Get behind the wheel with Woodham Mortimer's Chris Ward

By Scott Manson | 21 Jun 2018 | Travel, Speed

Woodham Mortimer's operations manager on the charm of the Mille Miglia and how to survive four days on the road

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* Chris Ward takes us behind the wheel of Italy's most famous four day rally

Running annually since 1927 (apart from an understandable break during World War II), the 1,000-mile Mille Miglia classic car race ran through the roads of Italy until 1957 after a car struck spectators. However, it was revived in 1982 as a four-day rally – and one limited to cars produced no later than 1957 – running a Brescia-Rome-Brescia round trip. Bringing together the best of tradition and elegance, it’s become one of the world’s most iconic road races that’s as special for the spectators as it is for the drivers.

Woodham Mortimer, formerly JD Classics, has been a gold sponsor of the Mille Miglia rally for the past three years, with 12 cars at the event in 2018, and the company's operation manager Chris Ward one of the daring sportsman enjoying time behind the wheel. Ward tells Tempus that those in the know ensure they check out the road between Rome and Siena – regarded as the most beautiful stretch of road in Italy – where you’ll get the perfect view of some of the world’s finest old automobiles being pushed to their limits. Here, he tells us what the world's most iconic race means to him – and how to cope with the intensity of that perfect four day drive.

Chris, what does the Mille Miglia mean to you?
It’s a very special event to be part of, not only because you’re getting to drive such fantastic cars past fantastic scenery, but also to experience the passion that the Italian people have for this event. It’s truly amazing. I’m in awe of the passion that every single person has for the cars. Italy is, obviously, the home of Ferrari so I guess that’s where a lot of it comes from. Whether you’re going through a large city like Rome or a small village in the mountains, there are people, from children of five-years-old to elderly people of 90, lining the roads, waving flags, and supporting the event from the moment it starts to the moment it finishes. It’s really special.

Four days of consistent driving is a tough feat for even the most enthusiastic classic car owner. What keeps you going for such long stretches on the road?
It is incredibly intense, not only for the car but for the human body as well. You can be in the car from 7.30am through to 10.30pm. I’m lucky that I’ve done it in our C-type, which is actually an incredibly comfortable car to drive. Although the cockpit is very short and you’ve got a strange seating position, I haven’t got out of the car thinking ‘Cor, I’m really aching’. I’ve got out of the car feeling quite refreshed from a physical point of view but obviously quite drained mentally because of everything that’s going on. >>

Related: Discover the world's most epic car rallies

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* Classic cars drive along some of the most picturesque road in the world during the Mille Miglia

Tell us about the gorgeous Jaguar C-type you’ve previously raced in the Mille Miglia.
I’ve been very fortunate to drive it. It was originally owned by Fangio, who was a very well-known Formula 1 world champion. It’s a beautiful car to drive. At Woodham Mortimer, we have a great selection of cars, dating back through whole period that the original Mille Miglia was run, so it’s not just C-types that we can cater for, we can cater for cars as early as the late ’20s, early ’30s, right the way through to 1957. I think whatever car you’re able to drive in the Mille Miglia, it is a privilege and you’ll get the best out of it and really enjoy the event.

How do you prepare drivers for the rally?
We have a day’s training prior to the event itself so participants have the opportunity to drive their car and get a real feel for it. We take them to a proving ground that simulates some of the mountain roads we have on Mille Miglia. We also give them an insight on how the event works from start to finish. Part of that is introducing those people to their service crews. They are the most important people that our drivers need to form a relationship with, because the first thing you need to do when you get back after a day driving is communicate the car’s performance with your crew so they can create a job list of requirements from your feedback. At JD Classics, I would align us with the Italians and the passion they have for motoring. We are lucky to have such a fantastic team of engineers supporting the drivers and working on the cars overnight to make sure they’re ready to roll the next day.

As a Mille Miglia pro, what’s your advice for drivers participating for the first time?
I would say that people need to understand the event as a whole and understand that it’s not only a test of the driver but it’s also a test of the car. You need to understand how the car works and be mechanically sympathetic in the way that you drive it. You’re able to drive quite quickly on the Mille Miglia but the cars need to be treated as you’d be expected to be treated as a person. It’s about taking your time, too, not trying to rush, and enjoying yourself.

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