11 Aug 2014

Bears and Loafing On The Rico Rally - The Full (Uncut) Story

This is an intense story of a road trip across the continent fuelled by more than just petrol that was sent to me by persons semi-anonymous. Take some time with it, it's quite long but stay with it, it's worth the ride.


There was less than a week to go until the start of The Rico Rally and we still hadn't secured a suitable vehicle. My co-pilot and photographer, Ged, probably thought he was hiding his trepidation manfully but I could tell he was nervous by the way he kept muttering "Fuck sake George, it's next week."

There had been a series of almost rans. There was an MX5 that we decided was too small for two six foot adults, our luggage, three cameras, a guitar, enough liquor to last a week and a tool kit. Then there was Mercules, a CLK 430 V8 soft top which very nearly fitted the bill - it was fast, reasonably spacious and most certainly refined - but I was minding it for a friend who was being rehabilitated at her Majesty's pleasure. Mercules was almost certainly on an Interpol hot list and therefore unsuitable for running national frontiers.

Of course, there had been Jaguar number 1, a 3.2 XJ Sport that was riddled with dents, knocked from every bushed joint and suffered with some decidely dodgy electrics. I wouldn't have touched it with a forty foot pole under ordinary circumstances but that afternoon I was fairly high and the vendor looked like a beautiful person, as did everyone else I encountered. The following day I got my money back.

We had narrowly missed out on an Audi A8 quattro five days before we were due at the start line in Kent when Ged and I independently and simultaneously stumbled upon an immaculate 1990 Jaguar XJ6 4L Long Wheelbase Sovereign in the small ads. Fate had finally delivered our chariot for the rally.

With three days until flag up we cleared a day at the garage and started some hardcore race prep which largely involved bolting two massive Hella spotlamps under the bumper and applying the Rico Rally stickers to the doors.

Other than smoking around south Manchester for a day or so, the closest we managed to a shakedown run was the blast to Kent the day before the event started. The Jag drove faultlessly though the fabled 'magic carpet ride' was clearly from another decade. Sporting as much tyre wall as actual footprint, the side to side meandering motion was most notable in the narrow outside lane of the M1 where either armco or wagon wheels would ebb and flow in our peripheral vision.

Ged might have argued that the bouncing, lolloping and vision issues were unique to my experience, having taken a couple of pills bearing likeness to a Teenage Mutuant Ninja Turtle - gifted to me by a musician friend who felt my mood on the run up to the event had been fraught at best and viciously tense as a benchmark average.

Earlier that morning, and with only a couple of hours to go before I set off on my first journalistic assignment since being so brutally fired from my job as spin doctor in the oil business several years earlier (I was replaced by a short, drunk football commentator come demi-celebrity with a shockingly bad combover who was later jailed for child sex offences after a high profile courtcase), I looked like I was set for a meltdown.

To some extent I held Ged responsible for that morning's mood and the subsequent supa-nova, the repurcussions of which rocked us both severely for the next seven or eight days.

The night before, Friday night, I was under pressure to finish a respray on an old Vauxhall Nova GTE, but equally under pressure to spend a little time with my wife who was less than pleased that I was getting a free trip around Europe as she saw it. I also owed the landlord a large sum of money and was committed to avoiding him at all costs. We had made excellent progress on the Nova and by four o'clock it was prepped, primed, masked and ready for paint. Matthew, the landlord wasn't due for another two hours and, if I left immediately, I was in with a chance of taking my wife to dinner. My painter, Sam agreed that he could take the job from there and I could focus on damage limitation and retaining some spending money for the trip.

When I arrived on the Saturday I found that Ged, who's flat was almost directly above my garage, had arrived soon after I left and got Sam blind drunk. Sam in turn seemingly poured paint over the Nova around midnight before staggering home. I arrived expecting to pack some tools into the boot of the Jag, get paid for a beautiful paintjob and gather up The Gedi before hitting the road. Instead I found Sam rubbing out some massive runs on a half finished car that was due for collection within the next couple of hours.

I changed out of my Manc Abroad outfit – Adidas top, sunhat, shades, pristine white trainers – put on a papersuit and began prepping the car whilst The Gedi stirred himself from a deep sleep and tried to keep me calm with coffee and bacon. I was not calm. My entire withdrawal strategy had been timed second perfect, perhaps this was a symptom of my growing mental obsessive paranoia, but as the deadlines slipped and customers were held in a queuing pattern at the local cafe I knew I was destined to run in to Matthew.

And that's exactly what happened. Matthew turned the corner into the yard as the inconvenienced customer counted notes into my hand. I was busted. I paid Sam and what I hadn't managed to stash away I surrendered to the rent bill.

A tank of fuel for the Jag was around £100, we would be consuming a tank a day for the next six days. I needed to survive on around £300 in lose change and crumpled notes. I had a packed lunch, no euros and seven Es – three of which didn't even make the trip to France.

Either way, and with dirty hands, we set an excellent pace, putting distance between ourselves and any other creditors quickly and arrived in time for registration having smoked three Vauxhalls and a Mini Cooper in the name of practice.

We checked in, ordered a drink and proceeded to collect our sign-on packs before heading outside to bask in the fading evening sun and check out the rest of the field. The Jag, or Big Bad Kathleen as she had become known, certainly stood proud in the lot. First of all, being an ex diplomatic corps limo, Kathleen didn't really fit in the parking space, and secondly it was immediately apparent that what we had spent on our car, our fellow competitors had spent on travel sweets and sunglasses.

Ged and I worked the crowd and did what we could to make a good impression but try as we might we were still Northern monkeys in a £600 Jag. On his own Ged could have freestyled his way through the situation but the two pills I'd dropped somewhere outside of Watford had me under their grip and I kept jabbering about how I was flying and how gnarly the whole scene felt. Kowabunga. After a lengthy session, Ged suggested we turn in ready for an early start so we returned to our room with the best intentions still largely intact.

Ged climbed on to his bunk but I was concerned about moving the remaining pills over to France. I was almost over the horrors of the morning and given my state of poverty I had a feeling supercharged serotonin was the only thing keeping me from meltdown so I busied myself emptying hayfever capsules and restocking them with crushed ecstasy tabs.

"All sorted, Donatello?" slurred the Gedi, near enough in his sleep.

I inspected my handiwork, still not convinced I had adequately disguised my stash. The pure white hayfever capsules were now covered in a purple chalky residue and were sure to merit further inspection when we inevitably got stopped. I turned on the main light, just catching my co driver on the verge of a comfortable drunken slumber.

"Do these look suspect Ged?" I asked passing him one of the four loaded pills.

