One of British motor racing’s heroes is Stirling Moss.
But how can that be, he never won a world championship?
People like Damon Hill won a world championship.
Even Jenson Button won a world championship.
If winning awards is all that counts, that makes them better drivers doesn’t it?
Not quite, let me give you an example.
Imagine starting at Marble Arch and driving as fast as you possibly can all the way to Cardiff in Wales.
Flat out, with no motorways, just main roads and back roads.
Then hammering it from Cardiff across to Manchester, on public roads.
Then flooring it and going like crazy from Manchester up to Glasgow in Scotland, on side roads.
Foot down all the way from Glasgow over to Edinburgh, on back roads.
Then going like the clappers from Edinburgh back down to York, on local roads.
Finally, giving it everything all the way back to Marble Arch, on public roads.
That’s a thousand miles on ordinary roads, not motorways, around the UK.
How long would it take, twenty-four hours?
Sixty years ago, in 1955, Stirling Moss did it in ten.
Or, to be more accurate, he did worse than that.
It was called the Mille Miglia, a road race around the top half of Italy, on old-fashioned roads through villages and across mountains.
He raced against the best drivers in the world and beat them all.
It was the fastest time ever, before or since.
And the car he did it in wasn’t anything like a modern car.
As Moss said “It was never easy to drive, you really had to adapt yourself to its mass and the awkward gearbox, but on the open road it was exceptionally fast. It wasn’t agile, but it would steer on the throttle. You could set it up accurately going into a corner, squirt it and the back end would go out, then bite and fire you out of the corner. Only the drum brakes were, frankly, awful. It was an enormously fast car with inferior brakes.”
Inferior brakes, that’s awkward.
Still, safety features weren’t considered essential in those days.
Moss said “Of course we never even considered wearing seat belts because of the fear of fire, they offered us a harness but we said we’d prefer to be thrown out if the car went over a cliff”.
Moss could out-drive other people but, more importantly, he could out-think them.
Each car carried a passenger.
All the drivers went round checking the roads before the race.
But unlike the others Moss got his passenger, Denis Jenkinson, to record his notes on a long roll of paper.
Then he fed the roll into an aluminium and Perspex box he’d made.
During the race, Jenkinson scrolled through the notes and told Moss what was coming up.
“Right” “Left” “Bumpy” “Slippery” “Brake-Hard”
All done in hand signals so as to be seen above the noise.
It meant Moss could take it to the limit more than the other drivers.
It meant he knew where he could safely put his foot down.
It meant he could brake later than them going into corners.
Because Moss had an unfair advantage.
His car was equipped with something theirs wasn’t.