Juan Tonconogy / Barbara Ruffini: «We will be missing «Mille Miglia» 2020″

The month of May, which is traditionally associated for retro-automobile enthusiasts with «the most beautiful road race in the world», is now over and, sadly, it didn’t present us the struggle of the best duos on the route from Brescia to Rome and back. Yes, «Mille Miglia» wasn’t held, but we were trying to do our best to revive its unique spirit by publish the interviews with its participants of the past. And what is even more symbolic is that we are closing the series today by a conversation with those who, unfortunately, won’t be able to make history of «Mille Miglia» in October – the 2018 Champions and bronze medalists of the last year’s edition, Juan Tonconogy and Barbara Ruffini.


— Hello, Juan and Barbara! It’s been long that we are trying to have your duo here and now we’ve made it! Our first question will be the following, since you are partners not only on the road but also in life. There is an idea that if you want to have a fight with your relative, take him/her as a co-pilot. How are you able to distinguish between the private and the work?

Juan Tonconogy: Good afternoon! Yes, we are glad to be here, too. But, true, it’s a long way from Argentina (laughing)! Answering the question, I consider that if you have a very good relationship, it is much better since you have a lot of trust in each other and can motivate each other in bad moments, share feelings and get the best out of the team.

— Alright, thank you. Let’s speak about the last year’s «Mille Miglia». There you took a certain risk by choosing a car with a lower coefficient. Do you think it was worth it in the end?

J.T.: Say, it was nice to have a «Bugatti» running against the few cars that only have chances in win «MM». It was a good experience to try to achieve something impossible. It is a pity that the race has so much difference in coefficient. Even though it wasn’t a fantastic performance on our side (but quite good), it is frustrating to go against the current all the time. Would be much more entertaining if the coefficients could be narrowed a little bit.

Photo: News Classic Racing

— And how do you, actually, choose a car to drive? Is it your personal choice or there is someone who provides you with a vehicle before this or that race?

J.T.: It is a personal choice. The car that we won the last time was the legendary 1933 Alfa Romeo 6c Grand Sport “Testa Fissa” Zagato.  The car was not available for the last «MM», but also we wanted to get back to the «Bugatti» T40 since it is a car that you enjoy the driving so much and also she deserved a tour around Italy (smiling).

— It’s a good way to «walk» our car. But are there any difficulties in delivering the car from one continent to another?

J.T.: No problem at all. In fact, our «Bugatti» was in Italy at that moment that’s why we didn’t have to think about moving it between the continents.

— You were extremely lucky! And here’s something else we’d like to touch upon. In 2018 we interviewed Vesco and Guerini and they told us that their first victory was amazing and the results of «Mille Miglia» 2018 were a bit disappointing. Last year you had a chance to compare. Was coming third a disappointment for or you found your performance successful, considering the level of the opponents?

Photo: Gare Classiche

J.T.: We always have the goal of doing the best that we can no matter who the rivals are and by doing that we have a great chance of winning. Our performance last MM was quite good. Not amazing, but very good. Talking about the Average Trials (Prova di Media), we did best times than absolutely everybody. Also, if somebody does the calculations, it will become clear that if we had had the same coefficient as cars 1 & 2, we would have been the winners of 2019 «Mille Miglia». So, for us being 3rd was what it is due to the current coefficients.  That is why, I say that it would be much more fun if coefficients were at least a little bit narrower.

— And besides this drawback, who (or what) is usually your greatest rival at the rally: time, you yourselves or a certain crew that you are planning to beat?

J.T.: Generally, it is us ourselves.  That is the most important aspect to beat. Beat yourself. But when you have top teams such as Moceri-Bonetti and Vesco-Guerini, you need to take your own level at the maximum. That level it is a matter of many factors: what you eat, drink, how you sleep, if you are physically well, concentration, practice, team peace and relaxation.

— You’ve already told us outside the interview (our project is in touch with the Argentinians since 2018 – editor’s note) that you don’t take part in many events. But how did you actually develop your passion to classic cars?

J.T.: My father introduced me into this world basically, going to different events, and then the classic car races. Seeing and living the different philosophy of designers, constructors, makes you understand the different personalities of each car.

— In 2018 you became another non-European competitor who managed to win «Mille Miglia». And are there any prestigious retro-events in your country?

Photo: Ahora Mendoza

J.T.: Actually, yes, the first one were Sielecki-Hervas from Argentina in 2003, also with a Bugatti. Then Claudio Scalise and Daniel Claramunt won in 2012. Those 2 teams were an inspiration for us, being younger it seemed impossible what they were doing but achievable. As for continental races, in Argentina we have about 8 races per year.  The most prestigious race is «1000 Millas Sport» in Patagonia which is around the beautiful landscapes of the South. Then other important races are «Rally de las Bodegas», which is in Mendoza, the wine region of Argentina, «Rally de la Montana» in Cordoba, central province around beautiful mountains, and «La Gran Carrera» in Salta, northern part of Argentina with astonishing landscapes.

— No doubt it is absolutely fascinating to watch all these from the driver’s seat, not mentioning the description itself. Barbara, you have been silent so far, but we have a question to you, too. You were the only female member in TOP-5 crews in 2019. What is it like to be among the best men driving such beautiful cars?

B.R.: Thanks for the question but I don’t really feel like speaking, it’s Juan who knows this world better (laughing). Well, okay, I’d say I have never felt a difference really. On the contrary, I think being a woman I might have some special abilities that contribute to the objective.

— Our Russian playwright Anton Chekhov would say «Brevity is the soul of wit». By the way, I mentioned our compatriot on purpose. One more personal question, to you, Juan, if you don’t mind. I guess, our Russian readers are wondering where your surname comes from (for Russians it sounds like an adjective which is translated like «thin-legged»). Could you tell us a little about it?

J.T.: (Laughing) Yes, it means THIN LEGS in some different way. The thing is that our ancestors were from Odessa and my great-grandfather was born there. Then they came to Argentina.

Photo: Brescia Corriere

— And the last question which is, I think, is the most vibrant for all fans of retro-rallies. Why aren’t you coming to Italy this October on «Mille Miglia»?

J.T.: Yes, it is a great pity for us, but, again, it’s all about numbers. The only available car for us is «Bugatti» and, as we know from the last year’s edition, its coefficient won’t let us win, no matter how hard you try. Actually, it’s really sad and me and Barbara will miss «Mille Miglia».

Cover: Brescia Corriere