"They look like they've been cracked open and restocked with illicit drugs."

Well balls to it, I thought. We knew they'd been cracked open and restocked with illicit drugs. Frenchy probably wouldn't care. They all dig smack on the continent and that's a fact. Ectasy would probably just be viewed with nostalgia.

I knew we wouldn't have time to thoroughly sweep the room before we left in the morning so i decided to clean up before I turned in. Whilst i had transfered most of the crushed up pills into the capsules, the cleaning process turned up a three inch line of powdered ecstacy. We were out of hayfever capsules so, Why not? I thought. A three inch line of powdered MDMA disco biscuit was just the thing before getting into bed.

When I came to, the only note I had made on the first night of my first journalistic gig in five years was two names scribbled on the back of a reciept with the legend, "Best barmen in Kent." I have since lost the note and cannot recall the names.

Day 1; Kent – Dijon.

Whatever had happened, I woke soaking wet from head to foot, clothed and with only one lense in my best pair of glasses.

"This is bad, Ged. My other glasses are the ones I wear at work and they're covered in overspray. It's like instant cataracts. Should I drive with one eye shut?"

"I think I'll be driving this leg anyway. We'll sort your specs in France.” said The Gedi. “I know for a fact I've had only five hours kip. Fuck knows wat you did after I fell asleep but there's some guys here keep looking at you like you're a turd in a swimming pool. That level of disdain must have taken some time on your behalf. How long have you been lying there? An hour? Maybe Two?"

“Jesus, Ged, if you want to drive this first bit you don't have to beg.”

Outside, in the morning light I got my first memorable look at the competition. There were AMG Mercs, Ferraris, Porsches, a Lambourgini, GT70 Virage, a smattering of BMWs and various other pumped up, petrol snorting marques. Strangely, Kathleen looked to be holding her own - albeit stood still.

I dozed in the passenger seat whilst we waited to board the ferry - time some of our fellow rally mates spent modifying number plates in anticipation on speed cameras and European federales. Once boarded I set about introducing myself to the same people I had no recollection of introducing myself to twice the night before – first when we arrived, and then again after only Ged had managed to go to bed as planned.

"Ged, have you met Oli and Dylan? They're from Yorkshire and they're running an Audi RS3."

"Yes, George. The four of us had dinner last night. Well, three of us did. You played with your food and kept trying to figure out which came first, the fried chicken or the Cream Egg."

I went to the floating megamart to buy headlamp deflectors that didn't fit the Jag and stocked up on lager for what promised to be a opening stint. I was not concerned by the headlamp deflectors, the big square lamps on the Sovereign were crap anyway and couldn't possibly blind our continental cousins, but the 24 can salute was my only hope for regaining some form of posture before we hit the road for real.

As we rolled off the ferry in Calais the Port Officials encouraged a show and the hold duly reverberated to fifty high-powered cars flexing their rubber and barking octane fueled melodies as each made an elaborate exit, pausing only to negotiate raised iron works and speed ramps - all except Kathleen who took such hazards in her comfort ride stride.

We hadn't left the Port of Calais before the first car fell victim of failure. An Audi R8 had picked up a puncture and the run flat system had dropped the car into safe mode. No problem, we thought, at least it's only a tyre. They have tyre fitters in France, right? Wrong. It was two days before the R8 rejoined us.

Whilst we waited at a nearby supermarket for a Finnish entry who had already driven the equivalent to race distance just to make the start we were treated to an eye-watering drift demonstration by the most lurid car on the rally, a dayglow wrapped Nissan 200 SX. Hats off to Mallo, the photographer from Scene:Status Magazine who took the concept of 'getting close to the action' to the limit as he was pebble dashed with loose shale trying to capture the perfect image. I remained cossetted in the passenger seat of the Jag, scribbled a note about his heroic dedication to the press on a cig packet and opened the first beer of the morning. When the tyre smoke settled we were off.

"How Long have we got, Gedi?"

"Four or five hours flat out to Dijon." "Flat out, Ged? No stops? No scenery?" "Northern France, G. Shit-hole."

Flat out is a relative concept. We were maybe ten miles from the boat and cruising at a comfortable convoy- friendly 110mph when the Lamborghini and a Porsche walked us like we were changing the plugs at the side of the road.

"Chavs, Ged. Deep down they envy us. They'll be pissing blood through shattered kidneys by the time they reach Dijon."

We passed the Supercar boys at the first toll where they had been detained for questioning after being clocked in excess of 320KPH. It was poor form and an early blow for our French campaign. Now every car wearing rally colours had it's card marked. A day or so later the French press described us as 'idle playboys' which is a bit rich coming from any nation that drinks wine with breakfast and needs a little sleep in the afternoon.

But for now the major problem was that thanks to the supercar boys the French law had a copy of our itinerary and they were going to be ready for us. Every mile or so on the highway south towards our stop for the night there was another speed check setting up.

"It's a hostile shit-hole, Gedi."

We travelled south in convoy. Occasionally somebody new would jockey for the lead but things were largely kept sensible for the prying eyes of the cinq-oh. Ged had found his groove behind the wheel of the Big Cat so I set up a makeshift press office in the back of the Jag with a guitar, a note pad and that case of beer. The intense police attention was a worry considering the contents of my Argentine leather hold all. Slowly but surely everybody sporting the Rico logo was getting pulled over and searched so when Ged stopped to stock up on Bolognese flavoured crisps at a services about halfway between Calais and Dijon I checked the pills in my bag. They looked wrong. My E-vision had betrayed me the night before. If we'd been spot checked coming off that ferry – and why the hell weren't we? I had been blatantly out of my skull for at least 12 hours – we would have floundered right there on the beaches.

We had been lucky, but we were on our way to Italy – another frontier altogether. One which I had reason to suspect harboured a grudge from a visit the year before. My friend who had given the pills a few days before had managed to blag his way on to the Italian leg of a Beady Eye tour and I had accompanied him, disguised as his manager and flanked by three other “cew members” absolutely committed to having the time of our lives. My recollections of the trip are sketchy but if i were to sum up everything I can recall in bullet points it would read like this:

  • lies 
  • fights 
  • disorano 
  • cocaine 
  • Proseco 
  • lost 
  • found 
  • Bez? 
  • Spacca Tutto! 

Too far this time, too far.

I could easily envisage a scene similar to the one in the Italian Job where the Mafia meet Michael Cain and company on the Alps, destroying their Jaguars and Aston Martins with bulldozers and instructing them – or in this instance us – to start walking back to England. I didn't need a possession or smuggling charge to complicate what already had the potential to be a very trying border crossing.

