Is This Real Life? Shooting The Ford GT In Austria

On a daily basis I receive emails from individuals and companies pitching me all kinds of ideas for car shoots. Some are crazy and others are just downright weird. A little while back I opened one that caught my eye: an opportunity to shoot the new Ford GT in the Austrian Alps. The catch? They would film me while I went about the photography.

While I don’t mind being in front of the camera, I’ll admit that I was a little confused. Why on earth would someone fly me halfway around the world to watch me shoot pictures?

Well, as it turns out, Michelin tires has a web show called DriveStyle, where they explore different aspects of car culture. Although it’s mostly based in Germany, they have filmed all over Europe for the current series.

Up until this point they’d only had racing drivers or friends of the brand on the show, but for this episode they were reaching out to a photographer.

 

Lucky for me, right? They also wanted to feature a groundbreaking car, and that’s where the new Ford GT comes in.

What I love about the guys from Michelin is that they aren’t all talk. Within a few weeks I was sitting on flight destined for Austria.

And not a moment after I arrived, I was standing in front of a Liquid Blue Ford GT.

Michelin spared no expense for this shoot, closing down an entire stretch of public road. We would have exclusive use of the road for a few hours over the two-day production.

Ever since the Ford GT was released I dreamed of shooting it, but to do it on a road like this in Austria was beyond what I could have ever imagined.

The night before we were due to get started I was sick with a cold, but when I woke the next morning I felt incredibly refreshed. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into shooting this blue beauty.

It was easy for me to forget that at the same time I’d be shooting the car, DriveStyle would be shooting me.

Prior to meeting them, I had know idea that the show’s hosts, Helge Thomsen and Matthias Malmedie, are extremely well known German television personalities. They were both super-friendly and easy to work with on and off-camera.

Just a few minutes away from our hotel room was probably one of the best mountain roads I’ve ever seen. Is this even real life?

I know what you guys are wondering – did I get to drive it? The answer is no, but the GT was in good hands all the same; Helge and Matthias drove the wheels off the thing.

In this respect it helps that Matthias has a motorsports background; he’s driven in many endurance races including the famed 24 Hours of Nürburgring.

He definitely didn’t hold back on the gorgeous mountain roads when we had full road closure. I’ll admit, I was green with envy standing on the sidelines.

Helge is also a big car nerd like myself, but is more into American muscle. He has quite a few cars in his collection including an awesome Plymouth Roadrunner.

While I’ve previously shot the Ford GT race car on the track and have seen a few street car versions up close, I’d never had a chance to spend some time taking in all the details that this beautiful machine has to offer.

I really slowed down my shooting for this one; I did circles around the car and tilted my head at different heights to find all the neat shapes hidden within the body lines.

So much form and function in one package; automotive design doesn’t get much better.

Even the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires have a bit of a subtle aesthetic to them with a velvet texture print.

Looking into the engine bay you can’t see much, but what is on show is aesthetically pleasing and perfectly matches in with the rest of the vehicle’s futuristic design.

We had our fun below the tree line, but the Austrian Alps really show their beauty at high elevation. These roads were like something out of a driving simulator or video game – absolutely perfect. Although, soon enough the skies opened up and the weather was not on our side. Some wet stuff fell from the sky, not something I see very often living in Los Angeles.

Since I didn’t get to drive the GT, I really wanted to focus on the visual impact the car had on me and its surroundings. I did get it a ride in it though, and let me tell you that there’s not much room at all.

In between filming takes, I snuck away to steal some shots of the GT sitting by itself. This proved to be a bit of a challenge as there was always sound equipment and cameras suction-cupped to some part of the car.

 

The cockpit is barely big enough to fit two grown men, but who cares; this is a real race car for the street after all.

 

There are so many small details that make it feel even more special.

This was my view from the passenger seat. In the side mirrors you get a perfect view of what are the craziest features of the car – the large open channels on either side.

In an age with so many global regulations when it comes to safety equipment and crash standards, it’s a wonder that something as unique as the Ford GT can exist.

Not to mention the fact that it pays homage in its styling to the original model from 1964.

Next up were some rolling shots, so I hung out of my rental car with Helge at the wheel while the guys in the production van up front filmed both the GT and me shooting it.

To be honest, I didn’t really mind shooting in the gloomy and wet conditions; the dark, ominous skies proved to be a nice change from harsh Southern California sunlight.

While everyone else was running for cover, I just kept shooting. I’d never seen a Ford GT street car in the rain.

What I hadn’t noticed before was the way the taillights reflected off the surrounding area. It’s such a small detail, but it’s so cool.

The wing can be manually raised, but it automatically lifts at around 75mph when you are driving. Even better is when it turns into an air brake under hard braking from triple-digit speeds.

Walking around the car, I noticed endless shapes and angles – things you just don’t see when a car like this is on the showroom floor surrounded by hundreds of drooling car nerds.

By now I was pretty soaked, and as we were running out of light it was time to call it a night. I didn’t realise how short the days are in Austria, but for what it’s worth, I had enough shots in the bag after the first day of filming.

This has to be one of the most photographed new sports cars today, but spending all day with the Ford GT allowed me to shoot the way I wanted to shoot it.

There was something really interesting about seeing it wet and bathed in soft light.

The next morning was mostly narrative and storytelling shots, including the opening shot of the Ford GT in a barn.

Why a barn, you ask? Well, back in the 1960s most Le Mans teams weren’t working out of fancy garages – they used local barns around Circuit de la Sarthe.

The guys at DriveStyle thought it would be a fun idea to use a barn for the opening shot.

The crew really are jokers, and because it was the last episode of the season, they decided to do an American Gladiators-style battle in a nearby river, which by the way was absolutely freezing.

Both Helge and Matthias took a dip in the drink for a longer period of time than they would have liked.

This was pretty much the common sight on set while I was shooting the GT; every time I turned around at least a few of the crew had their phones out, furiously snapping away at the blue beast.

I didn’t manage to get any clean shots of the front of the car without a license plate during filming because it needed to remain road legal at all times. So the next day I woke up super early in order to grab some one-on-one time with the car (sans front plate) in the quaint little Austrian village of Gaschurn.

