The private bank for historic motor racing

11 - 13 March 2011

Rick Pearson is competing in the Coppa Milano-San Remo from 11 – 13 March. He is posting his thoughts and experiences of the event here.

Coppa Day 3

Day 3 of the Coppa Milano-San Remo dawned wet and the crew and car of the #42 Aston Martin resembled the walking wounded: The co-driver having aggravated his torn shoulder (from a recent scooter mishap) pushing the car over the previous 2 days and the driver with pains from  the gearbox, steering and pedals that were stiff after so many years of not being used. It’s not sure what the final straw was, either when we strolled out of the hotel to head to the start and spotted the enormous pirate ship tied up that neither of us had spotted the 2 times we’d passed it the night before or when our friendly policeman advised us that snow was expected just to the North of us, but it became obvious that is was too much to ask of any of us, let alone a 60 year old car, to head 4h30 through that kind of weather back to Milan, just to then have to turn around for a 5 hour motorway run south after lunch back to our agreed drop off of the car in Nice. Especially given that a swift left turn out of the car park and 2h30 on the motorway would see us there. To try and take the car back into weather that foul given our mental and physical conditions was too much to ask. So we passed the start line to say farewell to the other crews (narrowly avoiding being run off the road deliberately by the over aggressive works Alfa Romeo support crew!) and then headed due west, hugging the coast to avoid the snow. Arriving at our destination we ate and then both slept the entire afternoon. It had been a tough few days and at the end of it, it was probably the 1952 Aston Martin DB2 that was in the best condition!

A fabulous experience, and as mad as we expected. But also a LOT tougher.

Thanks for following us on here.

Your somewhat dirty and shattered correspondant


Bentley Brits in the mist

Lagonda lads wrapping up against the cold

The Police Escort was very handy if a little close at times!

Waiting for the start

Where did that come from?

We followed #41 everywhere!

Coppa Day 2

0600 Day 2. Long stares after a short night’s sleep and aches everywhere from the physicality of driving an old car that hard for that long.

Enthusiasm very limited for the day ahead.

Waiting for the start on Day 2

One Winged Wonder plots the route from here

But back in the garage, the Aston is looking superb in her stickers, I manage to patch the suspension with tie wraps, she’s used no oil and just a splash of water and fires first turn of the key! We head down to the start line alongside the river in Central Turin, taking in some spectacular sights on the way as we pass through the stunning old town and as we meet up with a few of the other English speaking competitors we’re pretty excited about the day ahead which will see us head down to the Italian Riviera with a late lunch planned in San Remo and then overnight in Genoa.

The car is running well and heading South across the plains she’s clearly finally enjoying herself, as are we! We make great progress and are one of the earlier cars arriving at the Passage Control in Carru after the first 2 hours and 80kms of running. Out of Carru and it’s into the hills of Clavesana for 5 regularity sections. Our trip system is down and we’re amateurs at this! After a couple of misfires, by the end of the sections we’re hitting the timing line within a second of the required times, but the good guys are sub 1/10th of a second of error! No clue how...

Cats at rest in Carru

Ferraris waiting to leave Carru control

Long run now up to the Colle San Bartolomeo (another 100km, another 2 hard hours at the wheel!) and running behind a classic police car from the Italian Police collection we start to get the hang of running all the red lights and generally pushing along and causing a pain of ourselves to the other traffic who seem extremely tolerant of any classic car with stickers on the side!

Time at this stop for a quick Mars bar and a Hot Chocolate before hearing into 10 linked regularities. Still without electronic assistance it’s down to some steady driving and the co-pilots skills on the stopwatch and we start to get much much better, with our error on one of the legs being exactly 0.00!!! For the record, errors were 0.56, 0.40, 1.36, 1.06, 1.04, 0.50, 0.00 (!), 0.21, 0.49, 0.04 (!) so we end the section feeling pretty pleased with ourselves and power down out of the hills to lunch in San Remo is high spirits.

