Cannonball 8000 2006 Start

Yes, I was pulled over by an unmarked German police car. Yes, I was driving over the speed limit. And Yes, I cut the irate police officer up in my M5. No, I’m not sorry. You see this is my idea of fun and that is exactly what Cannonball 8000 delivers. Pure, unadulterated driving pleasure. The speeding was fine was merely a detail.

This is grand touring re-invented with a glitzy, edgy, ever so slightly naughty feel to it. Big brash machines, big parties, living the dream. Spending life in the fast lane, only to stop for petrol breaks and strong, black coffee.

Weekends can be spent alternatively undertaking activities such as hiking, or rambling but I’m 30 and life is short. Besides I hike to work everyday but Cannoball happens but once a year at the beginning of September and last for three glorious days. Never mind the fact you’ll require another short break to recover the following weekend, this is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s an adrenaline rush of speed and excess.

The premise is simple; eight countries in three days and whatever it takes to get to the finish line. I warn you now – this is no mean feat. You must firstly be prepared to give the organiser Conrad, five thousand pounds of your hard earned cash. He pretty much does the rest however, including; five star accommodation and black tie functions every evening, route planning and safety packs and an awesome party at either end of the event. The competitor Gumball has a similar event but at £50,000 for a five days, you probably have better things to be spending your cash on if you have that much to spare, like boats or houses.

After the initial payment and the start day’s briefing in London’s Earls Court, you are own your own (with another 160 cars) and its time to get moving.. The assortment of cars varies from modest to outrageous, but remember its not a race, it’s a rally so as long as you make the finish line eventually, you’re a winner.

The route this year began in London then onto Brussels, then to Prague and then finally Budapest. After a few hours of congestion and an equally busy M20, Myself and co-driver hopped onto the Chunnel and then hit the clean, clear roads of Europe, sun in our face and wind in our hair.

Arriving in Brussels:
Cannonball 8000

We were advised to take it easy through France and Belgium as they tend to confiscate cars going over 100mph and that would be the end to our race, so obligingly we spend the fist day cruising at a modest 85mph, no problem.

I can safely say 85mph was minimum speed on the second day. We crushed (part of the) continent in 8hours hung-over to hell thanks to the superb bash in Brussels the previous evening. One of Cannonball’s perks is the information system arranged by logging into its text service. It enables driver to communicate to each other and relay any areas to avoid or due to congestion or police roadblocks! We tapped into numerous tales of car abandonment, speeding fines and general hilarity. This helped pas the time on the more mundane occasions – especially motorway travel.

Autobahn cruising:
Cannonball 8000

Arriving in Prague on the second evening the staff of the Marriott generously welcomed us. They had prepared a fine three-course meal of Gravlax of Salmon, Roast Partridge and Forest Berries and Cream to feed the weary masses. After dinner we had the option to waltz over the road to club Duplex or go to bed. I chose the latter this time as the start line for tomorrow’s stage was at Prague castle at 8am. Club Duplex closed at 7am. Breakfast wasn’t pretty!

Leaving Prague:
Cannonball 8000

The next morning, 160 super cars sat gleaming in the warm September sunshine in the charming surrounds of the castle high on the hill. My fellow Cannonballers wondered amongst the colourful machinery, talking technicalities and taking photos. After an hour of mingling the start time loomed near and the wail of V12 engines echoed through the morning air. Hundreds of tourist over the moon to be experiencing such an occasion shot photos as the cars screamed away from the start line over the cobbled, twisting streets of the old town, down the hill and into the city searching for the vast empty motorways that lay ahead toward Budapest.

The motorway toward Budapest is clear of traffic and an ideal place to build up some serious speed. After a while our M5 followed the superior sat-nav directions of a set of Porsche turbos and a bright orange Lamborghini and we set off a winding B road through the hills of Austria. We overtook anything that got in our way as we powered past lesser mortals. We eventually arrived in Budapest at the Hungaoring eleven miles outside of the city for the finish line. We place 62nd which was fantastic considering the exotics we were up against. Conrad then gave the group the chance to test the circuit but we’d already decided we’d done enough edge of your seat driving for one day so we retired early to the Kempinski Hotel in the centre of town where we ate and had a well earned rest before the night ahead.

The finishing gala was a splendid affair, the location astounding. Conrad had managed to swing the Museum of fine arts and it was a classy end to the rally. Red carpet, champagne reception, ice sculptures and a beautiful dining hall – really impressive stuff. After the meal we resided to the bar area and swapped stories of our experiences of the last three days until around 3am when the coaches rolled up and 240 very happy, very weary Cannonballers were driven back to the hotel.

Final evening in the Museum of fine art:
Cannonball 8000

Drivers were previously given the option to have their cars transported back while they flew, which for many, made sense if they had work to return to in the UK. We chose to do it the old-fashioned way and drive back, via the Octoberfest in Munich where a number of other Cannonballers where to be found, not content with ending it there. This was about the time that I opened up my German barnstormers engine only to be slowed down by those familiar blue flashing lights that is every Cannonballers nightmare. For ten very scary minutes the German officers let it be known to us that we could be imprisoned and fined heavily. After some sweet talking and a few “sorry sir, we shant do it again��?, we paid the fine and headed off to Holland. Then Belgium. Then France, Then….

The Cannonball 8000 event is akin to Aston Martin’s recent design principles – A powerful athlete in a pinstripe suit – except we wore dinner jackets.

Oliver bailey


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