With just 30 minutes before I needed to be in a car headed for the airport, I was running around like a crazy person with a camera.

I asked the engineer who was driving the car around for me to put it in track mode, just for a few snaps.

I could not believe how fast it transformed; in less than a second the GT drops down so low that you’d think it was laying chassis on the ground.

The wing pops up right away, too. As if it wasn’t hard enough to get in and out of the thing normally, with the car sitting like this you practically have to crawl out hands first.

My Austrian Alps trip was short, but I think it was productive. Plus, I will never forget being able to spend so much time with a halo car like the Ford GT.

Shooting Jun Imai’s 260Z From the Sky

It all started with a simple offer from a friend: ‘Come and shoot a car for Speedhunters in my hanger, and then we can get some extra shots from the sky.’ It was years ago that Dave Vernick, owner of ICON Helicopters, made the proposition, but I’ve always kept it in the back of my mind, waiting for the right car.

This is where Jun Imai’s recently reworked Kaido House/Imai Works Datsun 260Z comes in.

My job allows me to fly in helicopters quite often, and when I do that it’s almost always with ICON. When I shoot the Mint 400 or King of the Hammers from up in the sky, Dave’s the pilot; film work and off-road racing is his speciality.


For this shoot the plan was simple: Get a few overall shots of Jun’s car in the ICON hangar at Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, California among Dave’s big boy toys, and then shoot the Datsun from the air on the iconic San Diego-Coronado Bridge.


When I arrived at the hangar, Dave was already moving the props around for me. I knew it was going to be a great day of shooting.


As for the main subject, you’ll likely be familiar with Jun’s Z. Jun, who heads up the Hot Wheels studio at Mattel’s design center in the El Segundo district of Los Angeles, is no stranger to Speedhunters.


His Datsun was featured on the site four years ago, but since then it’s evolved greatly. As a Z guy myself, I can really appreciate all of Jun’s personal design touches, so it was time to revisit the car again.


There seems to be a real resurgence of interest in ’70s Datsun Z-cars right now, something that becomes quickly evident when you try to find one for sale. Asking prices are through the roof, too. Just like with air-cooled Porsche 911s, it seems people are falling in love with these cars all over again.


The most obvious change to Jun’s car is the Rocket Bunny Pandem kit, which has completely altered the look of the Datsun. While the original fender flares were very tasteful, I think the overfenders and new livery go amazingly well together.

 


For wheels, Jun has gone with CCW Classics in 16×10-inch at all four corners, the only difference between them being the offset: -60 for the front wheels and -85 for the rear. The centers have a shot-peened finish and the huge lips are hard anodized for a classic racing look.

 


I love massive wheel lips on classic cars, especially when there are overfenders in the mix. Jun is obsessed with the smallest of details, and you can find little easter eggs all over his prized build.

 

The more I look at this car, the more it reminds of my own build. That said, there are both similarities and differences between the two old Zs.


For example, this plug that Jun used for the original radio antenna hole is very similar to mine. His, however, seems well planned out with some sort of clock design; I just used a cap from a plastic milk jug.


Under the hood, things remains relatively unchanged from the car’s previous spec. Why fix it if it’s not broken?


Over the years, Jun has acquired a few more badges of honor, though. These are the signatures of John Morton and Peter Brock from BRE.


Although the L28 itself remains unchanged, the way it sounds has been enhanced through a custom 2.5-inch header-back exhaust from Borla. The system uses Borla’s S-Type CrateMuffler with a 4-inch carbon fiber ‘intercooled’ tip.


The interior has been treated to a little bit of a refresh too, a MOMO Heritage Grand Prix steering wheel now taking center-stage.

A MOMO Super Cup seat has also been added on the passenger side, but Jun has retained the original race bucket for himself.

It’s been perfectly worn in over a long period of time, and has acquired a number of stickers, too. Included is the Speedhunters one I gave him when I first featured the car.

Jun and a few of his car-mad colleagues in the design department are directly responsible for so many interesting Hot Wheels diecasts making it into production these days. Of course, that includes Jun’s Z in 1/64th scale form. Who has this one in their collection?

I love the fact that you can go into a store and pick up a cool scale model of this very car for less money than a cup a coffee.

Behind the shifter is an interesting little button that glows. This actually controls the KW Suspensions Hydraulic Lift System (HLS).

With a press of the button, the HLS kicks into action, raising the car up 1.5-inches within a couple of seconds. Now Jun can actually pull in and out of driveways and go over speed bumps without destroying his front lip.

The HLS works alongside KW Clubsport coilovers which feature 2-way independent adjustment of compression and rebound. In addition to the coilovers, Jun has fitted ST Suspensions sway bars to fully complement the setup.

 

 

Jun’s Datsun is the first Z car in the world to receive a set of KW Clubsports which makes me very jealous. This, of course, is in line with KWs commitment to offer coilover solutions for older vehicles via their fast-growing KW Classic line. Last year at SEMA they entered the classic air-cooled Porsche market, and now it’s the Datsun Z car’s turn.

The hydraulic pump and reservoir for the HLS was mounted behind the passenger seat. I actually just had this system fitted in Project 996 Turbo, and it was installed inside the battery box, so stay tuned for an update on that.

 

 

As I finished up shooting inside the hanger, Dave started to prep our ride for a sunset flight to San Diego.

Sidney Hoffmann of Sidney Industries came along for the ride to film the process of me shooting a car feature for Speedhunters. He thought it would be a good idea to install a set of coilovers on Dave’s Eurocopter.

After my original shoot of Jun’s Z, he converted the front end of his car to the popular 240ZG spec, aka G-nose, but for this latest build the S30 was reverted back to the original front end look.

 

I love the G-nose look, as does Jun, as it’s very rare to see in the States. The car will eventually go back to that guise once the Pandem kit is modified to fit with the G’s elongated nose.

Because of the square wheel setup, the same size tires can be found at each corner, specifically Yokohama Advan A052s in a 225/45R16 fitment.

