11th June: Montenegro – Split – Venice
Another long day ahead…and a few more borders
Getting up at 7am after a 3am finish at Platinum nightclub the night before was, I’ll be honest, a little painful. Having said that, the enormous suite at The Regent Hotel made up for it somewhat, as did the delicious eggs royale I ate for breakfast.
The scheduled drive time for this journey, from Montenegro to Venice, via Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, was around 12 hours, so we had to get moving. Fortunately, some experienced Gumballers had already checked the route out and found we could take a ferry from the centre of Montenegro across the bay (which we all gladly did), shaving off around an hour’s driving time.
Unfortunately however, such time saving measures were rendered pointless with a reported three hour wait at the border, contributed to not only by sheer volume of traffic but also roadworks. This meant we had to establish an alternative route – the F355 had coped wonderfully the day before but the last thing I needed was to tempt fate in another three hours of stop start traffic in plus 30 degrees! So re-route we did, along with our new friends Victor and Ivan, rolling in a Mercedes G63 and, randomly an unmarked Jeep Cherokee containing Tanner Fox and his media team.
We quickly made it out of Montenegro and very swiftly found our rhythm in the winding roads towards the border. Once more the sun was out in all its glory and beginning to bake us as we weaved our way across the countryside and into Bosnia. With the roof of the Spider stowed and the V8 howl coming from directly behind us, bouncing off the walls and trees, it was a truly awesome drive. Indeed possibly the greatest way to get rid of a hangover!
Another hairy moment
We had our second hairy moment on this stretch of road and in almost exactly the same fashion as the day before; the F355 gave up her grip, such was the heat in the tyres. With the G63 behind me, just as previously, I braked late into the corner, got that initial turn in and, as I went to accelerate out, found all four tyres to be as if spinning on ice. Once again I was able to control the slide and gently feed the power in, thus preventing a spin (which would have also meant becoming very good friends with the side of a cliff), regain control and fire out of the corner. It’s a wonderful feeling when a car moves around beneath you and it’s a testament to the F355’s innate balance that it was easy to control in such moments, but I cannot pretend my heart did not beat a little faster in those moments…
Here’s a border….what could possibly go wrong?
After the debacle at the Albanian border the previous day, we were prepared for anything. Luckily, we were travelling in convoy with Victor and Ivan, who had very kindly agreed to take our additional Gumball 3000 bag in the back of their car. This was especially fortunate because, accidentally, we had put all our insurance documents in there which were required at the borders, given we were no longer travelling within the EU. So, when we stopped to cross over from Bosnia to Croatia, we stopped and took the documents we needed. It was here Victor and Ivan almost ran into trouble. At each border control you are supposed to show your passport, V5 vehicle certificate and confirmation of insurance, all in hard copy. They did not have the latter and, because of this, controls were refusing to let them through, telling them they would need to find an alternative route – I should add they had confirmation of the same but in electronic format. So, we decided to use old fashioned bribery and pay the officer to turn a blind eye – the princely sum of €50 was placed in a passport for him to review and, within two minutes we were on the road again!
There’s petrol stations in Croatia!
Having experienced the stunning, winding country roads of Bosnia, nothing would prepare us for the Croatian motorways. They were exceptional! And, I might add, they had thought it a good idea to build petrol stations at the junctions, just in case one might need either petrol or a rest, or both. Genius!
So, we really got the hammer down, or so I thought. Travelling in the middle lane at around 120-130mph, Freddy Fast In Koenigsegg Agera Rs in his Koenigsegg Agera RS flew past us in the outside lane as if we were standing still. I have no idea how swiftly he was travelling but you could see the aerodynamics working, pinning the hypercar to the asphalt- it was an amazing sight and all I could think to myself was… now that’s Gumball 3000!
Good morning officer
We were making incredible progress and had, thus far, managed to evade the police… but it wasn’t long until an unmarked Croatian police car pulled up behind us and flashed us to pull over. Pulling into the petrol station he was very civil about it: “do you know why we pulled you over? Err, I don’t know… speeding? Yes, do you know how fast you were going? Err… No idea… You were doing 161…” Well, I thought, that’s not too bad – god knows what others were doing!! So he asked for the usual documents and fined me the equivalent of around $80 (which I paid by AMEX!), I thanked him for being so good about it all and we went on our way!
Now what makes Gumball 3000 so special is the sheer number of people who come out, even into the most remote locations, to cheer the drivers on. Bearing in mind we were in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, the volume of fans who were standing on bridges above the motorway with banners, waiting to catch a glimpse of the cars, was amazing. But one group of fans in particular will remain in my memory. They were in a blue VW campervan and, when they saw us approaching behind them, four of them leaned out of the windows, cupped their ears and beckoned us to accelerate past them. For them it was the sheer joy of seeing and hearing these cars on the road that was a pleasure to see.
And yet another hairy moment
We had one, last hairy moment… from out of nowhere, enormous hail stones started falling from the heavens. Within seconds the road became an ice rink; initially I was able to maintain speed to prevent water coming into the cabin but very quickly it became apparent that pace could not be maintained. With aquaplaning, particularly with very hot tyres, a real risk I put my hazards on and slowly made my way to the hard shoulder. Waiting for the roof to come up, whilst we were being pelted by water pellets from the skies, seemed like an age but, around 20 seconds later, it was latched and we were able to re-join the motorway, although I could still feel the tyres searching for grip. Bizarrely, approximately two minutes later the weather changed completely, reverting to brilliant sunshine!
Having made it out of Croatia and into Slovenia for a short time, before heading into Italy, with no more hiccups (although we were stopped (as were all Gumballers) to be breathalysed), we had our one and only GPS failure. All of a sudden we lost signal and had absolutely no idea which way to go. Fortunately we were in a convoy of an Audi RS6 and Lamborghini Aventador and a Bugatti Veyron and, I can honestly say, it was music to my ears when my father said “whatever you do, don’t lose them, otherwise we’re ******”… By this point it was around 6pm and the heat had subsided somewhat, meaning I had maximum grip. And I needed full attack mode in the F355 to keep up with the colossal firepower under the bonnets of the cars in front. But keep up we did, hanging on to their coat tails for around 20 minutes on some sensational winding country roads until our GPS finally returned. It was seriously hard work, especially with a manual transmission on give and take roads, plus the 3.5L V8 needs to be kept spinning over 4,000 revs to maintain rapid progress given its low torque figures, but it was one of those moments you dream of as a child – slaloming through Europe in a hail of noise and supercars – the best of the best from France, Germany and Italy. Epic.
And then we finally crashed…into bed
Eventually we made it to Venice at around 9:30pm and we were all placed in a secure car park before jumping on a speedboat to our hotel; the sensational San Clemente Palace Kempinski. After showering and having a late dinner (it was around 11:30pm by this point) we crashed out. After around 12 hours of travelling, on around four hours sleep, I was shattered. I was grateful that tomorrow was an easier day.
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