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TG on the Gumball: the second leg
After seven solid days of driving, partying, a bit more driving, and some more partying - all with little food and even less sleep - my body is tapping out and calling mercy.
But after 2,500 miles of driving, one unforgettable plane journey and streams of surreal memories banked, TG has completed the Gumball 3000 Rally.
When we last checked in, we were in Copenhagen, Denmark, and thanks to a shattered clutch, one Dodge Viper down.
Unable to source parts and short of time, the chrome #81 Guess Viper was transported straight from Oslo to Amsterdam. There it could be flown with the rest of the Gumball cars to the USA, quickly fixed on home soil and - fingers crossed - join us on the last leg of the rally from LA to Vegas.
Meanwhile, not-unattractive Guess girl Danielle Knudson, myself and our support crew required a new set of wheels. A Volvo XC70 rental (probably the most un-Gumball car in Gumball’s 17-year history) was our replacement Viper, and quickly christened ‘The Stealth Bomber’, especially on the leg through Germany down to Amsterdam.
See, the Germans don’t approve of road rally events like the Gumball. So much so that in 2010 the authorities banned any Gumball cars from driving through the country. This meant all cars had to be put on car transporters, and chugged cross-country while drivers hopped on coaches and were shuttled like some sort of billionaire’s school trip.
But, this year, Maximillion Cooper - Gumball’s Bernie Ecclestone - managed to twist the German authorities’ arm enough to allow us to drive through to Holland.
However, there were strict conditions: all Gumball branding had to be covered with shonky masking tape, an official escort would guide us border-to-border via a predefined route, and no one, absolutely no one, was to break the speed limit.
Given that in the first few days of the rally numerous Gumballers had lost their licences and handed over a small country’s GDP in speeding fines, the last edict seemed a hopeful one.
Which might help to explain why, without warning, an army of German police decided to shut down a section of the autobahn on our route, and filter the entire Gumball procession through a service station.
The public - and us in our inconspicuous Volvo - were free to go. But every single Gumball car and driver was pulled aside, vetted, questioned, and slapped with fines if they’d been speeding. Many had.
This threw a significant spanner in the schedule, resulting in the Gumball caravan missing a trip to merchants of Mercedes horsepower, Brabus. And, more annoyingly for the locals, the great Gumball-shaped cork plugged a hole in northern Germany causing many, many hours of traffic.
Later that night, the Gumball circus took over Amsterdam Arena to give 35,000 paying punters a close-up with the eclectic mix of exotic cars, and meet the knackered drivers piloting them all.
Thanks to the horrendous traffic, us and a few other G’ballers missed it. So at silly o’clock we pulled up at the hotel, truly beat after 16 hours on the road.
“That traffic was brutal!” I complained to Caleb, a mohicaned member of the Gumball gliteratti.
“Traffic?” he replied, “I had a big one last night so took the jet here. There’s no traffic up there…”
Caleb is a man who travels with a $125k float of ‘just in case’ money.
But with the cars packed, palleted and on a 747 heading their way to Reno, there was no driving the next day, and therefore no need for the morning-after breathalyser test. That evening’s party, after party and after-after party was suitably substantial.
The glue that keeps the Gumball together is the driving, but sometimes things get in the way. Things like the Atlantic Ocean, which needed to be traversed to finish this year’s route.
So to get the Gumballers and crew to Vegas, a ‘Gumball Air’ 767 was chartered from Amsterdam to Reno, via Portland.
An opportunity to sleep and recharge? No chance.
“This is your captain speaking,” rapper Bun B announced over the PA system. “We’re the Gumball Army and we came to party. Drive all day, party all night. Enjoy your flight and thank you for flying Gumball M****r-F*****g Airlines.”
At this point Matthew Pritchard, Gumball’s self-proclaimed jester, was released. Keen to show off his most intimate tattoos, he paraded up and down the plane naked, scrambled over seats before urinating on Rocky baddie Dolph Lundgren and blacking out in the aisle.
Such is the Gumball. There aren’t many flights that are nightclubs in the sky - where booze flows from takeoff to touchdown, things are smoked, girls are stored in overhead lockers and the tannoy is used as a sound system.
At this stage in the rally most people’s guards have dropped - largely by having them beaten down emotionally and physically. But this social leveling made the flight the perfect place to share stories and for those not indulging in the more bacchanalian aspects, the chance to tot up speeding fines, which appeared an inescapable expense, like fuel.
Touching down on the hot tarmac of Reno-Tahoe airport, we were greeted by an American marching band playing ‘Tequila’, go-go girls and a faction of Hells Angels.
Oh, and 30 new cars - including DeadMau5’s McLaren P1, Jon Olsson’s ‘68 Camaro, a harem of Hellcats and a Pagani Huyara. New drivers, too, with fresh-faced American Gumballers like Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee all ready to be indoctrinated into the fraternity by Reno’s chief of police.