I wasn't the only person to have this paranoia. But where Oli let the fear grip him before he could think of a plausible alternative, stashing his weed in a tunnel near the Italian border the following morning, I chose to make sure i had swallowed all my contraband before we reached the border. As it happened they didn't make it 200 miles to Dijon.

Within an hour of getting back on the road, France had stopped seeming quite so hostile and the view had grown more pleasant. The Jag was back in its wallowing swagger and I spent the next 150 miles sprawled across the back seat jamming to Electric Lady Land, seven pills, 32 hours and fuck knows how many miles away from another reality. And feeling pretty good about not only myself but also my fellow man. Even my fellow frenchman.

The latent agressive vibrations felt earlier in the day were now giving way to a kind of circus. In my head I knew I was no longer covering a motoring get-away for the Sundays, my MDMA-plan diet had seen to that. We were freestyling it now and I could see that Ged was becoming braver as my excitment grew stronger with every head rush. They were coming every fifteen minutes or so now, each one announced by an involuntary “Kowabunga, Gedi!” or “I'm flying pal. We're styling it out”.

Any good judgement or common sense we had retained until that point was lost the moment i passed a can of lager to another press car at 105mph as Gedi, bouyed by my false chemical confidence, held the Jag within a Mini Cheddar of the other speeding vehicle. Good judgement and common sense not to be seen again for near enough a week as it later transpired.

My thoughts returned to the Beady Eye tour a year earlier. Then as now the odds had been stacked against us and we survived by pushing our luck as far we could. We were protected largely by people's inability to accept the horrors they see through their own eyes. Italy had already taught me that if you push your luck in a foriegn culture then there's a moment of stunned disbelief that, once you're tuned in enough to recognise it, marks your que to leave before the alarm is raised.

If we could reach Dijon, perhaps we might actually be able to pull this off. Numb eyes and lizard tongue be damned. We were on a mission. I thought I knew our limits.

“Ca va, Monsieur? Pleasant trip?” asked the desk clerk.

“Savvy, indeed, Senior. Awesome. Still peaking.”

I noticed Ged's shoulders drop a little as he shook his head chuckling. Communication issues aside, the hotel in Dijon suited our needs. Despite the size of the Jag I was beginning to feel caged and it was clear I needed to roam and introduce myself, once again, to the rest of the gang.

“The Supercar Boys are here, George. Let's check out some fancy metal.” With frothy Continental, mostly head, beers in hand, we went outside prepared to put the morning's brush with the Gendarmes down to high-jinx – after all, had the police stopped us there would have been even more to fuss over.

A Ferrari FF and the GT70 were parked outside the main lobby on the pavement, either because the ramp into the basement parking was at to0 steep an angle to enter without grounding the beasts or more likely because it was impossible for natives of Dijon to recognise how fantastically wealthy these visitors were had the cars been locked away out of sight.

We made our way over to the Ford, after all, we were due to at the Ferrari museum in a couple of days and Italy was sure to be dripping with them anyway. The GT70 was a far rarer animal and besides that the FF had a hint of Reliant Scimitar to it.

In order to further enhance the drop dead gorgeous styling of the GT70, a rack of classy neon lights had been installed flanking the monster engine.

“Why don't you just pull the engine and pop a leg of donner meat in there?” asked Dylan of the 'til then proud owner. I didn't see him talking to the supercar boys after that. In fact soon after that exchange the supercars boys up and left. I doubt it was Dylan's rather harsh critique of the Mirage that drove them away. One of their number complained that our first hotel on the mainland was lacking in diamond paper weights and resolved to lead a break away tour. They each produced a transparent plastic bag stuffed with Euros, so far as I could tell for no other reason I could think of other than to display their vast disposable wealth, before decamping from our not-that-humble dwellings, never to be seen again. I later heard a rumour they had turned up in Cannes trading top drawer French hookers, or perhaps shopping for proper wallets.

Gedi and I joined the rest of the gang at a nearby restaurant that reeked of fondue and proceeded to get embalmed in Ricard, Gedi having a fair amount of catching up to do. Whilst waiting for our dinner I realised the comradery was building already.

“They served a purpose, those posh boys, Gedi. Clearly almost everybody here is here for the roads. We'll sleep where the roads ends and eat and drink where we can get it. We don't care if it's a Super Eight or a MacDonalds so long as the drive there is great.” I gestured around the fondue palace where there may have been sixty more competitors. “This is our gang already, Gedi, and we only actually know a handful of these guys so far. The supercar guys just aren't in it. Hell, the biggest kick they got today was being seen to go fast. It wasn't the actual practise of going fast. Know what I mean?”

“Well, first of all, I can't believe you just made total sense after everything you've consumed so far so whatever you just said please note it down and at least make it look like you're on assignment, and secondly, need I remind you once again that you have met every person in this room several times last night.” said Gedi.

“Don't get me wrong, Ged. It still feels to me as though we're on the ferry. Either France is sliding on a very unstable tectonic plate or I'm leathered. In my head there's a disco going down but I reckon i've got the bastard by the reigns. We need a club or something.”

“Are you still on it? I'd be dead.”
“Who told you? You're English. Where are you from?”
“That's Leon,” said Ged. “We did this last night. He's one of us.”

“I want to dance, Leon.”

I could raise very little interest in adjourning to a nightclub. Where I had just wafted my way across France in a limousine, mostly everyone else had banged and crashed their way through seven hours of rock hard sportscar. The only aftershow that night would be back at the hotel bar.

The admiration of our choice of vehicle was evident as we continued drinking in the hotel lobby. One shaken individual who had been riding shotgun in a Noble went so far as to offer to buy passage in the sumptuous Jag – an offer I should have taken seriously in retrospect as my biggest customer had decided to withhold the payment that was set to fund the rest of the trip. Fortunately Leon had agreed to buy their campervan for the final sum of my tab which was running somewhere around two hundred Euros a day so far. Still a bargain for a £20,000 van.

“We saw you, sprawled out with a guitar in the back. We had our luggage between us up front.”

“This guy,” said Gedi “couldn't open a pre packed sandwich but he never missed a beat on that guitar.” Ged rushed to the elevator to grab the guitar to prove the point. Only now the drugs were tapering and I was beginning to realise I was now in the grip of a 48 hour piss up. My eyes would not focus on much, what I could make out was faces that I may or may not have upset the previous night in Kent.

When Gedi reappeared I was too far gone to even tune up and the extra weight of the guitar was disturbing my balance on the bar stool.

“Monsieur, this bad noise is upsetting our guests” said the lady behind the bar before assuring me they had run out of beer.