Since Jun’s 260Z has a few hits of the Blue Devil Z and a few added elements of a Wangan racer from the ’70s, I thought the Coronado Bridge setting would work well.

Because we’d get to the location a lot quicker in the air, Jun needed a 1.5-hour head start for the short journey in Southern California afternoon traffic.

With our flight just taking 15 minutes to downtown San Diego from Carlsbad, we suited up and towed Dave’s bird onto the runway. This was honestly a dream shoot for me. I am just too spoiled I guess, but every time I fly to take pictures I need to take a moment to fully comprehend what is happening.

Within moments we were in the air and on the way to our shooting location. The sun was setting and lighting conditions couldn’t have been any better.

Sidney and his camera guy were having a blast, but I had a million things going through my head… What if I couldn’t find the car on the ground? Or worse, what if Jun had mechanical issues on the way down from LA; it’s an almost 50-year-old car after all.

As we got closer to San Diego I could see the bridge to the right of downtown. It was such a nice day, and Mexico was visible off in the distance as well. Beautiful.

I keep saying this, but moments like these make all the long nights of planning, editing and writing worth it. I just love shooting from the air.

The German TV personality seemed to enjoy it as well. He quickly drained his phone battery snapping photos.

What a great view of downtown San Diego with the baseball stadium, Petco Park, nestled inside.

As amazing as the cityscape was, my focus was on the bridge. Not only does it have real Tokyo Bay feel to it, it was one of the few places I’d be able to single out Jun’s 260Z.

For this location, we needed to fly in military airspace, with destroyers and Navy ships below. Dave was in contact with Navy air traffic control the entire time so they knew that we were doing a photoshoot and not just flying around the bridge at low altitude for no reason. It was so cool to see Blackhawk helicopters and F18s flying around as we hovered.

Although, I was getting worried as the sun was setting fast; there was no sign of Jun and he was not picking up his phone. Yes, there is great cell phone reception in the air.

Sidney and Dave helped me look on the ground to try to spot the tiny spec of blue.

Then I heard a faint signal from over the walkie talkies from the chase car – Jun was on the bridge. And just like that the Kaido House Datsun appeared.

Is this real life? It was just too cool.

The Datsun almost looked like a scale diecast going over an orange track, which is fitting for a real Hot Wheels car.

It’s easy to forget how hard it is to actually shoot from a helicopter, especially hanging out the door and working with slow shutter speeds. By now the sun had long dipped below the horizon.

There was some intense traffic to deal with too, but luckily there were a few breaks that allowed for some nice imagery.

This is one of my favorite shots: Downtown San Diego in the background and a tiny little toy Datsun in the foreground.

It felt like a police helicopter following a high speed pursuit; wherever Jun went we were right there with him as he made two passes over the bridge. By now, I was shooting slower and slower shutter speeds due to the rapidly dimming light.

We hovered around for a bit longer to take in the last bit of light over the Coronado Bridge. What an epic sight and and equally epic day. While we were severely restricted in terms of how low we could fly due to it being military airspace, we made the most of it.

Dave decided to take a slightly longer way home, which allowed for a nice top-down view of Petco Park, as well as a great low altitude view of San Diego International Airport. Everything was so clear; you could even see planes taking off and landing, one by one.

Jun and the boys on the ground were stuck in heavy traffic while we enjoyed what little light was left on the ride home.

I want to thank my Dave for the ride, and Sidney for tagging along to film the whole thing, which you can check out in the video above.

I also want to thank Jun for building a car with so much texture and so much emotion. Sure, it’s not the fastest Datsun and it’s certainly not the most polished, but I would go as far to say that it’s probably one of the most famous Z cars of our generation.

Team Wild Cards Invade Long Beach

I was recently asked what my favorite aspect of car culture to shoot is. My answer may or may not surprise you, but there is no question that grassroots team stuff is right at the top of the list.

No matter where I travel in the world, I’m always in search of the local car clubs and meets.

Up until recently, I felt like I had ignored my own backyard in terms of these types of stories, but that all changed a few weeks back when I received a text message from a buddy in Team Wild Cards.

 

Roy de Guzman is a bit of a regular here on Speedhunters; I featured his Hakosuka Skyline a while back, and prior to that had Dino shot the car in an earlier stage of build.

 

The message from Roy was simple: Team Wild Cards were going to roll into the Japanese Classic Car Show (JCCS) in Long Beach together. Most of the crew would be coming from San Diego and Las Vegas, but one was shipping his car over from Hawaii. There were going to be around a dozen team cars present in total, so I knew I had to make a shoot out of it.

 

Normally there’s a clash of dates and I don’t get to attend JCCS, but this year I had a clear shooting schedule, so I was going to make the most of the opportunity. On the Saturday morning of the show I woke up at 5:00am and headed straight out the door.

 

Our rendezvous location was a local gas station, and pulling into it I was absolutely blown away. It looked like a scene out of Japan, not Southern California.

 

It was great to get everyone together in one place, because what I had planned was an epic shot of the entire crew rolling into the show.

 

To achieve this we would have to take over the Southbound 710 Long Beach freeway. From the gas station, the show was only a few exits away, which was good; because keeping a dozen classic and highly-modified JDM cars together for longer than a few miles would have been like trying to herd cats.

 

We love doing stories on car clubs and teams, and previously I’ve shot features on Risky Devils and N-Style crew builds. Around this time last year I photographed another Team Wild Cards car.

 

I’ll touch more on it later, but on this particular day Louis and I had the opportunity to shoot four more Team Wild Cards cars for features. It was nothing short of JDM overload.

 

With everyone gassed up, we were off at 6:45am on the dot.

 

Everyone lined up on the street, while Louis and I took the lead in my production vehicle. I wish I could have driven Ole Orange Bang for this particular shoot, but my 240Z is a terrible camera car on the street.

 

Some major construction on the freeway that forced everyone into a single-file line made it hard to keep the crew together, but the photos were still cool.

 

With about a mile left to go and barely any traffic given it was so early on a Saturday, the lanes opened up and Team Wild Cards fanned out. To get everyone into position, I was waving my arms in the air like a conductor directing an orchestra of JDM machines.

