Flashy cars switched on their motors one by one and off they shot, one after another. Lamborghini, Ferrari, Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Aston Martin, Porsche Boxster, Bentley and Corvette, as well as old American muscle cars taking to the road with the modern super ones. Cars that most people only dream of seeing, much less racing, rushed off on one of the toughest, most grueling rides in the world.
“It’s not a race; it’s a rally” said Amro Kayal, a Jeddah businessman in real estate and owner of a Lamborghini. His teammate, Yasir Mufti, a manager of logistics and distribution, was asked, “What’s the difference between a race and a rally?” He answered, “A rally does not line up cars at a starting line but instead, each car starts and its point to point distance is timed. And there is no prize for first, second or third.”
Consider that Amro and Yasir are the first Saudis to have driven around the world in 8 days. They also received the trophy for being “Best Drivers.” Most people did not expect them to finish; out of 120 teams that started, only 96 finished. Amro and Yasir became the drivers most admired for their tenacity and so received the coveted “Best Drivers” award, which required persistence and grace under unbelievable pressure. They did not let the fact that they had to get more visas than any others stop them or even slow them down. They began getting the visas seven months before the race and of course, the hardest one to get was the American Visa.
What is this rally? It’s the Gumball 3000, an annual 8-day, 3000-mile/5000-km international car rally that takes place on public roads.
In 1933, motorcycle racer “Cannonball” Baker crossed the United States coast-to-coast in approximately 54 hours. In the 1970s, “Car and Driver” founder and editor Brock Yates started the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash in his honor. The second race was won by Yates and Dan Gurney, former Formula 1 and Le Mans driver in a Ferrari Daytona. Their trip from New York to L.A. took about 35 hours. These events inspired the 1976 movies “The Gumball Rally” and “Cannonball” as well as sequels such as “Cannonball Run,” “Cannonball Run 2,” etc. The “Cannonball” race was finally canceled in 1979.
Drawing inspiration from the 1970s race, the old movies and the new “Smokey and the Bandit,” Maximillion Cooper revived the spirit of the old races in the summer of 1999. The “Gumball 3000” has since captured public attention through celebrity participation and media coverage from MTV to Vanity Fair.
The first race went from London, to Rimini, Italy and back, passing through Paris, to the Chateau d’Esclimont, before lapping the Le Mans race circuit, followed by a checkpoint at the Mas du Clos Ferrari Museum, then Monaco Grand Prix circuit in Monaco, the Ferrari Factory in Modena, the Ambras Palace in Austria and the Hockenheim Grand Prix Circuit in Germany before returning to London to cross the finish line on Park Lane. The winner drove a 1963 Jaguar E-Type. Other drivers included actors Billy Zane in a 1964 Aston Martin DB5, Jason Priestley in a Lotus Esprit V8 and Dannii Minogue in a Porsche Boxster.
The fourth race was held in April 2002, the first to be run outside Europe. The race went from New York to Los Angeles, passing through a checkpoint at the White House, to Nashville, Tennessee then on to Dallas, Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, before Beverly Hills where the trophies were awarded. 175 cars entered the contest, including a 60s Corvette painted in the Stars and Stripes that won best car award, the 1959 Ferrari California Spider from the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off “ that was bought for just over $1m to take part in the Gumball.
The fifth race, with more than 100 cars, was held in May 2003 from San Francisco to Miami, passing through Reno, Las Vegas, Tucson, White Sands, San Antonio and New Orleans. This one was made into ‘Gumball 3000’ The Movie and starred Jackass’ Ryan Dunn racing a rental car alongside skateboard legends Tony Hawk in a Dodge Viper and Bucky Lasek, Motocross World champions Travis Pastrana and Carey Hart, and supermodel Jodie Kidd. Cars included a mix of Ferrari F50s and 360s, Lamborghini Murcielagos, a Koenigsegg cc Supercar and Jesse James’ custom VW Campervan.