“Ere, Terry,” shouted a fellow participant at Ged, “I'll bet five Euros you're wearing the chauffeur's cap again tomorrow. Arthur there ain't driving.” The man's wife offered a corroborating observation but I was so drunk and she was so Midlands all I heard was vowels. I covered one eye to focus, then the other.

“How dare you” I shouted towards the hazy trembling mass of figures. “I'm the wheelman. This gentleman is my photographist and he has merely taken my seat whilst I recover from an ocular trauma. I will take your bet, and in turn your Euros.”

I shifted on my barstool and fell towards the hotel kitchen looking for my bed.

Day 2; Dijon to Italy. Christ, was it only day 2?

Minutes later I woke with a start as Gedi slapped my feet to wake me before leaving saying something about programming the sat nav and needing to find a petrol station. What kind of cruelty was this? It was only moments ago that we had been downloading the best of Credence Clearwater for the next leg, yet here was Ged, washed, fed and ready for the off. The door clicked shut behind him as I fell through the shower and into the elevator with all our chaos packed into an argentine leather holdall and a guitar case. From slumber to the underground carpark can not have taken more than seven, maybe eight minutes.

I still had not really come to my senses when I was stood in the basement carpark pretty close to where I was sure we'd left the Jag, only there was no Jag. Perhaps I'd broken Ged already, but I had assumed he would have flown himself out of there rather than pinching my Jaguar and leaving me high, as it were, and dry. Dry certainly. For even if the Jag was there it was on fumes and I still hadn't been paid.

I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks on me but it was impossible. The only vehicle that out bigged the Jag was Rico's Dodge Ram truck so if it was in there I would have seen it. It was too soon for Gedi to be so freaked out that he would run and those seven or eight – maybe ten minutes now – would have been more than enough for Ged to raise the alarm if she had been stolen or impounded.

“Has anybody seen a big green Jaguar and a tall man in a Fred Perry shirt?” I asked the emptying lot. Leon told me there was a man who matched that description parked outside the lobby looking for a half cut half blind journalist. Putting two and two together, I picked up my guitar case and leather holdall full of chaos and walked up the down ramp and into the French morning sun.

“That would have been more efficient if you'd stayed put, Gedi. My head went to pieces down there.”

“Your head's been in bits for days, mate. That's why I parked the Jag right outside the lobby – so you'd see us when you checked out.”

But I hadn't checked out, largely because the staff at that time of the morning were the same shift who had caused some bad feeling an hour or so earlier when they closed the bar on me. A little ashamed at the fuss I was pretty sure I had made, I took the elevator straight to the car park.

Feeling understandably vacant still, I agreed to let Gedi take the first stint behind the wheel – a three hour stint to a service station in the foothills of the Alps close to the Italian border. Even with the time I wasted stood in the basement trying to comprehend why I was no longer in bed, we were still ready to leave with the rest of the group, only Kathleen was bone dry so no sooner were we rolling we were forced to detour for fuel, casting us adrift from the field before we had even hit the open road outside of Dijon.

“We'll find 'em soon enough, George. The road's practically straight and I got one of these whilst you were bewildered in the basement.” The Gedi handed me a walkie talkie. “When we get within half a mile range of any other car on the rally it lets out a beep, and by the time we can see them we can talk to them”.

I had a feeling Gedi wasn't telling me the whole the truth. Something in my gut told me the walkie talkie was there for his benefit so he could call for help. He was rattled already and I couldn't tell if he was more comfortable with me riding in the back, out of striking distance.

Despite the straight road and ample horsepower, the complete Credence Clearwater Revival collection had played out and I was more or less sober but still we had not seen another Rico car, let alone the Texaco checkpoint listed in our itinerary, when Gedi's emergency radio bleeped into life.

“Was that Rico's truck at the Shell station, there? Surrounded by Ferraris and fast Mercs and stuff?”

I got on the walkie talkie as quickly as I could.

“You bastards. That's not even a Texac-...” The radio bleeped, signalling we were out of range of the parked cars. The same turn of speed that had served us so well in catching the pack had betrayed us just as we had the chance to make contact.

“So what,” said Gedi. “I'm no geologist but those up ahead look like mountains so we'll crack on”. “I thought geology was weather”.
“Meteorology is weather”.
“Which one's maps?”

“Does it matter? We've got apps, not maps.” Gedi tapped his iPhone and mashed the throttle.

Another hour passed. We saw no other cars we recognised, remembered that cartography was the production of maps and found ourselves well on our way up the Alps before I gave in and suggested that perhaps we were lost. I sent one of the organisers, Rik, a text message asking in no uncertain terms just where the hell we were as we appeared to have messed up driving on a straight road, but before we received a reply Gedi's emergency radio beeped once again.

“Are they half a mile from us, or are we half a mile from them?”

“I have no idea, Gedi. Hold steady for a while.” We were travelling at around 90mph. We briefly heard some garbled nonsense before the signal was lost again.

“Sport me, George,” Gedi nodded towards the 'sport' button located so impractically out of sight that should the driver search for it himself his eyes would be off the road for a couple of hundred yards at least. “They're ahead.”

The Jag lurched towards the redline and we were back within radio range in minutes.

'Sport mode' as a concept has come a long way in 24 years. On an ancient Jaguar there is no firming of the ride, tightening of the brakes or steering assist. Pressing that button, hidden away down by your hip simply make the big auto hold onto the gears for an insanely long time whilst the thirsty cat gets its feed and exercise in one costly dart. Yes, it is fast, but all in other respects she's still a barge and we were just passengers on a Blue Ribbon ride when the Mercs came into view.

The garbled nonsense on the radio became clear nonsense.

“That Jag's just appeared from nowhere. Seems to go well for an old girl.”

We maintained radio silence but between us we knew we were cool bastards.

“Styling it, George.”

“Winning, Gedi. Rik's replied. He wants more information regarding our location.”

“He's having a laugh. I'm no Cartographist. In a Jag, behind a Merc, in a tunnel.”

With that that the AMG and the SLS Mercs were unleashed and the tunnel sounded like an artillery barrage as hundreds of thousands of pounds of Germanic warhorse fired from its rifled depths.

Safe in the knowledge that we were sandwiched between at least two groups of cars, and keen to claim my winnings from the doubting gentleman and his Black Country wife of the evening before, we pulled off the carriageway and I assumed my rightful place behind the wheel for the first time since leaving my Manchester workshop.

Soon after rejoining the carriageway we were riding with a flock of Porsches and an Aston Martin en route to the the Col de l'Iseran pass through to Italy but we hadn't got far up the track when we encountered some other teams heading back down.

“What's occurring?”