“We’re giving you a police escort into downtown,” he hollered excitedly to the crowd, “so we can go as fast as you like!”
Unfortunately, no one who’d flown their cars from Europe could participate, as the cargo plane with our cars on was delayed by eight hours. Our Vipers didn’t hit home soil until midnight.
Having been up for two days, and with the silver #81 car into emergency surgery, attempting the four-hour stint to San Fran through the night would’ve been dangerous. So we grabbed a few hours kip in Reno and hatched a plan.
A 4am start. The Gumball is an endurance event like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, warping time and distance in a distinctly hallucinatory way.
Four days ago we were over 5,000 miles and seven time zones away, snaking through luscious Sweden. Now we were dealing with the arid air, big skies and sweaty processed meat of American gas stations.
But with a brain pummeled by five days of excitement, elation, stress, fatigue and, at times, disappointment, I was seriously wondering what the hell the point of this rally was. But after every trough comes a peak, and it wasn’t long before we were at Buttonwillow Race Circuit having another good time.
Greeted by 11 Dodge Vipers and a handful of the berserk Challenger Hellcats, we had a day on track to fang around.
I’ll be honest, I thought telling a group of rich playboys, sheiks, businessmen and everything in between to go wild on an open, undulating track in someone else’s 700bhp-plus car could get a bit crashy, but not a single car left the black stuff. There was, admittedly, a whiff of eau de clutch lingering in the pits, but luckily my nostrils had become used to that after day one.
Arriving in Los Angeles late the night before and after to the cancellation of another scheduled event, we were rested - by Gumball standards at least - high-spirited and on the home straight.
Sitting on the grid and gleaming in its chrome glory, the #81 Viper was back, fitted with a fresh clutch and ready to ride again.
A swarm of paparazzo shutter clicks percolated from the other end of the grid. The Ham had landed.
Yes, F1 World Champ Lewis Hamilton was in his civvies - complete with flouro yellow booties, of course - and ready to get behind the wheel of a one-off Koenigsegg Agera HH for his first taste of Gumball.
“I’m very excited,” Lewis said on the grid. “I rarely get to drive and I’m wondering whether it [the Gumball] will live up to the expectation. I know the Gumball as a race with people getting arrested and stuff…”
Lewis didn’t hang around. Embracing the Gumball ethos and obviously keen to tick off the road rally to-do list, he put his foot down until the Agera’s fuel tank ran dry in the middle of Death Valley.
While all that was going on, myself and leggy Guess girl Natalie Pack crossed the searing desert in the red #82 Viper flanked by the other two Dodges, Jon Olsson’s air-con-less Camaro torture box, Dolph Lundgren in an SRT Challenger and Team Galag in an SLR Roadster. All while being buzzed by a low-flying camera chopper. A normal day on the Gumball.
But, in the trademark up-and-down nature of the Gumball, rolling into Vegas didn’t offer the full-firework finale to such an epic drive.
With the logistical tapestry of Gumball well and truly frayed, the plan was to finish the rally with a police procession down The Strip before pulling up to a Forza Horizon-style car-culture-lifestyle-festival-thing complete, with a Tony Hawk skateboard demo and live music from world famous rappers and DJs.
Problem was, the police didn’t arrive, leaving Gumballers to drive aimlessly around Vegas like drunken leaf ants trying to find the venue. And no one on the streets really cared that the Gumball was there.
In Europe you felt like a genuine celeb as you arrived to packed stadiums of screaming fans, and streets lined six-people deep. In the US, the Gumball didn’t seem to carry the same public appeal - especially in the distraction heavy City of Sin.
There you were just seen as another rich guy in a fast car with some spangly stickers slapped down the side.
When we did eventually home in on the venue, it was depressingly desolate and reeked of over-ambitiousness - to the point that some Gumballers got back in their cars and drove off.
Over two more nights of parties, and more cancelled events, the rally fizzled out with the awards ceremony in a posh watch shop.
Not being a race, the coveted prize trophy - a full-size Gumball machine - is for the team judged to have embraced the event whole-heartedly.
This year it was won by a pack of modified Porsche 911 Turbos from America: Team KQWest.
“We drove our asses off. We partied our asses off. And we participated in everything…” That’s how David Sellers, Team #45 driver, reckons he walked away with the grandest prize in Gumballing.
Disheveled and broken, my reflection vacantly hangs in the plane window as I make my way back to TG Towers, mind utterly scrambled by a whirlwind of a week of highs and lows.
We took part in this year’s rally to answer one question: ‘What is the Gumball 3000?’ Right now, I honestly don’t know. Give me a few days to straighten out my thoughts, decompress and download my telemetry from the week and I’ll try to have an answer for you.
Until then, flick through the pics from the second half of the rally above. It’s been an unbelievable experience, that’s for sure.
Pictures: Rowan Horncastle/Oskar Bakke