Police pursue high-speed celebrities as Cannes opens festival

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The Independent Online

As the Cannes Film Festival opens today, the French authorities will be looking forward to the relatively sedate excesses of people who drink champagne by the glass - rather than out of the bottle - after a week of slapping speeding fines on the entrants in the world's maddest, fastest and most eccentric car rally.

As the Cannes Film Festival opens today, the French authorities will be looking forward to the relatively sedate excesses of people who drink champagne by the glass - rather than out of the bottle - after a week of slapping speeding fines on the entrants in the world's maddest, fastest and most eccentric car rally.

Among the celebrities, enthusiasts and millionnaires who used the circuitous 3,000-mile route of the six-day Gumball 3000 rally to get to Cannes, the actor Adrien Brody at the wheel of a Porsche 911 Turbo, left Paris on 4 May, had breakfast with David Beckham in Madrid and dinner a couple of days later with King Mohammed VI in Morocco.

In the Gironde last week, gendarmes briefly halted the 182 cars in the rally - including 65 Ferraris and 30 Lamborghinis - after nine of them were found to be using radar detectors to spot speed cameras. At the weekend, Spanish police managed to stop five cars including one that travelled at more than twice the legal 120kmh speed limit and covered 210km in 50 minutes. After looping the Paul Ricard Formula One circuit north of Marseille, the rally finished in Cannes with a party at the Ritz Carlton that went on until early yesterday morning.

The rally organiser and entrepreneur, Maximillian Cooper, denied the Gumball 3000 was a hooray-Henries' outing for people with more money than sense. "Actually, we tipped off the police so that they would stop a few cars. There were a few people in the rally who thought it was about speed. In fact, the Gumball is about style," he said.

Mr Cooper stressed that even though the entrants included supermodel Jodie Kidd in her Maserati and former boxer Chris Eubank in a Bentley, flashiness was not de rigueur. ''The winners were two men driving a Citroen 2CV, Gary Lutke and John Docherty, and the runner-up was an old Bentley painted with the Union Jack whose drivers wore different excentric British costumes every day.

"One of the participants, Chris Crooks, a Saville Row tailor, flagged down a London taxi and entered the rally with its cabbie. The total fare came to £6,000; he negotiated a discount.'' Asked whether Mr Crooks paid the cab driver's hotels en route from Paris to Cannes, via Madrid, Marrakesh, Marbella and Barcelona, Mr Cooper said: "They always arrived last - just before the next stage - so there weren't many hotels to pay."

But the black cab was not the slowest in the race: ''Johnny Knoxville of Jackass and Bam and Ryan Dunn of Viva LaBam drove a Winnebago that did not arrive in Cannes until 4am, by which time the end-of-rally party was over.'' Nevertheless, the Gumball 3000, which costs £8,000 to enter and is described by Vogue as ''the most glamorous rally ever staged'', includes its share of the extravagantly rich and flashy. They come from Britain, mainly, but also the US, Hong Kong and Russia. Next year's rally - the seventh since Mr Cooper started the event in 1999 - is from London to Dubai.

Mr Cooper himself drove a Morgan Aero 8 "because Charles Morgan rang me up and offered me it".

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