“Pass is closed... tried... giant rolling boulder...” It was difficult to make out the details over the engine noises, perhaps the walkie talkies would have been more effective, but from what we could make out there was a very real danger of rock / car interface issues for anyone who attempted to run the barriers and make the pass. I pulled to the side of the road to consider our options.

The other drivers were heading to Turin via the quicker highways where they were going to console themselves with sightseeing and pasta, but we weren't so sure the pass was the only means of crossing the Alps. The main draw of the Rico Rally was the promise of some spectacular roads where other events offered only motorway miles from one hotel party to another.

Whilst Gedi jabbed and tapped at the sat nav Rik blew passed us in his E39 BMW, pursued by girlfriend Claire, who's Z4 I knew only too well having painted the alloys three times the previous week in the search for the perfect shade of gun metal grey, and another press car.

The Jag spat gravel and we headed off, edging towards Italy sandwiched between a Kermit green 370z and a Skyline. We carried on for another mile or so before finding a gaggle of cars parked up outside a small ski resort. It looked a little like the closing hours of a siege and we were waiting for orders to charge the village, but in truth we were just kicking around in the dust while Rik went up ahead to garner local intelligence as to which passes were still open.

Over the next half hour we were joined by near enough the rest of the gang with exception of those who got the fear after the landslip and bolted to Turin. Even Rico himself, a slave to a hangover despite turning in before me, joined the car versus mountain stand-off. Such was the strength of our numbers we created an impassable gridlock of high powered machinery, presenting the natives with an impromptu car show. They photographed us and we photographed them photographing us until Gedi could stand it no longer.

“Fuck this, George. Just go. Follow the diversions and try to keep heading south. Italy's down there.”

Gedi was right. Somebody had to make a move. For all we knew Rik might have bolted, his head fried from constant phone calls asking what was going on. Anticipating the steep ascent I shifted the Jag into second and pulled around the stalled grid.

“The Big Cat's making her move, Lads, “ said Ged as he leaned out of the window. “We're going to Italy.”

A couple of capable looking motors followed our lead into the village that marked the start of the Col de Mont Cenis Pass but we soon lost them as they cautiously navigated their super low machines around traffic calming measures and pot holes.

Once out of the tiny populous we began to climb a series of switchback hairpin turns and the air became as thin as the view spectacular. For the first time the Jag felt heavy and, glancing down the mountain, I was surprised to see we were keeping a consistent distance between us and the following pack. We reached a picnic area that we took to be the summit and parked up to wait for the rest of the rally.

As the teams assembled, all barring the quitters who had taken the easy way to Turin and now Rico, who had beaten a quick path to the hotel complaining of Babycham induced nausea, an impromptu driving range was established. Before long golf balls were soaring to tremendous heights at absurd distances before raining down on the pretty village rest stop below.

The Finnish team told us how they had made it to one of the snowier peaks and, by their calculations, we had half an hour before that pass too was closed. We made a dash for it, snaking around road blocks only to be intercepted by what was rumoured to be a furious Frenchman rolling boulders at the lawless English motorists. A mountain track is no place to exercise a three point turn in a limousine but I tackled the challenge with gusto and expertise, avoiding the sizeable tumbling rocks and rejoining the rally on the D1006 approximately midfield.

Beep. “Does the Jag have a radio? There's smoke billowing from the wheels.” Beep. “Probably wearing smoking jackets.”
Beep. “Probably smoking a bong, more like.” 

I couldn't see the smoke, but I was aware of the problem and the unmistakeable smell of baked friction linings was heavy in the opulent cabin.

“Yeah, we've got no brakes. If the smoke is bothering you then you're welcome to get in front of us.”

“Erm... no thanks, doesn't sound as though you're likely to hold us up any.” The pursuing Porsche complained no more about the smoke.

The Jaguar's velocity increased, relative to the sharpening incline, as did my concern. Thinking quickly, I developed a radical technique for our extreme slalom. The power steering on the Jag was thankfully light but at high speeds the vessel was prone to massive weight shift and understeer. I turned this characteristic to our advantage, slamming the car into full lock 20 -25 feet from the next hairpin, allowing the old battleship to scrub off any excess straight line speed before nailing the throttle on the apex to bring the back end around in a true bank robber fashion. On the first effort I almost brained Gedi, who had been taking a photograph through the closed passenger window and had not seen the approaching bend. To this day that window still bears his likeness in a greasy startled smear. Subsequent bends were tackled with the full attention of both driver and navigator.

I learned later that night that some drivers had joked about using us as a pace car, only to lose all sight of us as we fell into Italy like a luxury meteorite.

By the time we reached the pretty border town of Susa the brakes were completely ruined and the fluid all but evaporated so I rammed the Jag into a high curb forcing an abrupt stop diagonally across traffic. Ged and I went for a beer whilst the discs, blue-hot by this point, clicked and clacked themselves cool.

Our hotel for the night was around an hour outside of Turin and part of a luxury entertainment complex with a cinema, spa, swimming pool, restaurant and a bar full of petrol heads sporting Rico tags. I collected my winnings, after all I had not only driven but done so like a champion, and settled down to my first proper meal since Manchester.

As seemed to be custom already, we settled into an evening of drink with Oli and Dylan. The measures offered by the bar staff were so huge we could not split one bottle of tonic between four highball glasses of vodka. Not surprisingly, by sundown we were blind drunk. It was around 10pm when we heard the tyre squeal from the basement. Jake was performing a stunning drift routine in his Sylvia, gliding inch perfect between the supporting columns of the complex. Oli was keen for me to follow suit in the Jag but I politely refused knowing full well the Jag would not drift, it would simply demolish the columns bringing down the whole structure down as if Fred Dibnah were on the job. However, our Yorkshire drinking buddies were clearly devoted to mischief and by 2am an opportunity presented itself that was too good to miss.

Outside the hotel lobby was a sort of podium – the kind they use to showcase new cars to well healed business travellers. When we checked in it hosted a hideous 'green' electric micro car but now it was temptingly empty. Ged had turned in for the night and I was smoking somebody else's pot with Oli and Leon when Dylan started braying for the keys to Oli's S3, parked in the basement.

Dylan, who so far had not driven a single yard in the rally and was without question, and for want of a better word, shitfaced, seemed to be gone for an age before we heard the whistle and blow of Oli's turbocharged Audi.

“Shit,” said Oli, “help me move these barriers.” We cleared the on ramp to the podium as the sound got closer. Although still out of sight, it was clear Dylan was travelling very quickly. I realised what was about to happen and for the first time considered the size of the podium. Dylan was now performing some kind of rally stage figure of eight pirouette in full view of the restaurant. The podium was probably two feet wider than an Audi, maybe three or feet longer, flanked by heavy steal columns and accessed by a slippery looking aluminium ramp. Even the approach to the ramp was dicey and needed to be tackled mid turn.