 

It was such a rush, and I had a big smile on my face when I knew that I had got the shot I wanted.

Although we had to deal with some traffic and a few people on the freeway getting angry with us, the team shoot was an absolute success.

 

I’ve always wanted to photograph the Japanese Classic Car Show, so I figured I might as well do it with a bang. When everyone else was just waking up, I already had one of my favorite shots of the year in the bag.

 

This was Speedhunting at its core. These guys had put in so much effort getting their vehicles ready for the biggest classic Japanese car show in North America, so I would have been letting everyone down if I did not document it properly.

 

Watching the guys roll in one by one bathed in the soft morning light was such a treat. Load-in and load-out is always my favorite aspect of shooting shows.

 

I was cool to see Jay Kho in his super-clean DR30 Skyline. This car was was even made into a Hot Wheels diecast.

 

Once Team Wild Cards were all loaded in, I decided to take in the sights and check out some of the other cars arriving at Queen Mary Events Park.

 

Almost 600 cars would gather in Long Beach for this single-day car show.

 

With the show area right next to the water, the setting was absolutely beautiful.

 

What really surprised me about this event was the strong manufacturer support. Nissan, Honda, Toyota and Mazda were all there.

 

I even found Chris Forsberg showing us his pro camera and shooting stance.

 

 

One of these years I’d love to enter Ole Orange Bang in JCCS, but being a little rough around the edges it’s far from a show car, so I don’t know how well it would be received.

While Louis and Justin sourced out cars for their spotlight stories, I just poked around and caught up with old friends.

 

How cool is this little Subaru minivan!

 

 

While shooting at the show was fun, I couldn’t stop thinking about hitting the road again with Team Wild Cards.

 

Once JCCS was over, the team met up again, and we all headed out to another shooting location.

 

Since most of these guys are not from Los Angeles, my goal was to knock out as many car features as I could in what was left of the afternoon.

 

Southern California Wangan? Cruising over highways and bridges with so many JDM cars, it sure felt like it.

 

If only I was in my 240Z… By this point I really was kicking myself!

 

Nothing screams SoCal like the beach, so I figured that would be a great place to shoot at.

 

Louis and I got to work, but we had to be fast as the sun was setting and I still had a special surprise in store for the team.

 

Each car was worthy of its own feature or spotlight, and I’m sure we’ll get to them all eventually.

 

For the last time, we all loaded up into the cars and I told Roy and the boys to follow me to our next location.

 

What they didn’t know was that I was leading them to Hoonigan’s Donut Garage in downtown Long Beach.

 

There were exhaust pops and bang and turbo noises coming from everywhere.

 

This was one of my favorite moments from the day. In the morning our rolling shot had been completely planned out, but with this one it was just the guys cruising while Louis and I weaved in and out of the traffic in the shoot vehicle.

 

The guys were all having a blast – their smiles gave that away.

 

Is this Japan? No, this is Long Beach…

 

The guys were pleasantly surprised when we pulled up to the Donut Garage.

 

They were even more blown away when the Hoonigans pulled out the cameras and starting shooting for an episode of their Daily Transmission show.

 

It felt like it was one of the most hyped shows since the start of the series; there was definitely no shortage of energy and excitement.

After all, the cars were the stars. I’m just glad we’re all able to show the world how much passion these guys have for their machines.

 

I want to thank the Hoonigans for letting us come by and tear up the lot.

 

I also want to thank Team Wild Cards for following me into the abyss of Speedhunting. Keep an eye out for the features…

Behind The Scenes Of Climbkhana

When you are the pioneer of viral car videos, there’s always the challenge of going bigger and better with each new release. It’s something that Ken Block strives to do every time he drives for the cameras.

I’ve been on quite a few of Ken’s <em>Gymkhana</em> shoots over the years, and there always seems to be at least one butt-puckering moment. None of them have come close to what was witnessed on Pikes Peak, though.

For his latest video, I think Ken has really outdone himself. But you be the judge – if you haven’t see <em>Climbkhana</em> yet, press play above right now.

As the official photographer of the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, I thought I’d seen it all. But I was wrong.

 

The way that Ken thrashed the Hoonicorn – now in its V2 guise – during its run up to the 14115 foot summit really opened up my eyes to what an all-wheel drive vehicle is capable of.

 

It takes a madman to accomplish such a thing, let alone attempt the feat in the first place.

 

As always, this shoot wasn’t without its challenges, and I’ll go into some of those in this behind-the-scenes story.

 

Having raised the bar with each video they’ve made, Hoonigan Media Machine brought the heat with their entire Hollywood-style film crew.

 

The dynamic duo of Ken Block as the wheelman and Brian Scotto as the creative genius/co-director was a given, but this time around they had a Pikes Peak legend on board, too.

 

Jeff Zwart, our favorite Porsche driver, was brought on as a co-director. Many of you guys may not know this, but directing is actually Jeff’s full-time job, and he used to be a car and racing photographer. He has extensive knowledge of Pikes Peak coming from a driver’s perspective, as well as a film director’s point of view.

 

It was around this time last year that the wraps came off the Hoonicorn V2, and had everything gone to plan with Climbkhana, I would have been telling this story in 2016. But it didn’t go to plan – three trips to Pikes Peak were required to get this video finished.

 

Every single time we hit the mountain we battled insane wind storms, hail and snow, meaning that our shooting days were very short. Sometimes we couldn’t even step foot on the mountain before the skies opened up with torrential rain. After two failed attempts it would have been easy to just call it a loss, but Ken pressed on.

 

The weather wasn’t the only issue to contend with. There were some problems with the Hoonicorn’s V2 twin-turbo engine too; the crank case pressure was just way too high with the 1400hp being generated, and that resulted in oil exploding out of the thing when Ken went full tilt.

 

This created quite a dangerous situation which forced the guys to either swap the motor out or call it a day each time it happened. It wasn’t just a battle of man versus mountain, it was man versus machine, too.

 

But when the skies were clear and the Hoonicorn was performing as it should, the shooting actually happened pretty fast. It was so cool to see tire smoke wafting over the woods.

