I remember being 16 years old it was a suitably dull day in my home town so i decided to head into town and loiter as the rest of the youths did. The loitering led to boredom so some twenty minutes later i found myself in GAME purchasing a copy of Gumball3000 for the PS2. A fast paced game that involved driving a range of different vehicles across various countries whilst trying not to crash or get nicked by the eastern European rozzers.
This year we were asked by the team at Twisted Land Rover if we should like to join them on the 15 year anniversary of the Gumball Rally travelling across Europe in their converted V8 Land Rover. Tickets were booked, visa’s agreed, and bags packed before I even put the phone down.
Having left a wet miserable day in Central London, I found myself on a British Airways flight to Copenhagen, a country I knew little about. I’m told once I arrive that the Danes invented pubs? A point that I vehemently deny. They can claim to have invented Bacon if we can claim pubs? Agreed.
We arrived to truly beautiful weather, so much so that I realise my wax jacket is not the right attire, I quickly swap it for anything I can find that stops me leaking.
We were picked up at the airport by Oli and Matt, two friends of the MD of Twisted Performance, Charlie Fawcett. Charlie launched Twisted when he began adding performance mods to Land Rover Defenders for off-road competitions and realised that without a degree in engineering or a sympathetic dad, tuning was out of reach for the common man. So, with a small off-road army, he set to work designing and manufacturing performance parts that would significantly boost power, torque and drivability without requiring major modifications to the standard Land Rover engine.
Twisted has come a long way since its humble beginnings, todays Twisted is a pedigree name in the Land Rover tuning space. So why would Charlie gamble it all on a new marque for the Gumball 3000. Why would be create this new marque and not even test it!
Travelling through Copenhagen we finally arrive to meet the Twisted team, we meet up with Charlie’s right hand man John O’Mahony at their hotel and discuss the trip. We realise that we still haven’t picked up our passes from the Gumball HQ. Back in the car, back across Copenhagen.
As we ascend the stairs of the Gumball Hotel in Copenhagen, I spot Dylan Kwabena Mills. That’s Dizzee Rascal to those of you that weren’t aware that musicians tend to have names as basic as your own. I’m told later that day by Jeff, (one of the Gumball bods), that he wasn’t even supposed to be coming. He just rocked up. That’s Gumball for you, the worlds most rock and roll rally going.
Having secured our passes, caps, jackets, stickers, iPhone cases, cameras, earphones, lanyards, race cards and official Gumball ‘heart monitors’ I realised that Gumball was a global entertainment and lifestyle brand now. So much so, that when I wear my Gumball gear around these days, I’m asked if I went or just bought it online?! Perhaps I should show them the fractured parts of my psyche to prove I attended. Gumball built its pop culture appeal, by inviting the many names that ushered in pop culture on its hallowed route each year.
This year would see, Xzibit, Tony Hawk, David Hasselhoff, EVE, MTV Brazil, the Dudesons, Jon Olsson and more attend the rally for nothing other than unadulterated pleasure. No velvet ropes, no barriers. If you could pony up the weighty entrance fee this year, you could sit happily having lunch and watch Xzibit searching for Wifi, The Hoff trying to find a bathroom and Tony Hawk roll in on his board. Ok, Hawk didn’t do that but our first meeting was when he asked if i knew what “that” sound was in the Twisted Defender. “It’s a Defender Tony, it makes all kinds of sounds. Have you driven a manual before”, “No”, “good luck man”.
So anyway, having secured our Gumball memorabilia we headed to our hotel to prep and then to the Royal Opera House across the river for the VIP launch. Outside we found a ground built Batmobile courtesy of Team Galag and a Twisted Land Rover on display. Cue many dinner jackets and swooning for press. Having witnessed the Gumball launch night, I decided to head off to the other side of town to meet up with some old friends in a local tavern and drink to the wee hours of the morning. Smart move with a 350 mile journey the next day.
That morning we awoke in Copenhagen, having opted for our own accommodation, we were faced with a beautiful view of unspoilt countryside, just beyond the industrial estate we found ourselves in.