“Oh fuck,” said Leon as the penny dropped there too. “This is going to end in tears.”

Shocked guests stared open mouthed as Dylan hit the ramp, sure enough mid turn, at what seemed to be near enough 40mph. With Playstation precision Dylan jammed on the handbrake, adjusted direction and stopped the speeding S3 perfectly dead square on the podium, falling out of the car and blipping the central locking in one flawless motion marking what I have no doubt will remain the finest piece of driving, drunk or sober, that I will ever witness.

“I'll give you a thousand quid and a replacement Jag if you do exactly the same and punt him through the restaurant window.”

I should have taken the bet. Italy was set to beat me for the second time in as many visits but I was too far gone to make out the writing on the wall.

“No thanks, pal. We're winning.”

Day 3: Turin to Merano

“How did Oli's car get there? They'll have had another dawn phone call”.

Seeing Oli's car neatly perched on the podium in the bright morning light made me gag on the memory of the liquor that had fuelled its stunning approach only a short while earlier. What had seemed bashful under the moonlight now looked outright cocky and Gedi was right, Oli and Dylan must have received a call from reception at some point. It had happened before. The previous morning they had been called at 4am by the manager of the hotel in Dijon who had taken exception to them abandoning their car on the pavement outside.

“Who was that?” asked Dylan. “Manager. Wants the car moved.” “At this hour? How rude.”

But that was yesterday. Today it was 8 am and I had missed another breakfast. Gedi tried insisting that I get out of bed and join him for the most important meal of the day but I could always eat behind the wheel, sleeping at the helm was not so easy and twenty minutes shut-eye may as well have been an hour given the margins imposed by our drinking schedule. It was a keenness to get back onto the liquor that had kickstarted our early morning checkout. Since I had been incapable of driving for near enough the first two days of our trip I had told Gedi to take it easy until we reached Lake Garda, I would take the strain and drive the first stint and we would switch seats after lunch. Of course, this meant, so long as I kept the go-pedal mashed to the thick almond coloured carpet, then I could be topping up my alcohol blood level within a few short hours.

My thirst saw our Jaquar, near as damnit a quarter century old, confidently keep pace with a gaggle of quicker Nissans and Porsches as we dashed from Turin to Maranello to visit the Ferrari museum enroute to the lake. The combination of my anticipation of that first icy Peroni and the fact that our Jag had only cost £600 meant that I faced the Italian rush hour traffic with much more bravado than those driving £60,0000 coupes and we arrived at the museum with time for an espresso and some bruschetta before the rest of the pack arrived.

The museum was crammed with the press and Ferrari officials, not to welcome us, as Rik would have liked us to believe, but to worship and fawn over a grey man in a beige suit. Despite having no idea who this nationally adored gentleman was, Gedi resolved to do his duty and join the papping throngs. He did a fine job too, despite being thwarted by the lens cap on his borrowed SLR camera, he managed to get a handful of excellent shots on his iPhone before attempting to debrief me on his brush with 'real' journalists.

“Fucked if I know who it is, George. Couldn't understand a word.” Gedi nodded towards a spectacled man with with a microphone three or four feet away from us. “I recognise that geeky streak of piss though. He's off Sky Sports.”

The geeky streak of piss shot us a poisonous look.

“Probably speaks English then, Ged.” “Fuck.”

With that, we chuckled our way around the museum, every now and then awkwardly passing Mr Sky Sports on a stairwell or in a corridor.

We later found out the grey man in the beige suit was Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, chairman of Ferrari.

After an hour or so admiring the exhibits, marvelling over a souvenir bolt priced at €450 – I repeat, a bolt – and satisfying ourselves that Thomas Magnum was rightly celebrated in the Hall of Fame, we jumped in the Jag and headed north for Lake Garda, unaware that we were hours away from a drinking binge so intense it would ultimately bring our Italian campaign to a steaming halt in bear country.

But that was yet to come. For now I was beginning to feel at home in Italy and the ugliness of my previous visit was growing distant in my memory.

In retrospect, I would go as far as to say Italy is one of the most tolerant nations I have ever visited. The Italians knew what I was up to as I scrambled along the banks of Lake Garda, carefully placing four packs of lager in ice cool rock pools, ready for my stint in the passenger seat just as soon as we'd enjoyed a fine meal and regrouped with Oli and Dylan at least.

“You're not putting enough passion in to your Italian.” We were waiting for lunch at a pavement fronted cafe one block in from the expensive seats on the Lake where Oli and Dylan were certain to be feasting on Garda Goose. Ged didn't look up from inspecting his tramline burns running the length of his forearm – a stark reminder to take care when resting ones arm out of the window after the chrome trims have had six or seven hours to bake off in the relentless sunshine.

“Well, you're passenger next, which means you 'll be dealing with the tolls. Enlighten me Senior.” “Don't be like that. The words you're using are probably right-”
“-oh, good start, you think?”

“Of course. But you're still speaking Wythenshawe. You're just using Italian words. Bwey-knows-nachos, innit and shit, garçon?”

“I sound fuck all like that.” Ged chuckled and stabbed at his raw tuna. “Will this kill me?”

“Non. Estas pescardo perfecto, señor Gedi!”

With all cans of beer accounted for and perfectly chilled we loaded up the Jag for the final leg of the day; Lake Garda to Merano where we were assured we would be free to roam the beautiful Alpine spa resort. I gave Dylan a lake cooled four pack and we headed north on the A22 in a ragged convoy.

“Danky-shire, Bella!” I almost tore my shirt on a couple of occasions as I grabbed sincerely at heart whilst exchanging greetings with the natives. “See, Gedi. Passion. Now they ignore me just as they do every other Italian.”

“You're not even using real words, you drunken bellend.”

“I'm not drunk, I'm confident and it shines through in my evocative use of this language of romance and poetry.”

Ged pulled over at a petrol station.

“We're good for fuel, Ged. Don't ruin our pace.”

“You're out of beer. I want to keep you smashed because, what with your passion and mastery of this language, I reckon somebody's going to evocatively punch you in the mouth and I don't want to miss that. It'd be... poetic.”

Ged emerged with a mini-keg that made me look like a borrower. It was a smart move as we still had some time to kill before we reached the hotel and I had given up making notes after that first night in France so work, in a journalistic sense, was out of the question. Instead I practised my greeting for the next toll booth, determined to prove my abilities as a cultural chameleon.