Astons rest at the top of the Colle San Bartolomeo

Co-pilot sweating like a royal marine on a spelling test
as he prepares for the regularities

1 hour later and we’re back on the road, in the coastal traffic and it’s not going to be easy to make the next passage control on time. Car still running well but it’s raining hard and old English car electrics and water and not always a good mix. Lots of aggressive overtaking and general hooliganism sees us make it to the passage control in Finale Ligure with 5 mins to spare, but the car dies. We try to restart, but the battery is dead. It appears that the rogue fan has kicked back in, and drained it. Another fuse pulled stops it finally, but we’re dead in the water (literally) EXCEPT that a support crew from the Father and Son Houtkamp crew is right behind  us, they see us stop and pass a jump battery pack to us as they pass. I manage to connect it up, and fire the car in time to rush through the passage control bang on time. Which is more than can be said for most of the crews, it’s pretty lonely here...

Stunning Ex-Mille Miglia Jaguar of the Houtkamps

Germany vs Italy competing to be the most valuable car

Up the coast some more, and the rain is torrential, climbing hard into the clouds to Le Manie and the final 5 regularities of the day at the top of some serious hills. Once more water in the electrics stalls the car and I empty a can of WD40 into the appropriate under bonnet areas, and restart her off the jump battery.

We roar into the regularities somewhat stressed and damp, but running again! Our errors are: 0.23, 0.00 (!) and 1.26 for the 3 stages that the organisers have released results for, so once again some serious beginners luck going on!

Just 70km left into Central Genoa, but timing is still tight, traffic is bad and we’re struggling on the voltage side with the alternator not happy to run the engine AND the headlights at the same time... so we’re jumping traffic queues and red lights with just sidelights on in torrential rain. All a bit nerve-wracking until we pick up a police escort that sweeps us in towards the final control on the water front just 5 mins behind schedule. From there it is up the hill into the historic old town where we are presented to the assembled crowds and indulge in some sideways motoring on the wet cobbles to the delight of the somewhat sodden spectators!

The car has only wobbled twice on the run into town, but she’s definitely struggling in this weather, while her crew are battered and bruised after a long day on the road. We arrive at the hotel with 30 mins to shower, shave and change into black tie for the gala dinner at the stunning Ducal Palace.

Your happier but hurting all over correspondant!


Dinner at The Ducal Palace

Coppa Day 1

The first day of the Coppa Milano-San Remo started for our crew with a 5.30am departure from Zurich, destination tech inspection at the Circuit of Monza.

Our untried 1952 Aston Martin DB2, fresh from a 14th month restoration has done less than 50 miles in shakedown before this 900 mile adventure but where better to shake out the new car niggles than in competition?

Unfortunately it was all to go wrong very quickly.

Stopping just 5 miles from home for fuel, unbeknownst to the crew, the handbrake failed to release and turning up over the first range of hills the car was struggling against the drag of the rear brakes.

Quickly the smell of burning brakes entered the cabin and just 3 miles on we were sidelined. Parked on the side of a Swiss hillside with the rear wheels locked solid.

Out with the 1950’s era car jack and up with each side in turn, wheel off, wielding the heavy copper wheel mallet to try and hit the drums hard enough to knock off the brakes inside, wheels on and try and move the car.

No luck. So repeat for 2 hours until the driver is exhausted and a wander around the corner finds a local garage open and a more experienced mechanic who calls for a tow truck to the nearest lift and the demount of the rear drums to free off the brakes.

Given these old cars don’t have a steering lock, in order to tow one with the rear wheels in the air, usually you’d tie the steering to make sure it doesn’t move. Or you can use the Swiss method and make an Englishman sit in there and suffer the waves of all the passing motorist’s while being towed backwards for several miles.

Dawn rises over Dead Aston

Preparing to be towed backwards

So our targeted arrival time at Monza had been and gone and with the wait for the rescue truck it was 10am and we were only 20 miles from home, 12 of which hadn’t been under our own steam! It wasn’t boding well for the weekend and spirits were very low.

However, some swift work from the local tyre and brake specialist, and by 11.30 we were on our way South.

Stunning motoring but the car was struggling a little under load, misfiring a little, clearly we had an electrical issue now that needed to be investigated.

Coming out the far side of the Gottardo tunnel and it was getting worse so pulling over at the first services saw the car coming in “dead stick” as the engine stalled as soon as we came off the power.

Running  a swift diagnosis, it appeared that the auxiliary fan thermostat had failed (despite being brand new) and it had been running full time which had put just too much strain on the alternator. So a fuse pulled, jump leads out and a handy Italian coerced into lending us a few amps saw us on our way once again. But the schedule was slipping fast.