 

While I am guessing it would have possible to run the Hoonicorn at Pikes Peak in its original naturally aspirated form, it definitely wouldn’t have been such a spectacle.

 

At sea level, the NA engine made 845hp, but with the thin air at the top of the mountain there was potential for up to 30 percent of that power to be lost. In contrast, the Hoonicorn’s twin-turbo, methanol-fueled engine was designed to maintain 1,400hp.

 

Because methanol burns clear and colourless and therefore can’t be seen when its alight, the mechanics took full safety precautions any time they needed to refuel the car.

 

Another challenge was keeping the car hidden from public view while filming was taking place. This shot was taken right after Gymkhana Nine had just been shot, at which time the Climbkhana project was still under wraps.

 

The traditional line is not always the most fun. My favorite thing about the Hoonicorn V2 is that it looks like uncontrolled chaos when Ken goes full throttle. That’s to be expected with so much horsepower on tap, but so too are breakages. The clutch expired very early on during filming.

 

The secret techniques of Ken Block’s Instagram feed is out!

 

I felt terrible for the mechanics as every time they had to swap the motor they’d be staying up all night.

 

If you drive up Pikes Peak Highway as a tourist, you’re likely to be stopped at the halfway point on the way back down so your vehicle’s brake temperatures can be checked. If they’re too hot, in which case you could suffer brake fade which could have catastrophic consequences, you’re held at the checkpoint until your brakes have cooled down.

 

I just love that they made it into a gag while going uphill.

 

From the outside, it’s mind-blowing to watch the Hoonicorn accelerate. It very quickly ran out of gears even on the mountain’s shortest straights.

 

Our old buddy Will Roegge thought it would be a good idea to quit his day job as a filmmaker and check brake temps at Pikes Peak under the new guise of “Martin”.

 

One of the things that you can do while waiting for your brakes to cool down is pay a visit the gift shop. What an interesting selection of fun souvenirs to remember your trip to Pikes Peak.

 

For the next shot, Ken attempted to slide a third of the way up the mountain in one single take.

Unfortunately, it was during this sequence that oil decided to escape the motor again. Since there were no more spares, there was little choice but to call things quits – for this trip to Pikes Peak, anyways.

A few weeks later, the crew was back in Colorado for a second attempt at finishing the film. In the days between, the Hoonigan Racing Division mechanics had figured out what the problem was and made a few alterations, but prior to heading back up the mountain they wanted to do some testing.

 

Spitting flames and creating massive amounts of tire smoke, the Mustang was looking on form.

 

After a few sessions of relentlessly beating down on the Hoonicorn, Ken and the crew were ready to get back into it. Of course, the mountain had a different plan…

 

It was August, and it snowed like it was winter. When Hoonigan Racing Division’s Ron Zaras and I took Ken’s Focus RS for some recon/donut missions, the visibility was terrible and a third of the mountain was covered in fresh snow. The day before it had been sunny and clear.

 

We waited it out for a few days while Ken did what he does best…

 

It’s no secret that he loves making massive amounts of donuts.

 

The novelty of these sort of donuts wore off quickly though; Ken was itching to get back into the driver’s seat again.

 

Luckily for everyone, Mother Nature decided to cooperate. It was only a small window of opportunity, but it wasn’t going to be left to waste.

 

Brian didn’t trust me with photo duties so he took my cameras as well as my job for the rest of the shoot.

 

Picking up where the shoot had left off, Ken was to drive a third of the mountain well above the tree line, in a single run.

 

It was such an epic scene and the helicopter was on hand to film it all.

 

At this point the finish line was in sight; there were only a few more shots, including the intro and ending, needed.

 

As Ken passed me by at full noise the car was bathed in soft morning light and you could clearly see the city of Colorado Springs in the background. It was just perfect.

 

For the next shot the camera car was standing by and ready for action.

 

I stood at one of my favorite shooting locations on Pikes Peak, which is the last corner before the top section of the mountain. Above is a panorama of this epic drift that I stitched together.

 

Climbkhana was so close to being a called a wrap when the Hoonicorn’s engine failed again. It wasn’t so much an issue of not being able to move on, but more of a safety issue, so once again the shoot was suspended.

This around though, the break in between shoots would be considerable; winter was just around the corner, meaning that the entire top half of the mountain would be frozen solid.

Over the course of the year, the Hoonigan Racing Division mechanics pushed very hard to sort the engine issues out for once and for all.

 

Greg Hamilton and crew even went as far as to rent out the highest elevation airport in North America, just to test out the twin-turbo beast at full blast.

 

After almost a year of waiting, we were back on the mountain. This time there was no turning back; it was either do or die.

 

From a mechanical standpoint though, things were looking good. The car was dialed.

 

Ken was ready as well. I can only imagine how frustrating it was to have to shoot a single project three times.

 

As I expected, things kicked off with some big stunts. That’s Will about to jump into one of massive snow removers.

 

Thes best part? The Hoonicorn V2 now had anti-lag, so it sounded even crazier.

 

But it didn’t just sound faster, it looked faster, too.

 

I think everyone was relieved and very happy that the car was finally sorted, and that shots were being knocked out left, right and center.

 

Shooting at Pikes Peak any time of the year is such a pleasure; it’s such a beautiful place.

 

The days were super long as everyone was up well before sunrise and worked hard to well after sunset.

 

Before the mountain opened up to the public we pretty much had free reign of the place, but once it hit 9:00am on the dot, the tourists were lined up to check out the peak.

 

Up until this point, there hadn’t been a chance to shoot anything on the top section near the summit due to the weather and car issues. Along the straightaways, the Hoonicorn easily reached top speeds well into the triple-digit zone.

 

At the end of the first day of shooting there was enough in the bag to make a complete video. A collective sigh of relief was breathed.

 

This of course meant that on the second day of shooting Ken was able to turn it up a notch and take a few more chances.

 

One of my favorite things about the Hoonicorn’s V2 livery is that it is reflective to flash, which gives it another layer in terms of the way it can be photographed.

