It is one of the most glamorous rallies in the world. Celebrities, supercars and epic routes, Gumball 3000 has it all. Yet for most, it remains a distant pipe dream. It is afterall, one of the most expensive rally events in the world. Yet for one particular Gumball fan, the fact that Gumball 3000 was out of reach didn’t limit the ambition.
This is the story of Mr X, a long time GTspirit reader and Gumball 3000 fan who managed to break into the inner circle to run with the 2006 event…
The Gumball 3000 Hustle
Whether you love it or loath it, the Gumball 3000 Rally is a spectacle. Expensive cars, reckless driving, rebellion, money-talking, glamour and rock n’roll are all integral to Gumball brand values, no matter that the official line is ‘it’s not a race, it’s a rally.’ The event is rife in rumours and celebrity. Parked up in the middle of the Gumball line-up in our heavily stickered up car, in Budapest after 24hours of driving mayhem starting in London, a mad VIP party the night before at the Moulin Rouge, and a fuzzy recollection of a checkpoint in a grand castle in Belgium we had found out the real story behind the rumours. Thing was, we weren’t official entrants, we weren’t invited, neither did we spend thousands on the entrance fee. This is how we did it.
The Inspiration: Burt Reynolds
It started in 2005 watching ‘Gumball 3000, The Movie’ which covered the crazy antics of the Gumballers as they completed the journey from San Franciso to Miami in the 2003 event. Accompanied by a great sound track and memorable dialogue (who can forget the Burt Reynolds intro , “On a clear day in April, 145 cars from around the world will…”) it was hard not to be inspired. Sounded like one hell of a holiday, and with the start date of that year’s event coming up, a bit of planning with my girl ensued.
The net and unofficial event forums particularly gumball-3000.co.uk proved a great source of information, we even dropped in a few enquiry calls into Gumball HQ under pretences. We soon found out the where, who, what and when of the rally. With a bit of camping gear, and advance booked Eurotunnel tickets we were all set for an interesting weekend, uncertain what we were in for – but prepared nonetheless. The result was awesome. We hung out in the Gumball garage, we drove with the drivers and chatted with them on the channel crossing, we went through the police roadblock in Belgium and witnessed the mayhem in Acoz at the first checkpoint.
So as May 2006 and the start of the next rally loomed closer, the previous year’s memorable weekend fuelled us with grander ambition. This time we would complete the whole of the first stage – taking us from London to Budapest in 24 hours, and this time we would do so in the same style as the Gumballers, as Ballers. Using all the same sources and tricks as before, we knew in advance the rally route, crossings and stop overs. Sweet.
Back then we didn’t have a supercar at our disposal. So we did it in what we did have at the time – a black Audi TT 225. Ok not the best car for Gumball, but we prepped it as well as we could. Tuned by MTM for a bit of extra grunt, viper striped in yellow by the same company that wraps the competitors cars and race numbered 118 (too high to duplicate any other competitor’s number we thought), it began to look the part. Kitted out to rival any other entrant with radar detector, bullet cam on the front number plate – and the essential freebie handed out to all drivers, but not to us, a Co-Pilot Live sat nav system – possibly the worst sat nav in the world, but would prove its usefulness. Rounded off with a couple of 2005 Gumball driver jackets, Allstars lanyards and last year’s Gumball decals from eBay we were all set.
The Eve of the rally arrived and we headed down to the Gumball car park late on to check it out. At that time of night, in that part of London it is kicking as the party crowd and glitterati hit the west end for some fun. The Gumball party was in full swing, spilling on to the street and music pumping, and next door the garage was a hive of activity. Everywhere we turned was exotic kit, seemingly parked where it had been left, jammed together on two floors, number plates from the US, Europe and Middle East. Lambo’s, Fezza’s, Porkers, Aston’s – they were all there, interspersed with humbler but no less purposeful motors. All the cars were well prepared – expensive wraps, tricked out styling, ladened with the latest gadgets. The garage was filled with noise – quick-wheel change drills, sponsor decals being applied, engineers making last minute laser jammer fitments, drivers swapping their real plates for showplates, drivers taking a break from the party and enjoying the spectacle of hot Eastern European chicks posing for photos on their cars. The atmosphere was electric. We exchanged a few looks and smiles as we walked around which said, ‘yeah, hey we’re drivers too’. We even stopped to chat, “what are you driving? Lamborghini… yeah us too.” We soaked it all up and lived it, it was great. To cap it all off, without going into the who and the how much, we left the garage in the small hours with a full set of sponsor decals. Now we really were going to look the part.
We Were Gumballers
We spent the morning of the rally stickering up the car. The eBay decals came off eventually, and the new ones went on. By the time we had had finished, it was time for us to take up position on the route. We chose a place on the outskirts of London. Here we could see the ballers as they approached and left the city limits, and have time to pull out and slip into line. As we pulled into the carpark some guy in a Gumball jacket checked out the car and us closely, and spoke into his mic, “yeah we have one of them here now…” The ruse was working. It wasn’t long before we got the call from a friend on the startline in the west end, “they’re on their way.” 30 minutes later – so were we. We slipped into line, and we were Gumballers.
