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Gumball: 'It's not a race, it's a rally'
IT is doubtful if Budapest, even with its 20-year history of hosting the annual Formula-1 Grand Prix, will have seen anything quite like it: On May 16, 120 supercars will come roaring into the capital. Gumball 3000 will have arrived.
For the uninitiated, Gumball is a compelling, if controversial, challenge to drive 3,000 miles (4,828km) in six days, and attracts some of the coolest people on the planet, driving some of the hottest cars. Image Burt Reynold's Cannonball films, only more so.
The organizers are keen to stress "It's a rally, not a race." Although it has a reputation for high speeds, they say it is possible to stick to the speed limits, complete each stage and
take part in another thing Gumball is famous for, the end of day parties.
This year's run, the seventh, returns to Europe, taking in 13 countries and visiting Hungary for the first time. It has attracted, among others, 50 Cent, MTV Jackass star Johnny Knoxville, Jamiroquai's Jay Kay, supermodels Caprice and Jodie Kidd, movie stars Owen Wilson and Daryl Hannah and director Quentin Tarantino. And rubbing shoulders with them will be two of Budapest's expat community, Mark "Mussy" Muss and Seamus "Balkan Express" Conlan.
For Muss, competing is the fulfillment of a dream. "In October 2003, I was at home one Sunday afternoon, watching TV, when a program on Gumball came on. Pretty much from that moment I was hooked," he explained.
"I was going to do it in 2004 with another friend, borrowing a racing driver's Aston Martin DB7, but that fell through for logistical reasons. So, then I decided I had better take charge of things myself." Muss applied and was told he had been accepted; though his beloved Porsche Boxter was rejected for not being unusual enough. He offered to buy a Lotus Esprit S4 (there were only 649 made) and was given the thumbs up. It may have helped that Gumball's founder, Maximillion Cooper, named his first daughter Lotus.
So with a car in place, he just needed a co-driver. "Suddenly, I had to think of someone that I could trust well enough to drive 3,000 miles with," Muss says. It wasn't long before he knew whom he wanted.
"We play golf together and Mark knows I drive to the Balkans a lot," says Conlan, who used to work for MAI Central and Eastern Europe, the largest independent network of insurance and reinsurance brokers the region. A former soldier, he is about to take up a UN post training the Kosovo Albanian defense force.
Team 3Ezer (Team 3 Thousand) had been born. The drivers picked their nicknames and the Lotus S4 was re-christened Loretta.
But why do Gumball in the first place? "It's a good way for me of expressing the way I live life, doing things that push the boundaries," explains Muss, regional sales director for Interdean-Interconex.
And what of the charge that the rally -and by extension the Gumballers themselves - is irresponsible? "There is a group who go beyond the limit of what is reasonable. We aren't going to drive like that," vows Muss.
Conlan agrees. "We intend to drive responsibly, we will not go faster than the road conditions safely allow. Apart from anything else, your fuel consumption goes through the roof if you are doing long high speed stretches."
Muss says there are usually three groups on the road. At the very front are the supercars. A second group is usually comprised of the German cars which have not been tweaked - most German cars are sold with an engine limiter restricting them to 250kmph (156mph). The third and last group is made up of the slower cars, often including the "funnies" such as ice cream vans, 2CVs and London taxi cabs. (This year a General Lee from Dukes of Hazard fame will be taking part).
Loretta has undergone a little tweaking herself, not least in the safety department. While Lotus built the engine and the chassis of the S4, other bits were routinely sourced from a parts bin. Thus the electric window switches are from an Astra and the central internal light cluster from a Vectra.
The boys were disturbed to discover that the breaks were those used on a Toyota Camray. They have now been upgraded. "The good news is that now the car can actually stop as well," Muss said.
The rally starts this Saturday May 14, in London, with British F1 driver Jenson Button (currently "resting" after his BAR-Honda team were banned for two races for having an underweight car) flagging them away.
Once through the Channel Tunnel, the route will take them through Belgium, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Sicily, and Rome, crossing the finishing line on the evening of Friday, May 20, in Monte Carlo's Casino Square.
Competitors will relax on the Gumball super yacht in Monaco's harbor, party the weekend away, and watch the Grand Prix on May 22.
The boys are already thinking about running again next year, and Gumball has indicated it would be happy for Loretta to return.
Conlan says they will see how the car runs this year before deciding her fate, but have already committed to giving 10% of her value, whatever happens, to the St Stephen's Foundation, the charitable branch of Hungary's largest (and only English speaking) Free Masons' lodge. "The foundation specializes in providing state-of-the-art pediatric heart drugs," says the Balkan Express. "These are drugs that the Hungarian state health service can't afford, yet there is a mortality rate using their older drugs of 40%. Using the drugs we can get from America, the mortality rate falls to single digit figures."
Gumball 3000, May 14, start time 6pm
14 - 15 May: London - Belgium - Prague
16 May: Prague - Vienna - Budapest*
17 May: Budapest - Dubrovnik - Bari
18 May: Bari - Sicily
19 May: Sicily - Rome
20 May: Rome - Florence - Monaco - Finish in Casino Square, 6pm-10pm
*4pm-6pm: cars arrive at the Hungaroring F1 circuit for the Hungarian checkpoint and lap the course.
6pm-8pm : Cars will arrive at the Kempinski Corvinus Hotel Budapest