 

There was definitely an uneasy feeling in the air in regards to the next stunt Ken was about to attempt, but the window to shoot it was closing fast.

 

As it was, filming in the morning had been pretty sketchy. It was sunny, but it was snowing at the same time.

 

However, the snow held off long enough for me to get a few of my favorite shots on the mountain.

 

People often ask me where my favorite place to shoot is. I don’t really know the answer to that, but Pikes Peak is definitely up there.

 

It’s not often that I fear for a driver’s safety, but this next stunt was a tough one to shoot. Ken was going to try to drift this corner, but get as close to the edge as possible.

If you are wondering why I was worried, just watch this video featuring the very same corner.

Ken piled up a stack of rocks on the edge and he said that his goal was to knock them down with his rear tires.

 

He did just that, too. As it was happening I thought for sure he was going to go off the edge, but in applying full throttle the front tires started gaining traction which (thankfully) pulled him out of the corner.

 

Here is a wider version of the same shot; you can see how far the hill goes down if you slip off the edge. Ken drove this corner just one time to scout out his line, and then went for it.

 

Everyone was so happy after the fact. It completely changed the mood of the set.

 

When the footage was replayed for him, he could not believe how close he had come to the edge.

 

Brian said he was just happy that he didn’t have to make a call to Ken’s wife, Lucy.

 

Jeff praised the HHIC (Head Hoonigan in Charge) for having the guts to pull off such a stunt.

 

The man still could not believe it himself.

 

Here’s a closer shot of the lines that he took.

 

It’s so cool to see how the tire marks transitioned from dirt to pavement.

 

It was a butt-puckering moment for sure.

 

With the most insane stunt out of the way it was time to do some celebratory donuts.

 

Brandon from the Hoonigan gang was right in amongst it to inhale all of the sweet tire smoke.

 

It was such a pleasure to be able to shoot from so many corners that I normally aren’t able to because of time constraints during Pikes Peak race week. Because a film production moves slowly, I was even able to scope out some new shooting locations on the historic highway.

 

The clouds were rolling in, but the boys wanted to get a few more shots in before we called it a wrap. This required rigging a giant pole onto the back of the Mustang.

 

It looked hilarious, but surprisingly it barely affected the performance of the all-wheel drive machine.

 

Ken did a few passes, then it was time to remove the crazy rig and grab the final shot.

 

We headed up to the summit and the exact location of the hill climb’s finish line. Given the lack of oxygen at this altitude just standing was hard enough, let alone running around. If you don’t take time to acclimate, it’s very easy to get light-headed.

 

Jeff took the honors to wave the flags; for so many years he’s been on the other side of them, zooming past the finish line flag marshal at 100mph+ speeds.

 

Ken purposely put the Mustang into a 360-degree spin through the picture-perfect finish. From a shooting perspective, Climbkhana was officially in the books!

 

Everyone was elated. After 12 days on the ground in Colorado spread over three trips, this was my longest-ever shoot.

To my knowledge, it’s also the longest shoot Ken has ever had to do. The previous Gymkhana shoots I’ve been on have taken four or five days at the most.

 

 

This of course poses the question of what Ken and the Hoonigan guys have in store for Gymkhana Ten…

All I know is that I am really looking forward it, and you can bet I’ll be there to document the behind-the-scenes story.

 

 

Gumball 3000: Drive All Day, Party All Night

The Gumball 3000 is one of those events that you hear about as a car enthusiast, but something only few can actually take part in given its prohibitively expensive entry fee. For 2017, a spot in the rally was set at around US$45,500 per car, and that’s before all the other associated costs that come with the event.

Over the years there have been many similarly-themed road rallies popping up all over the world, but none are as big or as crazy as the Gumball 3000. It’s why I jumped at the opportunity to take part in this year’s event on the back of an invite from our friends at Motorhead magazine in Japan.

Primarily, I was there to ride with Motorhead and document the event for an upcoming issue of the magazine (which is out now, by the way), but the editor-in-chief, Ko-hey Takada, was happy for me to share the behind the scenes story here too.

 

The event itself has really evolved over the years. Originally, the Gumball 3000 was more focused on the cars and the culture surrounding them, but now it’s like a giant – and very expensive – rolling party.

It seems to me that there are three types of people that compete in this event. The first group are the pure speed junkies who have little to no regard for authority and drive foot to the floor at triple-digit speeds. They almost always arrive to the next location first, but are the smallest group among the 150 entrants.

 

Then there are those who love driving fast, but not at the expense of getting themselves in trouble. They’ll occasionally push the limits on public roads, but in a more responsible manner. This is the largest group of teams, mostly consisting of supercars and exotics with a few GT cars thrown in for good measure.

 

The third group is in the Gumball 3000 for the party; leaving late and arriving late is their style. Bentleys, Rolls-Royces, Range Rovers and other luxury cars and SUVs make up the bulk of the vehicles in this group.

 

The Motorhead team fit somewhere in between the first and second groups; we were in it to drive fast, but we also wanted to stay out of trouble – which we did.

 

The rally itself started in Riga, Latvia and would eventually end up in Mykonos. Greece. Due to Goodwood Festival of Speed commitments, I joined the Gumball party at its first stop in Warsaw, Poland.

When I arrived at the stadium where the cars were going to regroup, I was unsure if I was at the right place. There were so many people around I thought there was some sort of festival going on.

 

It turned out that everyone was just there to see the cars showing up – nothing else. There was no side car show and no other event of any kind. Amazing.

 

I quickly realized that these people were genuinely into the cars, and that seeing so many exotic machines in one place at one time was something special. The Polish in general love motorsports, so I guess it was only natural that there would be a lot of excitement for the Gumball 3000 passing through Warsaw.

 

There were so many people trying to get a closer look at the procession of cars that it was tough for me to even see what was coming down the pipeline next.

 

Some of the locals even brought out their own cars for an impromptu and unofficial car show. This super-clean RWB Porsche was a standout.

 

The atmosphere was truly festival-like. I could never imagine anything like this in the US.

 

Early the next morning, I met up with Ko-hey and we all hit the road.