“Bwaaaaaaay-nosss, señor! C'est la bella vista. Vous t'adore Milano!” I was stood tall out of the Jag's sunroof as we approached the toll booth operator. I probably blew it when I screwed up the geography of the sentence, Milan being 200 miles behind us, but the passion.., Christ, I nailed it.

“It is night time, English. Not so late for drinking though. Seven Euros.”

I tossed the miserable jobsworth his fee and sank back down in the doeskin, feeling dejected. “How did it go so wrong, Gedi? He rumbled me straight away.”

“Perhaps it's because you're pissed, you're dressed like Stoned Rose and we're in a Jaguar with British plates? Oh, and I think half of that gibberish was French.”

“May wee.”
“Good effort though. I felt the passion.”
“No, I may wee. I'm busting Ged stop stop stop.” “There's the hotel, tie a-”
“Stop, Gedi. Para ici. Now. I won't make it.”

Now Ged really sensed the passion and swerved into a wide alleyway adjacent to our hotel. I barely reached a bottle recycling bin in time but by the grace of God not a drop was spilled on either doeskin or jeans. The relief was tremendous but quickly supplanted by a feeling of extreme conspicuousness. Italians are perhaps the worlds greatest practitioners of the art of promenading. At around the same time every night, Italians dress sharp and meander like espresso fuelled peacocks along the posher thoroughfares of their towns and villages. The wide alley, complete with bottle bank, was one of those thoroughfares and right now it was that time of night. I tried smiling and commenting on the bella vista, but I was still a drunk Englishman urinating in public. Don't you fucking dare, I thought to myself as I heard the Jag's revs rise. Credit to my wingman, the Gedi fronted it out although we were out of that alley like a greyhound from a trap as soon as I was back in the car.

I could see the alleyway from the balcony of our handsomely appointed suite. I was finishing a beer and enjoying the anonymity afforded by my third storey vantage point when Leon emerged on the next terrace.

“Did you see that man pissing in the alley, Leon?”

“There was a man pissing in the alley? I must have missed that. I was in the sauna. I didn't think this town would tolerate such behaviour though.”

“I hope you're wrong. Let's get some food.”

Unfortunately for the reputation of the rally, our meal was three bottles of Proseco and a jar of olives so by the time Oli and Dylan found us we were already locked on a course that would lead to our downfall. The Gedi had caught up in terms of general messiness and Leon had sloped off to absolve himself of all responsibility for what would follow. It was Oli who was lagging behind and determined to become at least as stone cold hammered as we were, if not more so, as quickly as possible.

Oli launched into a campaign of hitting up every barman, street trader, waiter and takeaway chef for cocaine, utterly faithful to his commitment that a spa resort was the ideal place to score class A drugs. His actions raised our profile significantly within an hour or so, scaring some of our fellow travellers back to the hotel. A small group of revellers however where beginning to tune in to the vibrations and were hungry for action. These were not your average thrill seekers either. These were first timers. Wealthy straight laced types who had become caught up in a whirlwind of drink and risk taking. I have seen their type before and the result is consistent. The drunken wealthy on a stomp is one genie you'll not get back in the bottle easily.

Somebody mentioned that Rik knew of a nightclub in the area so we marched en mass to the hotel determined to somehow score. At first Rik refused to tell but the Gedi started a fire in the hotel bar whilst Dylan blatantly stacked stolen goods in the lobby, forcing Rik to surrender the directions for what we hoped to be our connection.

The last vivid recollection I have of that evening was Ged borrowing a hotel umbrella to re-enact Gene Kelly's famous number from Singing in the Rain as he led our mob towards the basement club.

Then it was dawn and I was back in my hotel room. The French doors were open onto the balcony where Ged was sat, beer in each hand, watching the shadows grow in the morning glow of the Alps to north.

“How did we get here?”

Ged said nothing, his gaze fixed. I realised he was near totally comatose. Until that point I had never seen a man sleep with his eyes open and at that moment I wasn't ready for the initial gut reaction of; Oh shit, I killed him.

I awkwardly hoist Ged over my shoulders and threw him through the doors towards the twin beds in an effort to make him more comfortable. Regrettably, Ged landed perfectly between the beds with an arm and a leg on each and his face contorted against the carpet.

“Help me, George.”

It's too late for us, Gedi. Too far this time. Too far.

Partial Recall

As far as I could remember, and until later the following afternoon, that was precisely how the night went down. A modest group of revellers got nailed on bourbon and took turns to swing off a rope in a sort of bodega type gin palace until one by one we were refused re-entry after nipping for a cigarette or to be sick on a medieval wall. I somehow found my way back to the hotel and awoke to find The Gedi catatonic on the sun deck.

“What happened with you and that Ros, anyway?”

“Who the fuck's Ros?”

Now here's where things get tricky. For the sake of any potential repercussions, ethical better judgement, legal ramifications, or just for the sake that it's my story, let's say Rosalind was a socialite and a mover on the art scene. I only knew of her because of her marriage to another journalist and writer from New York, whom I held in high esteem. But at this point I still didn't know this was the Ros they where talking about. I'd never met her and Ged might as well have been talking about Gandhi.

Ged proceeded to explain that Ros was on the rally too and somehow had managed to be the only person I hadn't yet tripped over or offended. Not that she hadn't heard about the team in the big old Jag though, and when we met in that weird cave we really struck it off, waiting until Rico publicly tea-bagged her friend as part of a bar trick for our moment to slip out unseen.

According to Leon, a party was sent to my room to rescue Ros from my clutches, and my own marriage from this fit of drunken madness.

That's most insane thing I've ever heard, I thought as I searched Wikipedia for Ros. Then, bang! “Shit, I recognise that face. I recognise it from extremely recent history.”

Any good blood that was left in my body drained through the soles of my feet, leaving only hangover and The Fear. In the first instance, I was a married man. Ros, of course, was also married and her husband was internationally known as a crazy who dined with mob bosses.

I was certain events did not go down the way Ged, Oli and Leon would have me believe. Leon wasn't even there and was only reciting what Martin, Leon's driver had told him, I couldn't recall being with Martin at any point, although it was quite likely he had been drinking with Ros. As for meeting her in the bar, I had no idea. I thought I'd been in some sort of catacomb thing with Oli getting tight on Wild Turkey. I went out for a cigarette and fell through a bush, at which point the bouncers had all the ammunition they needed to keep me out.