There is something truly awesome about being amongst a group of supercars on the road with a distant destination, not just the noise and the spectacle – just the rebellion and obscenity of it. The first part of the rally took us to Dover. Gumball 144, Alex Roy hurtled passed us in his ‘Team Politzei’ Bentley, a regular driver who prides himself on being first – clocking us as he ripped by with a look that said, ‘how, what?’, closely followed by a Rolls. Blue flashing lights on the horizon and the first casualties to the law fell by. Crowds on the bridges waved their banners – ‘Go Gumball’. Before long, we were in Felixstowe at the first checkpoint. Through the ticket barriers and into the Gumball line. A Gumball guy with a clipboard greeted us checking in for the cargo, “Are you flying on from Serbia?…No, OK.” We pulled up next to Ryan Dunn and Bam Margera from ‘MTV’s Jackass’ in their purple Gallardo. “Hey, do you know why these engine warning lights are on?” he asked. Christian, a hot-shot from Dallas, pulled up in a 996 GT2 next to us. He was one of the guys we met on the channel tunnel on the previous rally. “Hey how’d you like that,” he drawled, eying my girl. “Awesome,” we said. “As good as last years.”
For the channel crossing, we were in the middle of the convoy and caught up with another 2005 guy – Johnny from Madrid in his Porsche 996 Turbo. For a while, whilst border control flipped out as to whether to let us in, and forced the pilots without front number plates to make some up, we were in the greatest carpark. Once underway, spirits were high. Drivers mingled on the carriages, others wandered through marvelling at the spectacle taking pictures, slightly awed by the spectacle. Energy levels were running high, it was like waiting for the drop. Once the train pulled in and the doors were opened, engines were gunned, and the mayhem began.
Darkness fell once through to the other side, plenty of people at the exit of the tunnel, cheering – we were off. Supercars rapidly disappearing into the night, passed a few of the slower cars – a ‘Rockstar’ drink sponsored American hotrod. We were keeping up with Johnny in his Turbo. Over the next few hours, the road was owned by the Gumballers. Through France, we passed drivers, they passed us, refuelling, spectators at the fuel stops – red tail lights in the night. We passed Julie, wife of the organiser Max Cooper in her pink Range Rover, soon we were into Belgium and the orange floodlit roads. More Police, more drivers pulled over.
Off the motorway, we suddenly lost everyone. Navigating tight country lanes, it all seemed quiet. Were we on the right route – then there were the police and the crowds. Suddenly we were in the middle of a mob. The car was surrounded; all we could see were legs, blinding camera flashes. We put our sunnies on, it was 2am. It felt like we were going nowhere. Suddenly the crowd thinned and we could see the rear lights of a Fezza in front of us. The driver gunned the engine, the crowds went wild. We inched forward. The crowd closed in again. Some guy spotted our bullet camera and started waving crazily at it, clutching his beer. The camera flashes were incessant. We crept forward again – we hit a bump, maybe it was somebody’s foot. Then we were there – at the checkpoint. A harassed Gumball co-ordinator leaned through our window, “Hi, you got your passes?” he yells out over the crowd. This is where our trip ends we thought, “They’re in the back with our passports.” The guy was distracted by the mob – “Ok, you have your co-pilot right,” pointing at the useless sat nav on the dash, and glancing up and down the car and at us, “ok, go on through.” The large iron gates parted, and we were in.
In to what, we were not so sure. We were on a gravel track lined with flaming lanterns, but we were completely unaware of what was at the end of it. After a few moments, we went through some trees, and a huge floodlit castle came in to view our left. Wow, this is really where we get rumbled. The track took us up to the gates and the next checkpoint. Quick greetings and a check of our number. Easy. We drove into the castle courtyard and parked alongside a McLaren SLR and took in our surroundings.
The castle, the Chateau Beloeil, was magnificent. The checkpoint guy was talking to his buddy, looking at his clipboard and at us. We had better move. We headed past a TV crew and in through double doors. Martine McCutcheon, a celeb ‘actress’ was posing for pictures on the grand stairway. Butlers wandered past us with trays of drinks. We helped ourselves to some refreshment, and went into the hall where the main party was at. A good mix of drivers were there – the Jackass crew of course including the late Ryan Dunn, token Girls in tiny outfits, and many faces we recognised from the London Garage. We moved around the room, and came face to face with Max Cooper, the organiser. He looked at us expectantly. “Hey,” we said, “great party.” We could see him trying to place us. Time to leave. At the exit, we were passed a goodie bag by the crew. The guy checks his clipboard again with a frown, here we go we thought. “Hey we have 118 down as a Gallardo, did you have some problems?” Yes we did. “OK.” And we were out of the gates, into the baying crowd. Music pumped out from somewhere, the mob was if anything crazier, “Audi TT! Audi TT!” some guys started yelling and banged the roof of the car… then we were clear and into the night.
