Seeing a convoy of vintage cars wind through Italian medieval towns and countryside is like watching the passage of a magnificent parade of designs, technology and colours from another epoch. Even if you are not a great fan of motor sports, what better way to enjoy some of central Italy' s unique scenery than by visiting some, if not all, of the places on the route of the Gran Premio Nuvolari, which passes through the Marche, Tuscany and Emilia Romagna regions this year on September 17 through 19.
Now in its 20th year, the Gran Premio Nuvolari is one of the world' s most important international regularity rallies for vintage cars because of the number of the teams competing, the kilometers covered and, above all, the technical difficulties and the number of time trials it entails. Also known as a time speed distance rally, a regularity rally like the Gran Premio is normally run on public roads, with the drivers trying to maintain exact times and precise average speeds on the designated route.
Reserved for historical cars registered between 1919 and 1969, the 2010 Gran Premio Nuvolari, which involves 300 vehicles and their 750 drivers and team members, departs from Piazza Sordello in Mantua at 1 pm on September 17, 2010. The first stage ends in Pisa after the cars drive through Suzzara, Brescello, Parma, Varano, Pontremoli, Aulla, Sarzana, Forte dei Marmi and Viareggio. The following day, the route continues through Livorno, Casciana Terme, Peccioli, San Gimignano and features a motorcade in Piazza del Campo in Siena. This second stage of the race goes through Monte San Savino, Arezzo, Montevarchi, San Giustino, Sant' Angelo and Montefiore Conca and concludes that evening in Rimini. The final stage, run on Sunday, September 19, takes the teams through Cervia, Lugo, Portomaggiore, Ferrara, Bondeno, Poggio Rusco, San Giacomo, Bondanello, San Benedetto and, finally, back to Mantua for the prize-giving ceremony.
The Gran Premio Nuvolari re-enacts the original rally organised by Renzo Castagneto, Aymo Maggi and Giovanni Canestrini, creators of the famous Mille Miglia race, in memory of Tazio Giorgio Nuvolari, the great Italian racing car driver nicknamed the ‘Flying Mantuan,' who died of a stroke on August 11, 1953, just thee years after his last race.
Born in the small village of Castel d' Ario, in the province of Mantua on November 16, 1892, Nuvolari began his professional career in the 1920s by successfully racing motorcycles. Towards the beginning of the 1930s, tempted by motor racing, he decided to make it his future after winning the pretigious Targa Florio in Sicily in 1931. He went on to win every major Italian and European race-several of them more than once-including the Grand Prix, Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and, in 1936, the Vanderbilt Cup in America. In fact, of the 229 car races he entered, he won 105, often setting records. When he did not win, it was often because of mechanical failures. In his 1952 book, The Kings of the Road, American writer Ken W. Purdy described him as ‘hard on his mounts, a great flogger of automobiles, a car killer.'
A small man, just five feet, four inches tall, like many others in his profession Nuvolari was very superstitious. While racing, he always wore the same yellow sweater, blue pants and tricolored scarf. He also wore a silver turtle on a string around his neck similar to the one the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio had given him to remind him of the fable about the tortoise and the hare. He quickly became very popular not just because he was an imaginative and inventive driver (he pioneered, for example, the ‘controlled skid') but because he seemed almost indestructible, regardless of the numerous accidents and injuries he suffered behind the wheel. People also admired him for his personal courage in carrying on despite the tragic loss of both of his sons in their late teenage years.
When Nuvolari died, all of Mantua turned out for his funeral. The bier leading the mile-long funeral procession was placed on a flag-draped car chassis and was flanked by some of the most important figures in motor racing history of his day, including Alberto Ascari, Luigi Villoresi and Juan Manuel Fangio. Enzo Ferrari, who had met Nuvolari in 1924 when he, too, was a race car driver and not yet owner of the Ferrari automobile company, was also there. Nuvolari was buried in his distinctive racing kit, his favorite detachable steering wheel by his side. The words ‘May you race even faster on the highways of the sky' were engraved on his tomb-a fitting epitaph to one of Italy's greatest sporting legends.
One of the highlights of the Gran Premio Nuvolari in Tuscany with be the lunch stop of the cars at the Cantine Barone Ricasoli at the Ricasoli Castle in Brolio on Saturday, September 18, 2010. The teams will be offered local dishes prepared with local produce by chef Franco Sangiacomo of the Osteria of the Castle. The cars will arrive just in front of the Ricasoli cellars and will be parked there while drivers spend about 45 minutes resting and having lunch inside the cellars. Therefore, spectators will be able to look at the cars and watch them arriving and departing from the Ricasoli Castle in Brolio.
The Tazio Nuvolari Museum is housed in Palazzo del Podestà, in piazza Broletto, in the centre of Mantua. Opened in 1983 on instructions left by Nuvolari in his will, the museum displays the sporting memorabilia that Nuvolari left to the Automobile Club of Mantua. For more information, see www.tazionuvolari.it