 

You might be wondering why Motorhead wanted to do the Gumball 3000 this year, and the answer is simple. For 2018, the event starts in London, but finishes up in Tokyo.

 

If the rumors are anything to go by, the entry fee will be well over US$100,000, but that price includes flights for the cars on three chartered Russian cargo planes from Europe to Japan.

 

For this event, Motorhead lined up a bunch of sponsors including Bingo Sports, the goal being to get firsthand experience of the Gumball and gather assets in order to promote it in 2018. The organizers are hoping that a few Japanese teams will sign up for the renowned road rally.

This is why they airfreighted a brand new Lexus LC500 to Europe just for this rally. With the outlay for the car and over US$30,000 just to fly it one way to Europe – plus the aforementioned entry fee and other expenses – my head almost exploded just thinking about how much this mission of sorts would have cost in total. Lucky for me, I got to tag along and experience it all for myself without having to spend a penny.

 

Every day we had a lunch stop in between our start and end cities, and on day two that happened in Krakow.

 

It’s interesting, because at some stops the cars were absolutely mobbed, but at others there was hardly anyone to greet the teams. It all depended on where we stopped and how populated the area was.

 

I know what you guys are thinking, why not save on the US$45,500 entry fee and just follow the rally in your own car at no cost? Well, to be honest, there is nothing stopping anyone doing this.

 

In fact, there were a few cars that tagged along, and one group that didn’t even try to hide the fact – they just labeled their vehicles Gumball 3000 Fan Cars with Gumball-style stickers.

 

As I mentioned, the entry fee is just the beginning because it only covers one hotel room and two dinners each night. A van or SUV full of support crew need accommodation and meals as well.

Then there are the bar and club tabs, and at the end of the whole thing is a charity auction, which this year raised around half a million pounds from all the teams. One competitor who wanted to party the event away even brought along his butler to do the driving.

Wherever we went, there seemed to be some sort of police presence. I’m guessing that as soon as the group passed a patrol car, the police would radio ahead to their buddies letting them know that some fast cars were on their way.

 

Lucky for us, our Lexus flew under the radar compared to some of the more flashy cars.

 

Driving from Warsaw, Poland to Budapest, Hungary via parts of Czechia and Slovakia, we clocked up around 900km on this day. The scenery was absolutely stunning too, with endless sunflower fields in all directions for a lot of the way.

 

When we arrived in Budapest, the Gumball frenzy was in full effect. Once again, I could not believe how many people gathered just to watch some fancy cars roll into town.

 

Among the normal participants – if you can call them that – were a few celebrities, singer/rapper/songwriter CeeLo Green being one of them.

 

The sights and sounds of multiple cars revving, backfiring and spitting flames was crazy enough, but the party was just getting started.

 

People in the crowd were essentially jumping over the top of each other in an effort to score free swag from the teams. This boy was begging his heart out asking for t-shirt, but with none left he had to settle for the next best thing from the Gumball participant: an open bag of potato chips, which he proceeded to happily eat. True story.

 

If there was one show-stopper, it was this real-deal Lancia 037 Group B rally car.

 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most reliable machine; after a few miles it would break down and need to be towed.

 

It was the least reliable car on the rally this year, but my favorite by far. Who brings a historic rally weapon to the Gumball 3000? This guy.

 

It was pretty awesome that Mr. Gumball 3000 himself, Maximillion Cooper, and his lovely wife and talented rapper/actress Eve also drove the rally. Their ride was a sick looking Twisted Defender.

 

The cars rested for the night in Budapest, but the very next morning we’d be waking up early to do it all over again.

 

Although we were travelling in luxury with the LC500, the car had one drawback – its Japanese market 190km/h (115mph) speed limiter.

 

While that speed can’t be considered slow by any means, when you’re on the Gumball 3000 and trying to keep up with McLarens, a Porsche 918 and a bunch of Lamborghinis all running at 150mph+, it’s a real disadvantage.

 

I guess you could call it Gumball cruise control; we had the Lexus pinned at 190km/h for longer than I’d like, and other competitors passed us like we were standing still.

 

Still, it was such a blast trying to keep up with other Gumballers. With long stretches of highway and 950km to the next overnight stop, no one was taking it easy.

 

This meant some interesting stretches during rest stops, especially if you’d been stuffed inside the tiny cabin of an exotic car.

 

Refueling also happened on a frequent basis, but it was always fun to catch up with other teams while filling up.

 

In a way, I do envy the teams that brought full-on luxury vehicles. Because if you’re going to do a massive road trip, you might as well do it in a massive Bentley.

 

For those unfortunate enough to break down during the touring stages, there was a support vehicle also known as the Gumball Rescue Team tagging along. We witnessed them helping out competitors on numerous occasions, so it’s definitely a great idea.

 

There was a massive line at the border as we crossed into Croatia from Hungary.

It was also the perfect time for a bit of a break.

 

Generally speaking, we never had any trouble at any of the many border crossings that we had to go through. Some weren’t as lucky though, and had to go through a secondary screening.

 

Of all the countries we passed through, Croatia had the best driving roads, not to mention countless tunnels to hit at full speed (190km/h).

 

Ko-hey and I were both amazed by how incredibly smooth the roads were. It’s like they were built for speed.

 

On top of that, there were almost no other cars on the road besides those in the rally.

 

While I like to complain about our meager top speed in the LC500, it does not compare to this Mercedes-Benz lorry which was limited to only 90km/h. Amazingly, this thing made it to every single city in time for dinner, but of course with no unscheduled stops in between.

 

This was pretty much the sight we got used to while driving a Gumball 3000 vehicle into the lunch stops.

 

This time it was Rimac Automobile.

 

Rimac build electric supercars, one of which Richard Hammond recently had an unfortunate experience in.

 

It was cool to check out Croatia’s only auto manufacturer and also to see how clean of an operation they are running. As we walked through the assembly area a few cars were being put together.

 

In what felt like no time at all we were hitting the road again; this time I’d drive while Ko-hey caught up on some much needed shut-eye.

