tom Heuvink, Joey Hofland, Rinus Vader