Breakfast was quickly devoured and we headed over to the Gumball hotel for a briefing from Max Cooper, CEO of Gumball 3000.
“DONT CRASH, DONT SPEED HAVE FUN”. Or words to that effect. We also learn that there are some serious pieces of history up for auction throughout the race, last nights was Kimi Raikkonen’s F1 steering wheel, one of 250 replicas made. It sells for an incredible $32,000.
Having been maxed out with detail, it is finally time to head to the grid. A surging sea of people all happy to get drenched in the rain that Copenhagen’s sky line seems committed to churn out. Time stands still for me as I watch the super cars leave the grid one by one on their 3000 mile journey. Although the Twisted team have driven from Thursk in the UK to the Gumball Grid and will be driving back from Monaco so the total journey is closer to 5000 miles for the Northern brigade.
After watching millions and millions pass my eyes, we decide to hop in and drive ourselves, for fear of missing the action. What you don’t prepare for is the staring at the road, the hours of watching the rain come down whilst looking out the window for fellow Gumballers to race. Eventually the rain clears and we find ourselves approaching a pre-ordained stop at the Koenigsegg factory in Sweden, that’s right, we have left Denmark and are making our way to Finland via Sweden. The factory as is you would expect surrounded by boy racer types in half decent modified cars all shouting and screaming. The factory however is a place of calm and celebrity relaxation. The Hoff and his Welsh girlfriend sit quietly eating traditional Swedish fodder whilst I take the worlds quickest tour around this motoring nirvana.
“So this is where you, oh right, excellent, and then you, ok great, thanks”.
I have just enough time to eat a light lunch, watch a team-mate miss-calculate the currency conversion from pounds and spend £120 on a Koenigsegg hoodie and then it’s back into convoy for the drive to Stockholm. The next destination should be the Kings Palace in Stockholm for a display but it would appear that everyone, has underestimated the time it would take to get to Stockholm. We are all catching a ferry, one that leaves that night and arrives the following morning.
Having put the hammer down, we decide to miss the display and head straight for the ferry, the deadline of which is 6:00pm. Our eta is 7:30pm, luckily for us, a message comes down the food chain to say that the embarkation has been delayed by a few hours to allow for the Gumballers to make it.
This isn’t a private ferry, no, this is as commercial as it gets, it’s less a ferry and more a liner with five restaurants, a gym, numerous bars and onboard accommodation. So imagine how impressed we were they held it back. Then imagine how pissed the cattle class were that they had to wait and arrive late the next morning. Luckily our areas were all private so no one had to even look upon any of the underlings destain.
Having parked the cars, I politely explained to one of the Gumballers, why all the car alarms were going off at the same time. Most modern super cars are fitted with anti theft systems that set off localised and head office alarms when the car moves without the engine being switched on. As such, a ferry means that every car will think it’s, I learnt from experience when driving a Ferrari Cali over to France some years ago.
That night the Dudesons, MTV’s franchise players in the destruction genre, put on a live stage show on the ship. It isn’t too long before I wonder how much these loveable idiots get paid to nail each other, well, to each other? With that I head off to my fold down bed to try to piece together a plan for tomorrow. In my absence, Max auctions off a pair of Jon Olsson’s X games winning skis, these are some serious prizes.
I wake up at, well by this point, I have no idea, my watch is on a time zone from yesterday. I would have more luck with a sun-dial. I put my boots on and head into the hallway to see if someone can tell me how long till we need to be in our cars to disembark. “20 minutes”, I’m told by the cheerful porter. CHRIST! I wake everyone up with my kid gloves, made from real kids. Some insist on showering, like it matters, you will be sitting in a hot car all day, not exactly going to make a difference is it. You’re better off with a can of Febreze and some duct tape. Clean as a whistle.
