10th June: Thessaloniki – Tirana – Porto Montenegro
Is this what it’s like to be a celebrity?
Waking at 7am at the Royal Makedonia Palace Hotel and having had breakfast, once more we made our way to the car. If the starting grid hadn’t done it, arriving in Thessaloniki the night before had really given us a taste of what to expect from the Gumball 3000. Despite the light drizzle, the crowds that had gathered to watch the cars arrive was amazing to experience, even at 10pm. All of them wanted the cars to rev and to get pictures with them / ask questions. The only way I can describe it is it felt like we were celebrities even though we were nothing of the sort!
Next stop, Montenegro….via Albania!
So, setting off around 8am, our first task was to make it to Albania. This, we discovered (and some of you might have seen from The Peaked Lapel’s social media) was not straight forward!
We need petrol
Firstly, the traffic making it out of Thessaloniki was abysmal, although being in a convoy with a Lamborghini Huracan Performante Spyder and a Ferrari 488 Spider is never a bad place to be. Secondly, what we learned was the roads towards the Albanian border were amazing. What was not, however, was the infrastructure and, specifically the petrol stations – or lack of! How can a country, whether with aid from others or not, build hundreds of miles of perfect motorway but not think that, at some point, people might need to fill up with petrol?!?! Now I had already learned the F355 was pretty economical, despite maintaining a healthy, spirited pace but there came a point when continuing to say to ourselves ‘oh, there must be a petrol station soon’ slowly started to become total fantasy as the fuel gauge slowly made its way from full to empty…
We still need petrol
Eventually, having calculated we had around 25 miles left (at the current rate of progress), my father (co-driver!) then had to set about searching for the nearest petrol stations. Eventually we found one, about five miles off the motorway and, although it was less than ideal, decided we had to try and find it. Imagine the thought… day two of the Gumball 3000 and there we could have been, at the side of the road in a 22 year old Ferrari and out of petrol… It just didn’t bear thinking about!
We got petrol…and a bat and ball
Eventually we found the station, to the great delight of the owner. He came out, filled the car up and then asked if we wanted anything. Only water, we replied, thanking him. Running back in he emerged with two bottles of water and a bat and ball set. He not only refused to take payment for the drinks, he said he wanted to give us the set as a gift and wanted a picture with the car! Such a lovely man and, yet again… that’s Gumball 3000!!
Navigating our way back to the motorway with renewed vigour, we pounded through the miles, including some incredible tunnels (shared with a Ferrari 488 Spider), before we reached the Albanian border, where we found around 20 Gumballers waiting to pass through. More were arriving behind us, including the Aston Martin Vulcan. It was here we struck problems; three hours of them. The border controls were totally inadequate and, to add to this, the officers were encouraging the locals to push in front of us and go first. But at least I could console myself with the beautiful sound of the F355 as we drove through tunnels…
Now, bearing in mind it was around 30 degrees and we moved about 50 metres in the entire time we were there, I had a real concern the F355 would overheat; old Ferraris are notorious for being unable to cope with stop / start traffic in hot conditions. Fortunately, as with the rest of the Rally, the 22 year old prancing horse never missed a trick… which cannot be said for the Vulcan! About two hours after we got there one of the support crew came around asking if anyone had a flat head screwdriver to help jump it because the battery had gone flat! Luckily I carry an assortment of screwdrivers in the car for exactly that reason – but so far, touch wood, I’ve had no reason to use them! Who would have thought the little F355 would come to the rescue of the only road legal Vulcan in the world!
Once we had finally got through border controls, and I had left some rather irate posts on social media, we then had a police escort to guide us to the next border. There have been numerous reports of cars being stopped and people being kidnapped / cars stolen and, frankly, 120 supercars crossing through the country would be more than enough to get people’s attention. So having waited for almost 45 minutes at a petrol station to get going, we finally did. And my, what a drive it was. Stunning, undulating and winding roads down to and away from a beautiful lake, with a line of Aventadors, 488s, 911s and AMGs in front and behind us, it was exactly how I had hoped the Gumball 3000 would be.
Hairy moment on a hairpin
There was one particularly hairy moment however… given the high-speed driving and high temperatures, the grip from my roasting hot tyres was at a premium. We were weaving our way through a canyon and, in order to keep pace with the police, make numerous overtaking manoeuvres. One such manoeuvre, with a 911 having followed me, required me to brake very late into a corner. The initial turn in was just right but then I felt all four wheels give up for just a second, resulting in a drift around the hair pin. One of the problems with older cars is just that – their grip tends to go without warning, particularly given they have no traction control aids. Fortunately I was able to control the slide and, just as importantly, there was no one coming the other way!
We made the checkpoint at Skanderbeg Square, Tirana at 3:30pm, some two and a half hours after we should have done thanks to the delays at the border. We had a very quick pit stop before, once again, another police escort was arranged to take us out of the country.
Montenegro here we come…eventually
It wasn’t for another four and a half hours that we finally made it to Montenegro… and it was worth the wait. The road was arguably the greatest one of the Rally – mile after mile of perfectly laid asphalt; a dual carriageway of epic driving heaven, winding through the hills before then making its way down toward the city centre and, of course, parking at the Port.
Porto Montenegro is a stunningly beautiful place and even just the few short hours we were there, including our first party of the Rally at Platinum, made a lasting impression on me. I will definitely go back.
It had been an exceptionally long day but, despite that, we made it until about 3am before finally calling it a night. The following day promised to be just as gruelling, but I was certainly getting a taste for the Gumball life now!
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