The Easter bank holiday was marred by even more sad news this year with the passing of British racing hero Sir Stirling Moss.
In three articles, I will look over three key periods of Moss’s racing life from the highs and lows of such a phenomenal driver.
Sir Stirling is touted as the best driver to never win a Formula 1 Drivers Title by nearly everyone in the motorsport echelons.
A look at his Formula 1 record cements that statement as a certainty rather than conjecture.
Of the full seasons he competed his championship results stood at:
1956: 2nd (3 points behind Fangio)
1958: 2nd (1 point behind Hawthorn)
1959: 3rd (5 1/2 points behind Brabham)
He was therefore never off the championship rostrum, admittedly not the top award but always a contender. And deservedly so.
That contained 16 wins, with 24 podiums and 16 pole positions.
On top of that, two overall second places at Le Mans with one of those being a first in class. He won the 12 hours of Sebring and Mille Miglia in 1954 and 1955 respectively.
He won 212 of the 529 races in which he entered. Which is astounding.
All this put Moss as the coming man. After performing very well in an unreliable yet fast Maserati as Fangio’s replacement in 1954, Moss got the call up to become a works Mercedes driver alongside his hero in 1955. Only 25 at the time.
One of Moss’s many accomplished drives came in that year.
But it was not in Formula 1.
The 1955 Mille Miglia
The Mille Miglia was developed as a response from the city of Brescia after their loss of hosting duties for Italian Grand Prix to Monza in 1927.
The 1000 mile lap of northern Italy was created to be bigger and better than a mere Grand Prix, it was to be an immense challenge that drew even more attention.
The route started in Brescia and followed down the East Coast and the Adriatic Sea through San Marino to Pescaro before crossing country to Rome and turning North through Siena and Bologna on the return to Brescia.
Before him, only two non Italians had won the event which had taken place over 20 times.
Moss tackled the course with co-driver Denis “Jenks” Jenkinson, the celebrated journalist.
Jenks wrote for 40 years about the top level of sportscar and F1 races for Motor Sport Magazine up until his passing in 1996.
Jenks had been working with another Mercedes works driver, American John Fitch, on a new idea called pace notes. Getting a co-driver to recall the route for the driver to save on learning 1000 miles of Italian road.
Fitch was signed to a lower class level than Moss, a 300SL compared to the 300SLR racer, and so allowed Moss to take Jenks to compete for overall victory.
Fitch did still go on to finish top of his class and fifth overall.
Moss and Jenks practised the route, they wrote off two cars in the process achieving immense speed on the public roads of Italy.
They would make note of where the road was different to how it looked, whether a blind crest was straight and could be taken at 170mph or whether there was a sharp corner afterwards.
Moss would have to put full faith in these notes come the day.
Moss spoke to Motortrend about the 300SLR: “It was not an easy car to drive. The steering was heavy at low speed, and the brakes were heavy. It wasn’t a wimp’s car.
“Its great strength was that it was a driver’s car, so well-balanced and responsive to the throttle and the brakes.
“With a Mercedes, you didn’t worry whether a wheel was going to fall off or the gearbox was going to break.”
Moss put immense confidence into the notes prepared and that they were being read off by Jenks correctly.
“If Jenks hadn’t been there I hate to think how much slower I would have been,” he told Motortrend.
“If he said it was flat-out over the brow, I kept it in there at 180 mph.”
At the half way point in Rome, Moss had a 1 minutes 15 second lead over Taruffi in the Ferrari 376 S.
Despite the old saying “He who leads Rome, is never first home”, Moss and Jenks continued to power on, in the zone together.
Jenks used 15 different hand signals to communicate the pace notes to Moss.
Moss would tune out any intercom in his concentration on the road and there was no point in attempting speech in a 1950s top flight sports roadster at full pelt.
Jenks recalled the event in his report for Motor Sport; “Looking up I suddenly realized that we were overtaking an aeroplane, and then I knew I was living in the realms of fantasy, and when we caught and passed a second one my brain began to boggle at the sustained speed.”
There was no one who could match Moss throughout the race.
As the end drew near, not knowing if they were leading or not, Moss did not hold back.
Even when Jenks was sick down the side of the car.
“The British team in the German car did not let up and over the final stretch from Cremona to Brescia Moss averaged 198.496 k.p.h., an enormous speed when it is remembered that this included stopping at Mantova to have the route card stamped.”
The car powerslided into Brescia and crossed the line at 10 hours, 7 minutes and 48 seconds.
An average speed of 99mph, 10mph faster than the previous record.
Moss beat Fangio by over half an hour in the second Mercedes and was 45 minutes ahead of the lead Ferrari of Umberto Maglioli.
Even today, it would take a ridiculous drive to achieve a drive like that in modern machinery on the same roads.
At some point man would relent. Moss did not.
He performed exceptionally.
Moss’s win at the historic event is “perhaps, the most famous and revered long distance race win on record” as described by John Smailes in his book, Race across the World.
Smailes also told a story in his book about Fangio giving him a magic pill at the start that he had acquired from a medical student in Argentina.
After his fierce 10 hour foray across Italy and the subsequent celebration, he drove 600km overnight to a lunch meeting the net day with Daimler directors in Suttgart.
He then left that for Cologne and arrived there at 9pm.
Moss told Motor Sport Magazine that he had no idea if if the pill was illegal or legal. Only that it was no issue at the time.
He wrote in his diary “Fangio’s pills are fantastic”
Smailes notes that noone is likely to admit to taking stimulants during the marathon and that only Moss would have the confidence to make such an admission.
Sources: Motortrend – 1955 Mille Miglia: The Most Epic Drive. Ever by Angus McKenzie
Motorsport Magazine Archive – XVII 1000 Miglia by Denis Jenkinson
Race across the World by John Smailes