We make it to the parking galley and into the vehicles in the nick of time and leave the ship into the onslaught of paparazzi flash bulbs. I have been to many an event that commanded this type of sycophantic audience appreciation, but never one that spanned Europe and involved, well, cars. I’m a car fan, of course, but would I get out of bed on a Saturday morning at 6am to stand on an underpass to watch various super cars scream past, probably not. I guess if you can afford to have one, the appeal of going to see one changes. That didn’t stop the people of Finland coming to support us in full force though. The loveable bastards, with their, well, lakes and water quality, YEAH ROCK AND ROLL.
We headed off the boat and into rush hour traffic. Rush hour traffic is the same everywhere. Of course being in a Twisted defender means that almost everyone gives way and of course if they don’t, your welcome to drive over them.
The V8 monster still seemed to be going strong and what an engine, a V8 GM 520 bhp from the Chevy performance range. The sound was unmistakable as the Twisted V8 by the end of the race. The Twisted team were leading the pack, they had the iconic skateboarder tony Hawk in the Twisted Alpine Edition, MTV Brazil’s Luca and Deco in another Twisted Marque and two support vehicles. It was the undeniably the largest team there.
Our first destination today was the Kamppi shopping centre in Mannerheimintie, Helsinki. As we all pulled in, there were once again, thousands of fans lining the route and the roped off driveways. With the cars parked up, it was time to head to see the entertainment, a snow stunt display put on by Battery energy drinks. Two crazy bastards on snow-mobiles hitting a snow-covered ramp and jumping 30+ feet onto an air bag, in the centre of the town surrounded by crowds! It was insane and honestly like nothing I had ever seen before. The video says it all really.
Having sampled some traditional Finish breakfast, (it seemed to be smoked salmon and cream cheese in a wrap of some kind), we rolled out of Helsinki toward Premier Park in Porvoo, Finland.
As we arrived at the race circuit at Porvoo, the driver of a certain Mercedes was quite obviously pushing the boundaries and took a tight corner a little wide resulting in much cheering and a truck load of gravel. Once again, worth looking for in the video embedded in the article.
As we stopped for lunch and watched the Dudesons fly around the track in their converted Escalade blue elephant, I noticed that very few of the Gumballers actually went around the track. Imagine if you can the scene on a local British trading estate at about 8pm on a Saturday night in Staines. Rows of converted japanese cars line up with ill fitted body kits and deafening stereos, the convoy occasionally breaking from the meet to go to KFC or McDonlads. Then imagine a track in Finland, with row after row of supercars and glamorous owners, breaking only to go into the race control centre for some freshly smoked salmon. How fresh was it, well, they were smoking it outside over an open fire, the Fin’s do not muck about. Contrast personified I think you will find.
Having gauged on smoked salmon, I decided to go outside to see what all the sudden commotion was, it appeared that Tony Hawk had arrived from the X-games in Barcelona. Obviously Tony missed the start of the race but made it to the track to pick up his Twisted Alpine Edition. Possibly one of the meanest looking marques that the Twisted team make in my opinion. The Alpine Edition looks like it would take your mother out for a steak dinner and then never call her again.
Having realised that his credit card wouldn’t work in Europe, Charlie the MD headed out with Tony Hawk to “gas” the Landie up for him. The same thing happened with the Hoff the day before, I imagine that the lack of American passports means European usage isn’t high on VISA or Mastercard to do list. Before we loaded up and headed off, I was stopped by a cool looking Brazilian guy asking if we were going to St Petersburg, “I’m pretty liberal my man but this isn’t really a hitchhiker affair”. “No no, you don’t understand, I’m Luca from MTV Brazil, we are in the Twisted Defender and we missed the ferry last night, we hitched here. We need to get to St Petersburg to follow the party and someone is driving the Defender over to Tallinn in Estonia to meet us tomorrow. Can you give any of my guys a lift”. The spirit of Gumball is simple, you’re all there as one teeming mass of excitement and horsepower, leave no man behind. “Of course, we can take someone”. We however weren’t going to Russia direct and neither were they, we dropped them off at the local train station and headed for the Estonian equivalent of a Holiday Inn. Having signed up for the Gumball late, it didn’t seem like much point trying to arrange a Russian visa for one night. So I counted on Charlie to catch me up the following morning when they drove from Russia into Estonia, although, they didn’t arrive the following morning. We wouldn’t actually see them until about 9:00pm in Vienna.