Anyone who tells you the Gumball is all partying hasn’t experienced it. That first night is a driving challenge, you’re chasing the vanishing point. The next six hours through Belgium, Germany, into Austria and 1,000km’s were a blur of fast driving, fuel stops mobbed by fans, even faster cars overtaking us and Police radar traps around every corner. Sometimes we were with other drivers in convoy or in parallel, sometimes we were on our own. A Dodge Viper went past us at full trot and disappeared around a sweeping bend. A few minutes later, we hit debris in the road, and passed the Dodge, wrecked on the hard shoulder with the bemused drivers standing next to it. We slowed. They waved, they were all good – just without a ride. By dawn, having taken turns at driving, we were ready for a break. We hadn’t seen any other drivers for a little while. As the golden dawn broke and we welcomed the light we were nearing Vienna. The Police were ready, with pursuit cars placed every couple of KM’s on the road. Eyeballs were worked hard to make sure we were not caught out.
Suddenly a Ferrari appeared next to us, the co-pilot waving and grinning, and taking film of us. Then other cars turned in, once again we were amongst the rally. As we entered the outskirts of Vienna, though it was early, there were still people taking pictures and waving. Nearing the checkpoint in the city centre, the crowds massed again – with daylight, we knew the luck of the previous night would not hold, so as the rally went straight on to breakfast, we turned off and headed toward our final checkpoint in Budapest. At this point we had done remarkably well not to attract any Police attention, but with the Hungarian border a short distance away, more radar traps and a couple of helicopters, our turn came. The blues and reds lit up behind us. 30 mins later, a flurry of activity to hide the radar detector, quick examination of car and paperwork and a friendly chat, and we were on our way to Budapest. No worries.
Into Hungary, with team Tangospeed in their silver 996 Turbo and Audi chase car. Through the border, the obligatory Police roadblock and breathalysed, and on our way. Max Cooper went passed us at top speed in his white Fezza, then we passed him as he was pulled by a Police motorcycle. At our next fuel stop it became apparent we had got through the Police traps very lightly – we met up with some Ballers driving a black Merc saloon – they had been caught numerous times , fined and were as a result of this and maybe some serious partying, were now pretty twitchy. They stayed with us as we left the fuel stop. Then we hit rain – lots of it. We pushed on to the limit, but the rain was heavy and we were aquaplaning regularly. So were the other drivers around us. For once I was glad of Audi sensibility, not the best for Gumball, but 4-wheel drive was perfect. By the time we got to Budapest, it was 11:30am. We had been driving since 4:30pm the previous day, and after the last 150km of rain we were ready for a break.
Luck and circumstances were also with us in Budapest. As we arrived into the city and the finish line at the 4 Seasons Gresham Palace, the crowd funnelled in the drivers to the line. We were in the pipe, nowhere to go but forward – but hey, not our fault. We pulled up at the checkpoint, with some great looking girls, a sticker went on to our windscreen, cameras flashed, and the next goodie bag arrived through the window. Refreshments, some other rubbish and result – VIP passes for the evening party at the Moulin Rouge. We parked up in the Gumball line up – there were maybe 10 cars there already behind crowd barriers. As we parked, a film crew came over to us, “How was it, can we interview you?” We hung around as other competitors arrived and the line up filled out. The lines of cars, framed by Budapest architecture, were impressive and the sense of solidarity with other drivers having completed an awesome drive was all around.
We checked into the hotel which we had booked in advance, and bombed out for a few hours before heading to the party at the Moulin Rouge. The party didn’t disappoint. We caught up with a few of the familiar Gumball faces, and with a few others bailed out around midnight, knowing in the morning we would have to get up at 6a.m. with the rest of the crowd to move the car as the rest of the Gumball left for Serbia and their flights to the US. Our Gumball adventure had worked out very well indeed.
Would we do it again?
So is the hype and rumour surrounding the rally founded? Absolutely, but don’t think it is just a rolling party – it’s an endurance challenge, a great bunch of people and a lot of fun. That 24hrs in 2006 was definitely one of our most memorable road trips, more so as it was a hustle – and we were never sure of how far we would get. My co-pilot is now my wife, I found my first Porsche online from the hotel that last day in Budapest inspired by the rally, and owned that and a couple more since. In our own European road trips since we have injected some of the Gumball magic. If anyone deserves the ‘Spirit of the Gumball’ for 2006, the award the organisers give every year for embodying the fun freedom of spirit and adventure the event strives to deliver, I think it was us. And if you don’t believe us, look closely at the line-up in Budapest in the official Gumball 3000 DVD ‘3,000 miles’, and in Tangospeed’s own video as they go through the Hungarian border control. You’ll see us there.
Would we do it again? Absolutely – we did it again in 2010, and went even further. We even made the starting line up in Pall Mall and the opening night party. But that’s definitely another story.