2011 Mille Miglia to Commemorate Rudolf Caracciola’s 1931 Win

Words Jim Davis | May 02, 2011
Two Mercedes-Benz cars – an SS model and an SSK model – will commemorate Rudolf Caracciola’s fabled victory in April 1931
Words Jim Davis May 02, 2011

Mercedes-Benz Classic will have three of the legendary compressor cars lined up on the starting grid at the 2011 Mille Miglia. Two Mercedes-Benz cars – an SS model and an SSK model – will commemorate Rudolf Caracciola’s fabled victory in April 1931 at this year’s exclusive event, which takes place from 11 to 15 May 2011. Back in 1931, with an average speed of 101.1 km/h, the Mercedes-Benz driver along with his co-driver Wilhelm Sebastian was the first non-Italian driver to win the Mille Miglia.

In the year which would have seen the 100th birthday of Juan Manuel Fangio, who died in 1995, his nephew – who bears the same name – will participate along with Mika Häkkinen in the Mille Miglia for the Mercedes-Benz works team in a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR. Driving an identical car with the starting number 658, Juan Manuel Fangio took second place in the 1955 Mille Miglia.

Juan Manuel Fangio II, as he is usually known, was born in 1956 and was a professional racing driver like his famous uncle. He achieved his main successes in the 1980s and 1990s, when he won two championship and two manufacturer titles in the North American IMSA GT series. He is also a two-times winner of the prestigious 12 Hours of Sebring race.

And to mark the 125th anniversary of the motor car, we will also be exhibiting two vehicles that span that period from 1886 to 2011 in the centre of Brescia: a replica of the motor car patented by Carl Benz as well as the Mercedes-Benz F 800 research vehicle.

Once again, Mercedes-Benz is sponsoring the revival of this distinguished Italian road race. In the Mille Miglia 2011, the works team will be fielding the SS and SSK as well as a 300 SLR racing car (W 196 S), recalling Mercedes-Benz’s second great triumph in this, the most famous 1,000-mile race. Stirling Moss and his co-driver Denis Jenkinson won the 1955 Mille Miglia in a 300 SLR, setting the fastest ever time.

Racing drivers and eminent guests will be in the cars of the Mercedes-Benz team. In 2011, the 300 SLR racing car from 1955 will be driven by two-times Formula 1 world champion Mika Häkkinen and Juan Manuel Fangio II, who is involved in motor sports just like his famous racing-driver uncle, who won the world championship for Mercedes-Benz in 1954 and 1955. Former Formula 1 driver Jochen Mass and 15-times motorcycling world champion Giacomo Agostini will be behind the wheel of an SS. Racing drivers Bernd Mayländer and Roland Asch will take part in an SLS AMG. The Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG has close ties with motor sport, for example it is the official F1™ safety car and ensures maximum safety in dangerous race situations. Five-times German Touring Car (DTM) champion Bernd Schneider will be driving a 300 SL (W 198), as is the racing driver Klaus Ludwig.

Another racing car lining up at the start will be a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 194 model series) from 1952 – the car in which Rudolf Caracciola took fourth place in the 1952 Mille Miglia, the last time that he competed in the event. Finally, the brand team will also be represented by eleven Mercedes-Benz 300 SL cars (W 198 model series) with their famous gullwing doors, as well as a 220 model (W 180) and a 180 D model (W 120). A total of 18 cars will be starting for Mercedes-Benz. Cars of all the model types mentioned took part in the Mille Miglia between 1927 and 1957 – the prerequisite for all cars participating in the revival, which was first held in 1977.

Motor Klassik magazine is offering a remarkable opportunity in 2011: it is holding a draw to select one lucky reader to be the co-driver of a black Mercedes-Benz 300 SL with starting number 417 in the 2011 Mille Miglia. John Fitch and his co-driver Kurt Gessl drove this sports car model to victory in the GT category in 1955, coming fifth in the overall standings.

The opening and preparation day will take place on 11 May 2011 in Brescia. This year’s Mille Miglia race, for which 375 cars have registered, will start at 7 p.m. on 12 May 2011 in Viale Venezia, with the cars setting off at intervals. From Brescia, the route heads through Sirmione and Ferrara to Bologna, where the first leg ends. The cars will arrive there from 0:30 a.m. On 13 May 2011, the cars will leave Bologna from 8 a.m., travelling via Gambettola, San Marino, Sansepolcro, Spoleto, Terminillo and Rieti to Rome. The high-speed cavalcade will arrive in the Italian capital from 8:30 p.m., heading for the Castel Sant’Angelo near the Vatican.

The third and final leg begins at 6:30 a.m. on 14 May 2011 in Rome, with the route leading through Vallelunga, Viterbo, Radicofani and Pienza before reaching Sienna and Florence. A highlight en route will be the two passes, Passo della Futa and Passo della Raticosa, from where the cars will head to Bologna, Modena, Maranello, Reggio Emilia, Parma and Cremona before crossing the finish line back in Brescia. At 10:55 p.m. the first participants are expected to return to Viale Venezia, where all the vehicles will again be presented to the public. The awards ceremony on 15 May will mark the end of the 2011 Mille Miglia.

Rudolf Caracciola Bio:

Rudolf Caracciola was born in Remagen, Germany, on 30 January 1901. Both his parents were enthusiastic about motor sports and, at the age of 15, he obtained special permission to take his driving test. He started his over 30-year racing career as a motorcyclist. Aged 21, he won the ‘Round Cologne’ race in 1922, as a result of which car manufacturer Fafnir entered him in the Avus Race in Berlin. Having finished a respectable fourth and quickly going on to win at Berlin’s Grunewald stadium in an Ego compact car, Caracciola applied to Daimler-Benz AG – starting his racing driver career in the era of compressor cars. In 1923, he raced for the first time as a works driver in a Mercedes 1.5-litre racing car in Baden-Baden and went on to take eleven more first places that year. He achieved an impressive level of success over the years, notching up victory after victory. There was hardly a race that he didn’t win. His ability to drive quickly and safely even in bad weather resulted in admiration among his fellow racing drivers and earned him the nickname ‘rain master’.

The course of history meant that Caracciola drove during three different racing eras during his more than 30-year career. Before the Second World War, he first dominated the era of compressor cars with their sheer power and then took a succession of victories in cars with a much more sophisticated construction. These ‘Silver Arrows’ increasingly evolved into finely integrated single systems. Caracciola put on a virtuoso performance in both types: He secured countless victories in the K, S, SS, SSK and SSKL racing cars, including taking the title in the European Hill Climb Championship in 1930 and 1931. Between 1934 and 1939, in the Mercedes-Benz racing cars known as ‘Silver Arrows’, he came first in 16 Grand Prix races and, in 1935, 1937 and 1938, won the European championship – the equivalent of the Formula 1 world championship today. Caracciola also set numerous records. Particularly spectacular was his record-breaking drive in January 1938, when he reached 432.7 km/h on the motorway between Frankfurt am Main and Darmstadt – the fastest speed ever achieved on a public road to the present day.

After the war, it appeared that he would emulate his past successes, for example when he came fourth in the 1952 Mille Miglia. But an accident ended his racing career permanently. At the Berne Grand Prix in 1952, the left rear wheel of his Mercedes-Benz 300 SL locked up on the 13th lap and he skidded into a tree. He shattered his left leg and was reliant on a wheelchair and crutches for a long time. From 1956 he worked in a representative capacity for Daimler-Benz and was in charge of Mercedes-Benz vehicle sales to the families of US and British troops stationed in Europe. On 28 September 1959, Rudolf Caracciola died in Kassel at the age of 58.