Charlie, where the hell were you? “We had a Police escort across the whole of Finland, it actually started to feel normal. Then they left us at the Russian border to be picked up by Russian police and this is where it definitely didn’t feel normal. More than 100 supercars, four Twisted Defenders and a blue fluffy elephant – don’t ask, were then given a high speed escort through Russia for 140 miles. Straight into the centre of St Petersburg; almost every road junction had police to stop traffic and if not, there were swarms of police cars zipping back and forth moving transgressors out of our way.
Doing 70mph through a city 30mph zone through red lights and over tram lines with a police escort on your rear quarter with flashing lights, just left us head-shaking for miles. This is what Gumball is about. Madness, but safe thanks to the local police entering the spirit of things. At 8:45am (we think, but we’re not sure) we took a police escort to the border but unfortunately we had to pull in for fuel. That left us behind and trying to catch up thanks to “The slowest fuel pump in the world”. We found ourselves travelling on our own for the next 100 miles to the Estonian border, not half as exciting as the high-speed pursuit we came into Russia with. But when we got to the border we met up with maybe 30 or 40 Gumball cars waiting to have their papers checked.
The four-and-a-half-hour wait could have been worse but we had a spontaneous bmx demo from Rooftop, jumping up a stone wall, over ridges and stuff. Apparently neither laws of physics nor gravity apply to him or his bike.”
I was glad to hear that the Twisted team were having a good time whilst being stuck at the Russian border. We however had rolled into Tallinn early to catch the days festivities. This gave us a chance to interview Tony Hawk, The Hoff, Max Cooper and Elo, a Gumball veteran and owner of the London Motor Museum. You can watch them all later in the magazine.
Having been in Tallinn for four-five hours and witnessed another maddening crowd and various promo teams keeping us fuelled and fed, we were increasingly aware that the Twisted team weren’t going to roll through Tallinn. Given the time, they were to head straight to Riga in Latvia. I haven’t been back to Riga since my friends stag do some four years ago. A few bullet points, Drinking, female taxi driver, taser, biting, passenger seat driving. Say no more.
So we decided to head to Riga, a four-five hour drive. When we cruised in, the rain was hammering down and the majority of teams had already arrived. We decided to stow our gear at the hotel and then I drove back solo to meet up with the teams. I found them in the Vērmanes park restaurant next to the infamous Coyote Fly Club. I stopped briefly to chat to friends of Badr Bin Saud who said he had expressed an interested in Twisted. I decided that this was a discussion worth having and so, wearing my cat boots, Gumball T-shirt and wax jacket, I headed for the club. It is a pretty infamous place in Riga, dignitaries, celebrities, etc. But more so not for its dress code, but it’s ‘face policy’, yes, imagine a bouncer with a mirror standing at the entrance assessing your mug after hours of straight driving. I flashed my Gumball lanyard and the gates opened like Moses parting the red sea. The club itself was pretty impressive, I was flying solo though so there is only so long I can make the loner look appear cool. I then bumped into Elo, founder of the London Motor Museum and a man who would make Sinatra look like he was slacking in the cool stakes. Elo is chilling just taking in the scene and wondering how many modelling agencies sent room meat for tonight’s festivities. I spot Badr and head up the stairs to sit with him and talk shop. I’m welcomed into the fold, we sit, we talk, we smoke, we drink, then we rock out to Xzibit’s live set! Gumball sets the standard for partying without a shadow of a doubt. To drive for seven hours, even in shifts, arrive at 9:00pm, change, eat and then head out to a club till 3:00am only to wake up at 8am and do it all again is no small task. I challenge you to do it for 48hrs, some people would probably nail that with ease, but for a week! No deal.