Phone call made to Monza and the organisers generously agreed they would wait for us, but the start in Central Milan would end at 6pm on the spot.

How hard could we really push a brand new engine and untried car? But clearly we’d come too far to give-up now so onwards at speed towards Italy.

Brake man checks the issues

Flat out for Monza through the mountains

Arriving at Monza in rush hour,  the car had been running sweetly but long and hard and was pretty warm. Old Astons can often suffer with fuel vaporisation because the fuel pump is so close to the engine block and the heat under the hood was reminiscent of a 24 hour racer during a pit stop at Le Mans. With a transport strike adding extra commuters to the mix, the traffic was grid locked and we had to stop several times to release some heat from the engine delaying our arrival at the circuit until 5pm. So 11 and a half hours “on the road” already and we’d not even reached the start line yet!

The ladies of the organisation of the Coppa had kindly waited for us, and turned us around quickly, but with a red hot car we now had to head into the traffic jams of the Friday evening rush in Milan...

Another 3 stops to cool the car, including in the outside lane of the Monza ring road (!) and we arrived in the Piazza del Duomo at 6.10pm. 10 minutes AFTER the last start and they were already packing up the start line for transfer on to Turin and tomorrow. So we set off directly to Turin, passing through town centre after town centre having just missed the party and arrived in the guarded parking for the night at 11pm. Both driver, co-pilot and car were completely finished and exhausted and a quick inspection showed that the front left suspension had loose elements after the pounding from the potholes in Turin while hunting down the final checkpoint. The extra fan was dead and after driving a very physical car with non assisted steering and gearbox without syncro on all the gears I am bruised and ache all over.

Bed now. Will sleep like the dead tonight.

Your pretty fed up with the World correspondent.


Coppa Milano-San Remo - PREVIEW

Regular readers will recall my exploits with a Porsche 911 RS on the Mille Et Un Nuits regularity rally in Tunisia last Autumn. Well, the car I was supposed to be using is finally finished it’s restoration just 5 months late and just in time for this weekend’s Coppa Milano-San Remo!

As I type, a 1952 Aston Martin DB2 is passing its first MOT for 25 years and then will be loaded into a trailer for an overnight run down to Zurich where we’ll have just 48 hours to shake it down before setting out to Monza first thing Friday morning.

Now I’m sure no-one would recommend taking a car that’s barely turned a wheel in 30 years for a 900 mile trip through the Alps, to take part in a competitive event then on down to the Riviera  straight from the workshop, but as you may recall from my taking a rather pregnant wife in a semi-race 911 to North Africa common sense doesn’t always get a look-in!

The Coppa is run by the same team as the Mille Miglia Historic, and this year’s edition is special as it’s been nominated as one of the events to celebrate 150 years of the founding of the Italian State or the “United Kingdom” as they confusingly (for a Brit) call it.

We have an early alarm call for the run down to Monza where tech inspection takes place Friday morning. There is also the option to take in a few laps of the historic GP circuit before the cars relocate to central Milan to be presented to the public and the ceremonial start. Before leg 1 takes us out to Turin and a late finish on the Friday evening.

Saturday will be a full day with first car on the road at 07.30 and nearly 6 hours of road time before the lunch break in San Remo then another 4h20 up to San Remo for the overnight halt and Gala dinner. While Sunday is a little easier with 4h40 on the road to return to Milan and a farewell luncheon. Before we then have to turn South again for a final 330km leg home.

So once again, quite a serious adventure. And this stage I’ll be happy if the car appears in Zurich on time, 1 year after I last saw here, and we can just make it to Monza without mechanical mishap! For all the faith I have in the guys restoring the Aston, she’s been rebuilt from absolute scratch and really it would have been nice to run around for a few weeks to make sure all the niggles were sorted before tackling a high profile event of this nature. I’ve also never driven a car of this vintage as she was immobile when we took delivery!

And did I mention my co-pilot is an ex-rugby player who, along with being a total rally novice, is not even certain at this time if he’ll fit in the car?

Next time I hope to post a report from the Piazza Del Duomo in Milan, (assuming we arrive there ok!) post tech-inspection and pre-start.

DB2 rolling out Monday morning ready for first road test and MOT!

Rick Pearson

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