The more I looked at the face on Wikipedia however, more detail came through the bourbon fog. I could remember Ros and somebody else, could've been Martin – I was too pissed to make out the enormous holes in his ears, picking me out of the bush. The decision was made that I was too far gone to make it back to the hotel, although I couldn't remember if I had any part of that decision making process. The next thing I could remember, I was sat on a bridge with Ros discussing narcotics anonymous meetings for about an hour until I regained my senses enough to get free. I could remember feeling both preached at, and like someone who was rapidly crashing from a four day bender. Then I passed out, defeated, holding my guitar.

Passed out, defeated, holding my guitar is precisely the position Martin reported to Leon he found me in, so who knows what took place.

All I know is the cheeky bitch tried to talk me into an NA meeting, dumped me back at my room and went on to score an eighth of coke.

Twelve months on there are still blanks, blanks for all of us who where there that night in Merano.
“I remember bits, bruised penis and ripped jeans” said Rico when our paths crossed recently. “Swollen ankle in the morning, I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't drive.. I lost a small portion of my life in that club that I may never regain or maybe I just never want to re live.”

Ahmen to that.

Day 5; Merano to Bear Country, Switzerland.

Everyone else was gone. Everyone except Dylan and Oli, but I expected that. It was 2pm and Ged and I had just epically failed our mandatory-in-France DIY breathalyser tests. The crystals were naturally green. Once you'd exhaled through them protocol had it you were to wait two minutes to see if they turned yellow. The crystals turned instantly black as coal.

The 10am checkout had sailed by whilst we slept and, considering the fire, we knew our number was up at the Terme Merano. Luckily there was a space next Oli's Audi so we managed to park the Jag, door handle to door handle, with the S3 thereby obscuring the Rico signage that now, more so than ever, was likely to land us in trouble. And there we slept until finally Oli and Dylan emerged, having been forcefully removed from the health spa on the grounds of them no longer being guests and not really being that welcome when they were.

The Jag was bone dry so it was important we refuel before heading out to Stelvio Pass. The trial run through Merano was a good test of whether we were sober enough to tackle the collection of switch back turns feared and revered by so many drivers. As fate would have it, we were proved to be in no good shape at all when an automated petrol pump stole €100 from Ged forcing us to stay put until the kiosk opened so we could claim either a refund or our gasoline.

By the time we made a break for the pass it was nearly 4pm. Dylan could not get to grips with the idea of ascending one of the world's most dangerous roads in a bucket seat so now he road with us in the Jag. Unfortunately by now northern Italy was swelteringly hot and the quarry traffic that used the pass daily was building.

We'd been travelling in the warm 20mph slip stream of one such truck for around twenty minutes when I first noticed the sweet fragrance of antifreeze. By the time we had started our climb my fears were becoming a reality to the point I had to share them with he group, but I was now five days stoned and beyond comprehension.

“The hot needle, Gedi... Tripping.” If the hot needle was accurate we were running around 240F and we'd only been climbing for ten minutes, maximum. The decision was made to pull over and let the old girl rest whilst we ran a basic system check – the first since Manchester as I would come to lament.

“Great,” said Gedi as he climbed back up to the lay-by from the stream bed below. “There's signs here saying there are bears in these parts. We're going to get mauled to death because you didn't think to check the levels before we left.”

“Get a grip, Gedi. Bears hate anti freeze. It's bear deterrent if anything. You should be thanking me.” “Is that true?”
“How the fuck do I know? I'm just trying to calm you down. It could be like bear smack for all I know.” “Bear smack? Fucking great. I'm calm now.”

After an hour we replenished the big Jag's coolant with around a gallon of Alpine stream water and tried again. Oli couldn't stand the raucous environment of the S3 any more than Dylan, but since he had no choice but to deliver it to Switzerland it was agreed that Oli would press on alone and we would limp along behind, stopping as necessary.

As fate would have it, we only need to stop once more. Sadly that was just after the first series of truly extreme hairpin bends, a number of which we had to three-point-turn, and our rest was clearly terminal. Too road worn to perform a simple diagnosis, I watched steam vent from every hose on the Jag whilst the shadows grew longer in the setting sun and called time on our rally. At least the old girl had waited until we reached a bar before going volcanic.

We sat in the last bit of sunshine awaiting recovery, both spiritually and physically. Above the waterfalls and wildlife found on the Swiss / Italian border, the sweetest sound I heard there on Stelvio Pass was the whistle and pop of Oli's turbo a couple of hours later. Having completed the pass at great personal discomfort considering his alcoholic handicap, Oli had turned around and come back for us.

The Ancient City of Glurns.

Once they knew that me, Ged and the Jag were safe, of sorts, Dylan and Oli pressed on with their own rally. The last Gedi and I heard they had made it to Amsterdam within 18 hours and got right back on a session that saw them pulled over by the Dutch authorities at 150mph in a typhoon, high on god knows what.

Gedi and I toiled for two days on the Jag, replacing what hoses we could with agricultural parts but to no avail. The Ancient City of Glurns, to which we had been recovered, was in a kind of natural basin. The only way out was up and whilst the Jag would keep from boiling on the flat, any incline saw the needle once again start to trip. A frustration compounded by the fact that we were the most despised people in the city. So deep ran the natives' contempt for the two stranded Englishmen that when I asked one hotelier how the cigarette machine worked he directed me to the nearest town where I could buy them over the counter.

By now the finish line in Paris was beyond our reach and our welcome in Glurns overstayed. The local garage arranged for the Jag to be loaded on to the next export shipment of Lamborghinis destined for the UK – the Italians do love a petrolhead after all - whilst Ged's partner Lorraine kindly arranged safe passage for us to Bergamo from where we could fly home, broken men.


It has been more than a year since the Rico Rally and whilst journalistically I didn't deliver what I set out to deliver, the events I dare speak of still brighten moments of boredom and those I cannot share still chill me to the ravaged liver.

But despite missing the finish, failing to write the commisioned story and corrupting a handful of otherwise decent people, neither our attempt, nor our coverage could be regarded as anything other than a success.

No matter what anybody tells you, they want to tour on a rally such as Rico because they grew up with movies like Cannonball Run, The Gumball Rally and even Cannonball Run 2 (not Cannonball Fever – that was truly shit).

Gedi and I had taken the high speed road trip to another level and remained true and faithful to the spirit of Erwin “Cannon Ball” Baker and Brock Yates and if you don't recognise these names then you cannot fully appreciate the motivations for a petrolhead ink whore to pilot an unsuitable vehicle at breakneck speeds across wide open spaces, loaded on contraband and bent on mischief.

For twelve months I have struggled to construct a succint ending to our road trip story. I now realise there isn't one. Rico lit a fuse. For a petrolhead with a powerful wanderlust and a taste for adventure, Rico Rally was a gateway drug of an event. The Jag's ready to go again. Perhaps one day, I will be as well.