Having had my fill of Belvedere and Shisha, I retire to the hotel, only to stay up till 6:00am looking at pictures and catching up on emails. The following morning we all storm out of Riga and straight for Warsaw hoping to arrive at a reasonable hour, the drive is relentless. So many un-policed stretches of open road. I think all in all, we only amassed two tickets. One however was down to the support team. A Defender is a vehicle at home in Chelsea and Arctic tundra alike, what it doesn’t like, is traffic. With an open central reservation, whats the problem, it would seem that the local rozzers were keen to discuss international relations with us in their unmarked car. Despite following suit in our car, and pulling over behind a parked JCB, they still flagged us down. “Don’t give them any cash”, i said. I’m from the old world where Eastern Europe is to be regarded as a splendid place, so long as my wallet stays in my jacket. Twenty minutes later and a small fine and the police are posing for pictures with us, allowing us to put a Gumball Sticker on their car. Part of me thinks they are getting into the spirit of it. Part of me thinks that they are taking the sticker, knowing that it all helps with the sting to catch drivers further down the road. “Zat’s right you silly westerners, axelerate, ve have sticker, ya, we love Gumball”.
With that little episode under our belt we press on, we arrive before Charlie and the support vehicles to a sea of people. There were easily 10,000 fans lining the streets of Warsaw, not even the entrance route you understand. A sea of people surrounding the parking area alone. Police were lining the entrance route that was now formed out of average Polish teenagers. We eventually made it into the calm of the parking area, barricaded off and serene. Ten minutes past and the amount of people within the barricade had increased slightly, then more, then more, after twenty minutes, the crowds had peacefully ignored the five Gumball staff and were freely milling around the super cars. There was a sense of respect of course, there was no touching involved but even with that, I would still have cringed if I owned any of the exotica lined up that night. Jon, one of the Gumball generals, began herding crowds to the X-Games ramp that was setup on the other side of the square by shouting, “this way to see Tony Hawk”. You know what, it worked. Like lemmings they followed until the area was empty again and security had been re-instated.
That night we mustered enough strength to eat at the hotel, interview Charlie in the lobby and then head to the other side of town to argue with a receptionist at the hotel about our reservation. We eventually secured a room with no lock, terrific. By this point, I would have happily slept in the car.
The following morning I drove across town to catch the convoy before we left only to be faced with the mammoth task of helping the Gumballers stop traffic to allow the Tumblr out into the street. Not exactly the most manoeuvrable of vehicles. Impressive none the less. In a three strong convoy of Land Rovers, we waved goodbye to Warsaw having seen the largest crowd so far. Watching Tony Hawk and crew perform a live skate demo on the X-Games half pipe would stay with me for some time. Did I mention that we had another passenger? Yes this time, it was Russian resident Robb Pritchard, marketing man at Kombat. If you have been living under a rock, Kombat produce the T-98, the vehicle that Sacha Baron Cohen used to ferry him around in The Dictator. The T-98 is a wheeled armoured vehicle built by Kombat Armouring. Such is the strength of the beast, it has no frame, rather a monocoque double steel body and can be fitted with a 14.5 mm or 12.mm machine gun, or a 55mm smoke grenade launcher. Suffice to say, Rob was an interesting guy. As he was insured to drive anything, we decided he could drive our chariot for the stretch to Vienna. By this point, we had decided to miss out the engineering museum in Krakow. Arguably a travesty but we were so sleep deprived, dragging our carcasses around the museum wouldn’t be appropriate. So we press on through the day, sleeping, eating, discussing the race so far, stopping to wave at people pulled over in their hyper cars by the local police. We stop briefly at a lake outside Vienna as the sun is setting and it makes for a beautiful backdrop for the Twisted teams photographer, Georgina. As Charlie and Tracey Fawcett walk alongside their vehicles, her atop his shoulders, it makes for a special photo shoot.