Alex Roy won in his Team Polizei BMW M5, decked out in German Police Gear(2). “Fastest Wheels” was awarded to Rob “Lonman” Kenworthy in a Porsche GT2. A Special Award was given to Richard and Sue Rawlings in their heavily modified Chevy Avalanche.
The sixth race was held in May 2004 in Europe. The race went from the Eiffel Tower to Biarritz, Madrid, Marbella, then to Africa, (via Gibraltar) to Marrakech in Morocco as guests of the king, before returning to Spain for the Barcelona Grand Prix, finishing in Cannes at the film festival. 192 cars took part. Ex-boxing world champion, Chris Eubank drove a truck, whilst the actor Adrien Brody favored a Porsche and the ‘Ai Ya’ Boys rented a Winnebago. Gary Lutke and John Docherty won the coveted Spirit Trophy in the Citroën 2CV. First place went to Kim Schmitz in a Mercedes CL3000. The Style Award went to Alex Roy, this time dressed as a Canadian Mountie.
Former Champion Jockey Richard Dunwoody and journalist Clement Wilson entered in a Volvo V70R.
The seventh race started at Trafalgar Square on May 14, 2005. It went from London to Brussels, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and then to Dubrovnik in Croatia. The cars were then transported by ferry to Bari, Italy, then lapped the old Targa Florio circuit in Sicily, before heading north to Rome and Florence, and finally crossing the finish line in Monaco’s Casino Square prior to the F1 Grand Prix. Participants included Daryl Hannah, rock stars and supermodels driving everything from the Dukes of Hazard General Lee to Ferrari Enzos and Mercedes SLRs. Veterans Ant and Pete returned in 2005 in their diesel-powered BMW 3-series “D3”, hit a deer, but finished anyway. The Spirit Trophy went to Sue Bellarby and Kathy Huddart, whose Caterham 7 broke down just shy of the finish line. They were picked up by Gumball Legend Alex Roy and transported to the finish line in his “Guardia Civil” BMW M5 and finished 2nd dressed as a Spanish cop.
This year’s unofficial winners were Greg and “Kalbas” in a Mercedes 2004 CLK-DTM, who edged out a week-old Mercedes-McLaren SLR whose engine blew up just short of the finish line.
This year’s race began on April 29, 2006 in Pall Mall, London. It continued to Brussels, Vienna, Budapest and Belgrade. The drivers then boarded a plane in Serbia for Thailand for the race’s second leg between Phuket and Bangkok. The final leg took place in the United States from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles.
Alex Roy’s Team Polizei dominated Gumball 2006, arriving in 1st place in Brussels, Vienna, Budapest, Furnace Creek and Beverly Hills, even beating the Gumballers that skipped the intermediate checkpoints. Team Polizei, suffering from both sabotage and accident damage in Thailand, sat out the Thailand leg and made a surprise visit to the Burmese border where pictures were taken with border guards who thought the Polizei were UN inspectors.
The Spirit Trophy was won by Team 15, who crashed their Rolls Royce Phantom in Serbia took the grill of their car and rode 15 hours in cabs in Asia. A Rolls Royce Phantom was waiting for them in Salt Lake City for the completion of the last leg to Los Angeles.
When Amro was asked what the most treacherous experience was, he answered, “Without a doubt, the most dangerous as well as the most frightening was driving in Thailand where they drive British-style when we were on a narrow two-lane winding road.” On a road leading to the salt lake flats outside Salt Lake City, Utah a policeman pulled them over and told them they were going 91 mph. They asked if he was going to give them a ticket and the policeman answered, “That depends.” To which they replied, “On what?” And he responded with, “Whether you let me take a picture of the car.”
Gumballers, it seems, are known all over the world. The latest one covered some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Mountains and valleys in Europe, the Painted Desert in America, the lush beauty of Southeast Asia. This is Gumball of today and hopefully for years to come.