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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Time to put on the brakes?
Gumball Rally cars
No prize for first place but a history of high speeds
Two days after a Macedonian pensioner died in a crash with a rallying driver, the Gumball 3000 website said it all.

In a dramatic change on Friday morning, out went the usual design based on the dashboard of a stylish sports car, with instrument displays linking to the event sponsors' own sites.

Then in came a more sombre black bordered announcement that this year's event had been cancelled.

A statement from Maximillion Cooper, Gumball's founder, said the rally had been ended early, as a "sign of respect" after the death of 67-year-old Vladimir Cepulyoski following the crash.

Celebrity

"This is the first time anything like this has happened in nine years of travelling through over 40 countries with thousands of drivers, and it is with deep regret that I make this announcement," said Mr Cooper.

But the director of the RAC Foundation says that perhaps now is the time for a more permanent end to "these jaunts."

It had all been very different when the cars set off from central London at the start of their trip round Europe.

Model, Caprice
The Who's Who of international society and pop culture.
Gumball 3000 organisers

Crammed into Pall Mall, photographers had jockeyed with car fans for the best vantage points as a series of high performance cars and some only slightly lower octane celebs strutted their stuff.

"This is not a race," the organisers insist, but in their words: "3,000 miles of adventure with the most eccentric group of thrill- seekers imaginable, partying every night with the Who's Who of international society and pop culture."

Among those taking part this year, the models Caprice and Jodie Kidd, along with stars like the Hollywood actress Daryl Hannah.

Glamour and fast cars

The Tinsel Town celebs' seeming love of the event perhaps grows out of its birth as a homage to the 1970s road-trip movie of the same name.

Maximillion Cooper, its founder who boasts of "hobnobbing with everyone from Hollywood's bad boy, Johnny Knoxville, to Prime Minister Blair," launched the event for 50 friends in 1999.

These days the rally is limited to 120 vehicles with an entry fee of 28,000 for each one and two occupants.

Road Facts
Rally covers 3,000 miles across Europe in six days
Founder, Maximillion Cooper had rock drummer father and mother was a model
Entrants get a bronze bust of Burt Reynolds, star of Cannonball Run movie

The heady mix of glamour, fast cars and big bucks has been latched onto by the lifestyle industry and businesses, with Adidas the latest to jump on board launching a range of trainers branded with the Gumball 3000 logo to coincide with this years ill-fated event.

While there may be "no prize for coming first" according to organisers, that has not failed to stop drivers engaging in a game of cat and mouse with speed cops across Europe.

Speeding

Two Britons stopped in Catalonia during the 2004 event were allegedly clocked at 156 mph.

Despite a warning from the authorities in London, this year's event had been no different, and the Metropolitan Police cautioned one 29 year old driver for dangerous driving on the A20, summonsed another for driving at excess speed, and are investigating 16 more Gumballers for alleged speeding caught on camera.

Some rally participants and followers caught events on video themselves - posting the results on the internet.

In one, the occupant of a car following the rally is heard to shout "This is good - we're loving this," as they track a group of rally participants hurtling through the Sunday traffic heading for the coast.

Moments later, there is a shout of "Police - get in, get in!" as the cars drop back into first lane, braking rapidly as a police patrol comes up behind a Bentley carrying the race logo.

What perhaps worked well on the big screen, doesn't mean you can do that on the real highway
Edmund King, RAC Foundation

As one of those filming shouts "That was a close shave" they carry on past the other car - now stopped by officers on the hard shoulder - with the cameraman exclaiming "That was cool" as they accelerate away once more.

Game over?

"There've been problems in years gone by with this rally," says Edmund King, Executive Director of the RAC Foundation.

"It's got a history of incidents of potentially dangerous driving . I just think what perhaps worked well on the big screen, doesn't mean you can do that on the real highway."

Mr King says that, for a generation which has grown up playing computer games involving high-speed car chases, it may at times be easy to blur the cyber world with the real world where a mistake can really mean 'game over' for good.

"Perhaps it's time to say, 'let's pack in these jaunts'" he adds.

As organisers dealt with the immediate aftermath of the crash, questions about whether the cancellation this year might become more permanent were met with the response that it was "too early to say."

A spokesman for Gumball 3000 said: "We won't even think about next year until all this has been sorted out."


SEE ALSO
Britons quizzed on Gumball death
04 May 07 |  Manchester
In Pictures: Gumball 3000 Rally starts
14 May 05 |  In Pictures

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