Charlie is really doing something pioneering here. Yes the tumblr is impressive and the team with the hand-built cars are cool but Charlie is road testing a prototype Land Rover Defender, on the Gumball Rally. Failure isn’t really an option, they are a brand partner of the race and so, they have to finish. The V8 prototype is set to go into production from the Yorkshire based company this year. So come hell or high water, this baptism of fire, will involve a newly indoctrinated vehicle into the Twisted family and what a family it is.
So, having watched the sunset over the lake, and drag tested the V8 a little, (just a little), we make our way to Vienna, arriving at about 10:00pm. The hotel is the Ritz-Carlton, marble, oak, immaculately dressed staff, it is everything you expect from the hotel to bear the name Cesar Ritz. We however aren’t staying at the Ritz, we have a swankier address, an apartment in the centre of town called Bella, courtesy of Chez Cliche. A 92 m2 apartment with B&O TV and such immaculate styling, we had to create a short video. Flick forward and you will find a short film of this amazing apartment in the centre of Vienna, it was breathtaking.
Having stowed our gear at the apartment I was the only person willing to head back out to the club for this evenings live performance from The Hoff. It had to be done. Although, getting lost in Vienna’s city centre afterwards was hell on earth. I drove around in circles for 45 minutes, drove up one way streets and having ridden with the illegal cab drivers for a bit, eventually earned their trust. I was so damn pleased to get home I could have cried.
I dragged myself into my egyptian cotton sheets for six hours, before waking to take on our last journey.
The following morning, having shown Rob from Kombat how to use the coffee machine, we made our way to the city centre to meet with the team from MTV Brazil, Tony Hawk, the Twisted guys and the Gumball crew. Oh yeah, me and Tony were tight now.
We left in a convoy headed for Verona and then our final stretch into Monaco. This stint would not be easy, this stint would be some 700 plus miles. We were already broken. We had three in the car and so could easily do 250 miles each. Having driven through some beautiful mountain ranges and tunnels that would make the channel team embarrassed, we arrived at the Byblos art hotel for lunch, I will be honest parking was an issue. In the 15th century, architect Michele Sanmicheli started from the ruins of a Roman ‘case forte’ to design the central part of the villa in Venetian style. Inside, both art of the time and modern pieces exist in symbiosis. It truly is a beautiful place, for the ten minutes we are there before getting back onto the road.
The journey into Monaco is gruelling, the roads are amazing but the rally is starting to take it’s toll, we only manage to break the driving up by continuously having the V8, slow down for us to take pictures before engaging warp and disappearing. It has been a week of highs and lows, of course mainly highs, peppered with sleep deportation, weird motorway food and energy drinks. The Dudesons and The Hoff have kept us entertained though. As we left Verona, the Hoff pulled alongside in his Audi R8, slowed down, held his watch upto his wrist and said “kit, I need you” before laughing and speeding into the distance. I don’t think any of us really realised the cultural significance of what just happened.
As we negotiate the roads into Monaco we find ourselves trying to out-manoeuvre the race marshals that are busily planning tomorrows Formula 1. This doesn’t work and we drive around for about 20 minutes before finally finding the right hotel, the infamous Fairmont. Red carpet, cameras, security, pretty girls and tanned men with jumpers over their shoulders. I had packed two David Minns suits with me, a selection of crisp shirts and had then realised that the journey would be spent wearing my Run DMC T’s with jeans. If there was ever a place to pop your finer duds on, this was it but to be honest, I just couldn’t, be, bothered. I ran into Dainton from Dirty Sanchez outside the hotel, drinking a can of beer and looking like he was gearing up for a proper session. He looked like I felt, broken but exhilarated.
The V8 had made it, without so much as a glitch. A true testament to the Twisted team from tup’north.
The Gumball Rally is many things to many people, you can cast your eye over it discerningly and assume it is just a bunch of affluent people driving fast cars, you can see it as the mobilisation of a 21st century pop culture motoring event. Either way, Max and his army built this empire and raised $600,000 for charity this time around. I defy anyone to attend the Gumball Rally and not yearn to go again the next year. We salute you.