To celebrate the launch of Stirling's new book, Stirling Moss: My Racing Life and the 60th Anniversary of arguably his most famous victory, we recount, with the help of an extract from Robert Edward’s Autobiography on Stirling, the events leading up to the Mille Miglia and why both Denis Sargent Jenkinson 'Jenks' and his invention, the Roller Map, contributed immensely to Stirling’s greatest ever victory.
The Mille Miglia was a race which Stirling knew well but did not much like; not many drivers of that period did. Indeed, it was one of the few events that would cost him sleep the night before. It was a race capable of giving moments of unalloyed pleasure, but it was not one that allowed room for the sort of tactics which can make a difference in a 300‑mile Grand Prix, or even at Le Mans. It was, after all, a single lap in brisk traffic and he had never managed to complete it before, in three separate attempts for Jaguar.
It was therefore important for Stirling to deliver. His chosen navigator, Denis Sargent Jenkinson, or Jenks as he was known, was not only apparently totally nerveless but was an influential journalist whose high opinion was a necessary element of any British driver's resume. Partnering Eric Oliver, Jenks had been three times world sidecar champion, and as a totally committed motor‑racing enthusiast, never made allowances nor took any prisoners in his assessment of a driver. With an intensity seldom found in any other sport he spoke as he found and Stirling felt that he had to impress him, if only to offset some of the more chauvinistic elements of the British press who found Stirling's alliance with Mercedes disappointing. Jenks, on the other hand, despised jingoism, as Stirling recalled, "There I was with an audience; Jenks simply wasn't the sort of man to come up to you after a race and congratulate you, so you knew that if he was impressed, then you'd done a good job. When he was sitting there I could feel that he was fairly impressed with what I was doing and that was very nice."
Because the Mille Miglia was an important race on the calendar and contained massive hazards, preparation for the 1955 edition was as thorough as the Mercedes Benz works could manage. There were two chief difficulties; first, the local drivers knew the course better than anyone else; and second, being an open race the variance between cars and drivers was wider than at any other event, even Le Mans. From Fiat Topolinos to thinly disguised Grand Prix cars, this extraordinary event offered a terminal hazard for every metre of its length. Only two non-Italians had ever won it before: the great Rudolf Caracciola in 1931 aboard a Mercedes; and Huschke von Hanstein in 1940 driving a BMW.
The Mercedes Benz works effort was geared towards winning, of course, ideally 1‑2‑3‑4, but each car was allowed its own tactics as it was not an unpredictable event that could be run to any pattern. Fangio drove alone, as did Karl Kling, whereas Hans Herrmann was accompanied by a brave volunteer Mercedes mechanic. Fangio never wanted to carry a passenger since the time he had crashed in a marathon South American road race and his navigator had died.
Jenks came armed with a revolutionary set of comprehensive pace notes on a long roll of paper inside an alloy and Perspex case. Given that the two men had not practised the race at maximum speed, it would be interesting to see if the hand signals by which Jenkinson communicated would be understandable. Speech was out of the question; the unsilenced car was deafening at a hundred yards, never mind actually inside the cockpit. They had already experimented with an intercom system but Stirling had been unable to hear anything that Jenks had said. The equipment worked perfectly and it was only years later, when discussing the matter with an academic from Cornell University, that the pair discovered that Stirling's own level of concentration blocked out the messages, rather than any technical fault. Jenks' response, typically trenchant, "Well, that just goes to show, if these rally drivers were really going on ten‑tenths, they couldn't hear the pace notes, could they?"
Even practice was hazardous; they managed to collide with an ammunition‑laden military truck as well as an unfortunate sheep. In total, they drove six complete circuits over a period of as many weeks, in between Stirling's other racing commitments. There was no opportunity to practice under race conditions, simply because the roads remained open until race day. This meant that the race strategy itself was the result of something like a jigsaw, as the course had to be explored in separate sections: the race itself was the first time that they attempted the full circuit uninterrupted.
And famously, they won the Mille Miglia in a record time, averaging a shade under 100 mph (97.90) for the 992.329 miles. This time would never be beaten. It was a Herculean effort by any measure and it had one very simple effect; it made Stirling a superstar, although not in his own mind. Jenkinson was enchanted by the experience and afterwards Stirling was moved to say "I might possibly have finished the Mille without Jenks (although I doubt it) but I couldn't possibly have won it."
The time sheet below speaks volumes; imagine the speeds that Stirling needed to maintain to achieve his record average for the 1955 Millie Miglia on normal public roads, whose surfaces would compare poorly with today’s modern roads, lined by thousands of spectators who were just inches away from the cars racing past them.
As an example of the pace kept up by Stirling and Jenks, for the final 134km stage from Cremona to Brescia, they completed it in a time of 30 minutes 54 seconds, at an astonishing average speed of 260.19km/h or 161.677 mph. It was this pace and their team work which gave them their record average speed for the 1955 Mille Miglia, a record which will never be broken, nor matched in terms of driving ability.