Nick Morley – driver
Mat Kelshaw – co-driver / misinformation centre
Car – Porsche 997 Carrera S. 400 Bhp.
From Manchester, Uk
Day 1 – London Starting Grid
The anticipation built throughout the day as the crowd assembled to wish us all bon voyage and to catch a glimpse of the ever more colourful characters and machinery that the Gumball manages to attract and display each year to join the incredible party.
It is a scene of superlatives as each car is ever more shocking and exhilarating to witness than the last. Walking down the grid is akin to floating along in a dream of the worlds most exotic and glamorous vehicles (and women!).
Having received our pre-rally briefing from Maximillion, and then the London police, we were all in a festive and boisterous mood to charge down to the Eurotunnel and be the first to board the train for France…
As the crowd parted and our way cleared, it was left to Jodie Kidd to wish us luck one last time and incite the fury of the Porsche flat six to see us off in a blaze of rubber, petrol and adrenaline.
Having nearly careened off into the crowd at the very first corner of the 3000 mile journey, with a late road crossing dash by a mindless cameraman serving further to test our car’s traction to it’s limit.
We made our way through the crowd to the sound of cheers, well wishes and many whoops of delight from the thousands of like minded petrol heads in attendance on that sunny Sunday afternoon.
Our first police checkpoint – a number plate ANPR rig was passed without incident as another fellow gumballer in front received attention from the law which allowed us to pass by unnoticed with our “show plates‿ still gleaming having been pressed just hours earlier and sticky taped on without any paperwork whatsoever to back them up.
We joined the throng of a busy London afternoon traffic snarl out of the capital and once south of the river things began to free up. We picked up the trail fo my brother – Oliver in the #99 SLR at a petrol station in Vauxhall and made our way south to the M3 with a number of fans and onlookers who seemed bemused at the first of a stream of “wacky racers‿ who were persuading fellow drivers to allow them past and in front at junctions, traffic lights and roundabouts. It seems that the public perception of a gumballer is initial confusion, followed by a sense of amusement at the bravado of it all, followed by a charitable sense that they have helped a journeyman on his way in a rally (“maybe he will win thanks to me!‿)
And so, onto the M3 we roared, with the right foot fighting the left to dare ourselves to the limit of our own tolerance as we knew that over every brow and crest a likely police laser gun lurked, backed up by the hovering helicopters and a multitude of fluorescent clothing that now seems to be worn by every emergency serviceman/ roadside patrol/ farmer and his wife. All causing the brake pedal to receive a brief stab, before the right foot takes over once more to propel us ever onwards towards the channel tunnel and the relative legal sanctuary of Europe, where there are no points for speeding.
The crowds along the way were lining every bridge and junction, as we rounded a fast motorway bend, we would flash our lights and a sea of arms would wave back from atop the bridges. Such support really spurs you on and makes the whole experience so much more exciting.
Police attention was intense. My brother was pulled over just in front of us at a reported 135mph in Kent. The sergeant had to let him off as the radar jammer had done it’s job and a reading was not obtained by the confused officer.
We arrived into the Eurotunnel terminal third behind the NSX and Team Polizei. We grabbed a quick sandwich and boarded an early train for a chance to tape up the electronics on the car which had shaken free. We also caught up with the camouflage phantom who seemed to have every last item of supplies and equipment imaginable stored safely away inside that hulk of a motor.
Once on French soil we departed the train and sheepishly crept past the French police patrols who were setup at the roadside to stare us down disapprovingly for entering their country in the first place – prior experience of the gumball seems to have left them with a sour taste in their mouths. However, we enjoyed a trouble free run as night closed in and the next time we stopped was at the Belgian border. We handed over documents to the stern officers who kept asking if my Porsche was in fact a Ferrari. They seemed to be on the lookout for someone who had apparently been a bit naughty somewhere in the region.
As I handed over my documents it transpired that I didn’t have a driving license at all. Merely a motorcycle theory test pass certificate which I proudly produced along with the V5 form and insurance.
They seemed to be buying it, until the NSX came up behind me and whipped out his official Uk photocard license – which immediately raised the question from the officers to me “why is your license not like this one?‿ I replied calmly “ well that is the new style license, and mine is the old style…‿ – in broken French and English.
Bemused they bought the story and we were waved through with a curt nod and a off we went to Chateau beleoil in the middle of Belgium.
