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Cannonball 8000
Cornwall to Budapest in a Lotus Esprit V8
by James Hawkins

It was December 2005 and late in the evening when we arrived home from a party, the the TV went on and the Cannonball 8000 destination Rome was being shown. My wife said we have got to do this in the Lotus, that was it, the internet was surfed and Cannonball 8000 found, Cannonball 8000 to Budapest was entered over the net.

The next day I went out to the garage where our pride and joy was parked, a 1998 Esprit V8. Only then did it dawn on me, 2000 miles in the Esprit. Comfort or reliability did not cross my mind but taking the car across 5 countries at a relatively high speed did, what about stones chipping the immaculate paintwork, what if someone scratches the car, all the things that a proud owner would think about.
Too late, the deposit has been taken and we are committed!, Thank goodness we were committed. The adventure was not to be missed.

September came around so quickly and before we knew it we were driving to London for the start of the rally. The adrenalin started to flow from that moment.

Earls Court for the start and we joined 120 cars and over 250 competitors all parked up, the Esprit joined them and looked stunning amongst the other supercars. We were all asked to attend the briefing, Conrad Wall the organiser gave us our safety brief - he told us that going past him at 200mph might seem impressive but would only be a blur on the camera. The brief is over and straight to the cars for the start of Cannonball 2006. We had our passes stamped and chequered flagged out on to the busy streets of London and headed for the Eurotunnel. Other drivers were asking us where were we going, we replied Budapest. “Budapest? How long is that going to take you?” Our reply was 72 hours! Their faces were a picture, great!

120 Cannonball cars going through to the train was awesome, we all filtered onto and into the enclosed carriage.
First France and then we headed for Brussels for the first night, keeping a sensible speed.

We arrive in Brussels and we drive the cars past the hotel entrance, greeted by several camera crews and people watching a steady stream of exotica flowing to the underground car park. The first day is over and the Lotus is put to bed. The first gathering of competitors since leaving London sit for dinner.

The next day 6am and I’m heading for the car park, a quick check of the oil, water and a glance under, no surprises and back up to get the luggage and grab a bite to eat on the way out of the hotel, much too excited to eat, was it Cannonball or the thought of driving 750 miles to Prague in the Esprit, well, it was both.

At around 10am we headed for the open road with a steady flow of Cannonball cars. We passed through Germany quickly and before we know it we were crossing the border into the Czech Republic. The border crossing was a great experience looking up a line of Cannonballers getting ready to go through the crossing. Despite travelling hundreds of miles many of us seemed to meet in filling stations and catch up with each other at the border. The fun of the event was evident, great cars and great people. The Esprit was running superbly. Sipping fuel as if it was in short supply we were beginning to think that the fuel guage was broken. The low and reclined seating position of the Esprit was just perfect for the run, the miles just ticked away. The suspension absorbed the road leaving us in a comfortable relaxed state for the whole 750 miles to Prague.

Prague and the Rennasance hotel, we had arrived, and now we were putting the car down for the night in the underground carpark. No time to rest and down for dinner sharing the stories of the road.

We go to bed and wake, at 6am I am going the car park to check the car once again. We head up to Prague castle for the photoshoot, seeing the 120 supercars in the courtyard was a sight not to be missed. Then a short drive down to Budapest but two options of route - Slovakia or Austria.

We decide Austria would be good, no motorway, this was to be a treat as we drove on wide twisty roads through towns and villages, passing reservoirs and other scenery which was just fabulous and very nice to be in the Esprit gliding swiftly around long bends and slight undulations across Austria, brilliant just brilliant.

Vienna would be the next main landmark before the finish at the Hungaroring in Budapest.

We arrived at the Ring at around 5pm, we were greeted by many Cannonballers, Austria was not the quickest route but this was a rally not a race and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

Many of the drivers went to the track and put their cars through their paces but I did not want to tempt fate, so we just watched.
The next highlight of the trip was a police escort into Budapest and to the hotel.

The car was going back home by transporter so we were greeted by the tranporter company and had to leave the car and hand over the keys just outside of the hotel. Who says a car has no personality, we had a tear in our eyes as we left our blue Esprit which had been faultless, economical and comfortable. The drive was over but the black tie dinner was the end of the event and what an event, new friends, 5 countries and new memories which will live with us forever. Zagreb next year in the Esprit, can’t wait.

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