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Behind The Wheel: Mille Miglia

David tackled the legendary race, this time held in the UAE desert, with the help of the ultimate driving trousers

If you’re a petrolhead like me, you’ll know about the Mille Miglia. The 1000-mile Italian road race took place from 1927 to 1957. In 1957, driver Alfonso de Portago and his navigator Edmund Nelson crashed in a Ferrari, killing themselves and 10 spectators. A few days later, the Italian government banned the race.

Since it was revived in 1977, it’s involved safer, timed stages. I never thought I’d get to participate. But in 2013, Jaguar Classic asked me if I’d like to drive one of its cars in it. The first time I did it, my co-pilot was Yasmin Le Bon. Two years later, I took part again with Jodie Kidd. Being a navigator is just as important and stressful as driving. As you have to reach checkpoints within certain time frames, you need to account for lost time if you go off course.

You have to use a model that could have taken part in the original race – the car, I mean! I knew I'd love to do the Mille Miglia in my own car, so in recent years I began building a lightweight version of the XK120 – 1948 to 1954 – my favourite Jaguar. By the time I finished, Covid had hit. When I was eventually invited to participate in the first Mille Miglia held in the UAE, it was a no-brainer. David Gandy Wellwear became the official clothing sponsor. I spoke to my friends at Jaguar Classic, and they said they’d love to help get my car out there.

This time my co-pilot was Charlie Tee, managing director of David Gandy Wellwear. When the race started on 4 December, we spent the first day getting used to it as we hadn’t had much time to prepare. If we’d known what we were doing that first day, I think we probably would’ve come in the top 10. I think we came 15th in the end, which, out of 100 cars, isn’t too shabby.

When it was initially revived, the Mille Miglia was a three-day event, which would make you physically and mentally exhausted. Then they changed it to a less arduous four-day schedule. This version was probably more suitable for me to catch up on sleep while away from my two young daughters.

Doing the Mille Miglia in the UAE is very different to driving it in Italy. Italians are so passionate about cars that you have thousands of people lining the streets, cheering. I’d never been to the UAE and I fell in love with the desert. It’s remote, quiet, clean and has a different light – that golden glow. Some of the timed zones were on camel-racing circuits. At one point, we were on a straight road through the desert. It was surreal.  We were in a classic car doing 90 miles an hour, the sun was setting, and sand was blowing across the tarmac. There was a lorry on the other side of the road with sacks of hay, which we suddenly saw fly off the back towards us. Charlie was driving at the time and did brilliantly to avoid them.

It’s weird because you’re putting your faith in this classic car from the 1950s. Although you’re not doing terrifically high speeds, you’re trusting this vintage machine with skinny tires. You really feel transported back in time.

As this was taking place in the desert and we’d be sat down for many hours, we needed to wear something soft and comfortable. But the event is elegant and smart, so we needed to look the part, too.

We opted for Wellwear cotton polo shirts, which are perfect for hot locations. The Wellwear Breathe treatment is applied to them, creating an antibacterial material. This prevents the development of odours caused by bacteria. We chose the Easy Pant for our trousers, which are made from cotton jersey. They’re relaxed, but looked smart enough for a sense of occasion.

We were concentrating so much that it took until the last day of the race for me to say, ‘It’s quite good, Wellwear, isn’t it?’ Charlie laughed and agreed. Now we want to change the name of our Easy Pant to the Driving Trouser, because we think it’s the best driving trouser you could ever want.

It’s funny because we never intended the race to be a research method, but it turned out as one. It was an extreme test. And our Wellwear met all the requirements: to look stylish, perform brilliantly, be slightly smart and extremely comfortable.

If I were to arrange the perfect driving outfit, my Mille Miglia one would pretty much be it. The beautiful thing about the Wellwear polo shirt is that it’s so lightweight you barely feel you have anything on. And the Easy Pant (or Driving Trouser) is perfect for days spent behind the wheel. At the end of the race, our competitors were asking where we’d got our clothes. We might take part again and provide a bit of kit for everyone.

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