5 miles from the chateau we got a call from Oliver – been arrested in the local area at 220Kmh and they were holding him in a cell. Car impounded and license confiscated. He was facing a night in jail and the end of his Gumball adventure for the time being.
Upon arrival at the chateau we were greeted by a lunatic incensed crowd all whopping and shouting for us to rev the car and burnout. They parted reluctantly to let us through and we gasped at the breathtaking chateau came into view. The grounds include a vast lake which was surrounded by candles flickering in a light breeze.
We were apparently 3rd in behind the NSX and Polizei boys. Within 30 seconds of parking my car, Alex Roy engaged me in conversation about the whereabouts of Oliver _ I revealed to him for the first time that Oliver was indeed my brother and had been arrested – his eyes lit up.
It would appear that Alex has an ongoing rivalry with Oliver since last years’ gumball ended with several high speed duels between them and some press articles were published with both sides sniping at the other.
Inside the chateau I was formally introduced to the Prince (Charles?) of the region. We enjoyed magnificent canapés of lobster and smoked salmon while I informed the prince of my brother predicament.
He offered his assistance should we require it. 5 minutes later I put him on the line to the chief of police at the station and the string pulling began.
Within 10 minutes car #99 was underway with Oliver grinning all the way to meet us at the chateau. A quick photo session with some Russian babes in front of the cars was enough to kill another 5 minutes and we set off again approx 30 mins behind alex Roy at the head of the pack.
Day 2 – the road to Budapest
The night closed in between Belgium as we entered Germany in trepidation as the lure of the infamous unlimited autobahns beckoned. At the first petrol stop, I got chatting to a very friendly traffic officer who explained that the autobahn’s actually have many speed limits – only some short sections are in fact unrestricted.
Also, it was revealed that every traffic cop in Germany was lining the route to Vienna that night. They were all under orders to arrest and penalise any gumballers who they could catch speeding and they had over 200 squad cars + 5 helicopters out on patrol!
We continued on our merry way with one eye on the speedo needle once more. After an hour we came across some wreckage in the road which turned into a plume of smoke and then a red dodge viper which had come to rest on the hard shoulder in a bad way.
Apparently the driver has been going along in a straight line when he hit a bump and the back end overtook him. They were both ok, but shaken. I offered the assistance of the Porsche breakdown recovery service, but they had alternative arrangements and seemed to be happy to wait for the tow truck.
So we continued down the A3 towards Austria and after a while an unrestricted autobahn section allowed me to test out the top end power of the 997 Carrera S. 190mph came up on the speedo before we ran out of road and nerve.
Another couple of hours passed and we witnessed several gumballers in service stations and layby’s receiving the attention of Germany’s finest. My co-driver was the communication centre with reports coming in every 5 minutes from our network of other teams who had encountered a police presence along the route – and in most cases coughed up $500 – 1000 euros for the privilege of carrying on.
At approx 1am it was drizzling and we were running at approx 100 mph. Eyes peeled for cops and trying to catch up another team ahead. Then a 5 series beemer undertook us and accelerated ahead. Seemed to be on for a race so I squeezed the right pedal – then the flashing lights came on!! Polizei!!
We jammed the brakes on and slowed to a crawl, but there was no easy escape from this motorway. So we sank into submission and followed obediently as they led us to the next services 5 Km ahead. However, they pulled ahead to approx 100m gap and seemed oblivious to the fact that we were approaching a slip road.
So, I looked over at Co-driver Mat and we both knew what was going to happen next….
I jinked right and over the white lines, off the Autobahn and down the slip road with plenty of tail out panic stations action. Nearly lost it into the barriers, but kept it together as we shot down to the next junction. The polizei was no where to be seen – probably cursing the british and reversing in vain to catch us.
At the next junction we came off and then cruised slowly though the deserted German forests as villages passed us by. The navigation was determined to return us back to the A3, but no way was I going back there. We ran in parallel for approx 50 miles, whipped the plates off in a layby to reveal the “spare set‿ underneath.
Then after an hour in the wilderness, we rejoined the A3 and cracked on. Neither of us would dare to say that we had made it scott free – but by the time we had passed 2 more roadside patrol cars, we knew we were in the clear. Happy days!
The next action came as we arrived in Vienna for breakfast the following morning….
To be continued…