A Gumballistic Rally
A pair of new racing boots: £250. Gucci sunglasses: £500. Driving gloves: £45. A brand new supercar: £200,000. A black Armani leather jacket: £2300. Taking part in the famous Gumball 3000 rally? Priceless. Well, actually, the entry fee is £28,000. And that doesn’t include fuel stops, food and police fines. But that’s not the point, is it? The real point of driving 3000 miles in seven days, through 17 countries and two continents with almost no sleep and last night’s alcohol still circulating in your bloodstream is for the once-in-a-lifetime experience. For the adventure, the thrill of driving through unfamiliar countries in your Ferrari, not knowing what surprise is lying round the corner, the realisation that you’re experiencing one of the most exciting car rallies in the world with 239 other eccentric, adrenaline-seeking people. And the entire world is watching you in envy. In 1999 Maximillion Cooper invited 50 of his friends to go on a 3000-mile party around Europe. Now the Gumball 3000 has become a worldwide brand worth millions. There’s a Gumball clothing line, DVDs and a Hollywood film of this year’s rally will be released in January 2008. Unsurprisingly, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the rally attracts a few rock ‘n’ roll names. Johnny Knoxville, Jamiroquai’s Jay Kay, Tony Hawk and Daryl Hannah have all taken part. That’s why most people would give an arm and a leg – and probably their house and their girlfriend – to take part in the Gumball. Most people wish they could be one of the lucky few. But then, Gumballers are not most people, which is why, on April 29 they were the ones sitting on the start line of the rally at London’s Pall Mall while thousands watched on. The day began in the afternoon when the cars came out of an underground car park to pose in front of the crowds. Yet it wasn’t the cars that were doing the posing. Oh no. The drivers outdo their cars when it comes to pretentiousness. The start line was like a fancy dress party. Jorund Gullikstad and Morten Midtskog, two Norwegians dressed in Viking suits complete with swords stood by their canary yellow 620-horsepower RUF Porsche 911 Turbo. I ask them what made them decide to take part but they don’t speak much English and say something I can’t understand, so I move on. Further down the gird stands a Cadillac Escalade. I assume, as it’s a car popular with rappers, that Xzibit must be driving, but I couldn’t be more wrong. It’s Team Ireland: four guys quite predictably dressed in full green attire, happy as Larry. Xzibit, it turns out, is driving a black Lamborghini Gallardo. Towards the rear of the pack I spot two British guys in a Bentley dressed as Musketeers and two Finns in blue wearing a rainbow-coloured Santa’s hat with a bell on the end. Although you couldn’t tell them apart, one has a more infamous history with speed than
the other. Jussi Salonoja has the unfortunate label of ‘the man with the most expensive speeding ticket in the world’. In Finland your speeding fine is calculated according to your income, and being an heir to a sausage business, Jussi was fined £116,000 after being caught driving at twice the speed limit. However, the Finns aren’t the real boys in blue. That title has to go - as it does every year - to Team Polizei 144 in its imitation police car. Alex Roy, a six-time Gumball veteran, has a tradition whereby he enters the rally dressed as a policeman. He has already been a Mountie and a Copper, and this year he was fashionably dressed as a member of the carabinieri. As the crowd calls him for an autograph (he’s easy to spot in his uniform), he talks me through the high-tech detectors he’s installed in his car to avoid the real fedz. “We have four Garmin GPS systems,” he beings. “There’s a Raytheon thermo night camera on the bumper so we can run with no headlights at night up to 120 miles per hour. Obviously, lowlight Steiner spotter goggles. Uniden Police Scanner. Laser jammers built into the front bumper…” By this point, he’s pointed to almost every part of the gadget-laden car and it’s quite obvious cunning and ‘deviance’ are Roy’s main traits. He also has three radar detectors – apparently because “the Belgians always take one” – and an air-to-ground radio for helicopters. Despite his fastidious preparation, Roy doesn’t take the Gumball seriously at all (most of the time). He just doesn’t want to get caught. A couple of years ago, Roy tricked a fellow Gumballer in a Lamborghini into pulling over for a police stop and recorded it from start to finish. Clips of his antics have spread around the Internet like a bubonic plague and he now has his own line of Polizei 144 jackets, each costing at least £250. For him, as it is for every single other Gumballer, the rally is all about the fun, as he explains in a classic Alex Roy moment. “It’s like an orgy, it doesn’t matter if you come first, or you come last… it’s that you were invited.” A little behind Roy on the starting line is Khaled Almudhaf in Team Kuwait’s yellow Lambroghini LP640. It’s his first time in the rally and he sums up what is probably on the mind of every single Gumballer: “It’s gonna be an experience. It’s the trip of a lifetime,” he says. Despite the seemingly countless number of high performance machines, the Gumball always throws up one or two automotive oddballs: something completely contrasting to the rally’s eccentricity and over-the-top lifestyle. Top of this year’s ‘Class B category’ was an orange Fiat 500 and three electric cars. Their collective horsepower is no more than 100bhp and none has a top speed over 60mph. I suggest to the driver of the tiny Fiat that he might not get to the checkpoints on time, that he’ll never see any of his fellow Gumballers again because they’ll speed away. But he has good repost: “The girls love it.” You don’t need an expensive supercar to enjoy the Gumball, you just need a sense of humour. By 4pm, I’m told to stay behind the barriers as the Gumballers start their cars and rev their engines in anticipation. By this time, thousands of people have lined the closed roads by Pall Mall, itching to see the cars light up the central London tarmac.
Behind me in the crowd I can hear a man with what I presume to be his son, shout at the marshals to ask them to move the people in front of him somewhere else. He’d been waiting to see the start for five hours. Unfortunately for him, there’s nothing the marshals can do. There are too many people in the crowd and none of them want to give up their clear view of the road. Some eventually find their way onto telephone boxes to get a better view, others sit on the ledges of offices and Pall Mall houses. Residents and hotel guests come out onto the balconies and it seems the whole of central London has halted just to witness a few cars drive a few hundred metres at average London speeds on a closed road. Madness. Then again, it is the Gumball, and Madness is its middle name. As the Union Jack drops, most of the drivers speed away in a hurray. Those that don’t have the crowds shouting at them for more. ‘More’ being short for “More hooliganism!” It seems the Gumball has built a reputation that refuses to go away. With all the cars waved off the starting gate, Pall Mall falls eerily silent as the sound of the last car to set off echoes in the distance. The only sign of a disturbed peace is that of a long number 11 across the asphalt accompanied by the smell of burning rubber and worn clutch. I leave Pall Mall with a funny feeling: happy that I’ve seen all of those supercars, but disappointed, knowing I will never experience all the lunacy that the Gumballers will over the next seven days. I’ve become a huge fan of the Gumball. Now I’m myself marked by that terrible feeling of jealousy. It may cost £28,000 to enter, but the Gumball 3000 seems worth every penny. — It would be nice to say that all the Gumballers lived happily ever after in an eternal state of carefree motoring, but high-speed driving comes with risks. On May 2, four days after the rally’s start, a Gumballer in a TechArt Porsche 911 Turbo had a crash with a car driven by an elderly man and his wife in Macedonia. The Porsche driver and his passenger fled the scene and the couple later died in hospital. The rally was stopped by the organisers and the British driver and his friend were arrested by Macedonian Police. It was the first fatal accident in the rally’s seven-year history and it left a huge mark on the Gumball.