 

Back on the highway, I can only describe this moment like the one time I drove on the Autobahn in Germany, topping the Toyota 86 at a healthy 210km/h.

 

I had a lot of fun battling this 991 GT3; the roads really were smooth as glass and the company wasn’t too bad either.

 

Just look at this impressive infrastructure. I am serious when I say there was barely anyone else on the road.

 

Driving a right-hand drive vehicle on the right side of the road had its challenges, because I’m just not used to it. I often found myself drifting over to the left side of the lane, just like when I drove Magnus Walker’s right-hand drive 930.

 

Seeing this made me wonder what other hidden gem highways there are in the world that I don’t know about…

 

Everywhere we stopped people wanted to take photos of our car, and no matter where we stopped we would run into other Gumballers on the side of the road, like Afrojack here.

 

Before we crossed over in Dubrovnik we had to drive through a little part of Bosnia that separates the north and south parts of Croatia.

 

I made Ko-hey stop just for one picture, just so I could say that I’d stepped foot in Bosnia.

 

At border crossings we would often pull up next to other Gumballers and share war stories. Often, these involved bribing the cops and top speeds.

 

In terms of behind-the-wheel time and driving roads, this day was definitely the best. I was reluctant to hand the keys back over to Ko-hey as the LC500 is a spectacular grand tourer.

 

And just like that we arrived at the pearly white gates of Dubrovnik.

 

Of all the cities we stopped at on the Gumball 3000 route, this was easily the most beautiful.

 

The locals as well as tourists welcomed us with open arms.

 

It was such a nice contrast of modern exotics and supercars with an old school backdrop.

 

Partially due to our heavy right feet, Ko-hey and I made it with time to spare and the view of a perfect sunset.

 

That night we were treated to a seaside fireworks display. Even though I was far away from home for the 4th of July (America’s Independence Day), the festivities were fitting.

 

We were even treated to an impromptu concert by the one and only CeeLo Green. There were many four letter words being sung on this particular night.

 

It really made me take a step back for a moment and reflect on what I was witnessing. This is a side of car culture that I never thought I would have a chance to experience. What has this man Maximillion Cooper created?

 

I thought about it the next day as we left for Tirana, the capital city of Albania.

 

For me, the worst part of a vacation is not going home, it’s always the planning stage. It takes forever to figure out where to stay what to do, because if you go with the flow you can easily have a bad experience. Gumball is pretty much the ultimate party vacation for car enthusiasts who have the means, and planning is not required.

 

Some of the people I met on the rally just rented exotic cars for the duration of the trip, and many of them didn’t even drive them back.

 

The point is, you can just enjoy a week of non-stop action morning till night, eat at the best restaurants, drive the best roads and party like royalty.

 

And if you want to drive the entire thing in a real Miami-Dade County police car while dressed up as a policeman, you can do just that.

 

Our lunch stop was in beautiful Montenegro; a dip in the infinity pool and some well deserved espresso was exactly what we needed. Minus the swimming part, I just watched everyone else get chocolate wasted.

 

From this point forward we lost all of the fan cars that were just following the rally – we were now crossing into the country of Albania.

What happened next is pretty much the reason why you pay for such an exclusive experience.

 

I never thought I would visit the country of Albania, let alone drive the Gumball 3000 rally through it.

 

The locals didn’t even really know what to think when they saw an army of supercars blasting down their highways.

 

The kicker? The Gumball 3000 hired 2000 Albanian police officers to block off the roads through the entire country. This meant full-speed passes at any given moment, and the police won’t even bat an eye – something that I never even thought was possible.

 

The roads were blocked off on the way to Mother Teresa Square, and the very next morning the roads were all blocked off for us intersection by intersection all the way to Greece. Just unbelievable.

 

On top of this, the reception in Tirana was unlike that of any other city we went to. There were people lined up, sometimes 10 rows deep, just to catch a glimpse of a burnout.

 

I just couldn’t believe it. They were so happy to see the cars it was out of control.

 

Heck, people even started to climb on the buildings surrounding the area.

 

My mind was already blown from how many people showed up in Warsaw, but this was just another level of commitment.

 

At the very last stop I asked many of the teams which was their favorite city, and all of them said Tirana.

 

The music was blaring and the fans stayed out till the very last car arrived.

 

The variety of vehicles that showed up to this year’s rally was super cool. Because how often does a GT3 RS and a Indy 500 pace car Camaro drive in the same event?

 

That night I decided not to be lame and I went out to the club where the biggest Gumball 3000 party was happening.

 

Of course, DJ Afrojack performed; my eardrums hurt just thinking about the night.

 

The next morning we would leave for Athens, Greece for our last big-city stop before catching a ferry to Mykonos.

 

So what was it like to drive empty roads with the police blocking every single intersection? It was kind of freaky in a way.

 

You really could go as fast as you wanted in the Albanian countryside, but of course there was the occasional dirt road, so it was probably good that no one brought an Enzo Ferrari or a McLaren P1.

 

Open roads and police escorts sound too good to be true, but all good things eventually come to an end.

 

At the Albania and Greece border, the border patrol agents immediately took a liking to our caravan and welcomed us.

 

There are so many different types of people who spend their vacation days on the Gumball 3000, and of course there are those on permanent vacation. This LP710 was broken down at a petrol station, and I heard a rumor that the owner bought a new car that day just to finish the rally. When you’ve come so far, you might as well see it through to the end.

 

I met some really awesome people on this adventure, from gentleman racing drivers, to car collectors and wealthy entrepreneurs.

 

Yes, there were some unsavory characters on the rally too, but luckily they were few and far between.

 

Our night in Athens was pretty relaxed as there was just one more driving leg to go before the goal, but trouble was already stirring outside of our hotel.

 

Smoke coming out of a Ferrari is never a good sign.

 

The last leg was only a few traffic-packed miles through downtown Athens to the port.

 

There awaited a ferry large enough for all the Gumball cars.

 

One by one the cars were loaded in for the five-hour journey to Mykonos Island.

 

I’d been on something similar before when I covered Deuce Days for Hotrod magazine, but instead of a boat full of exotic cars it was a boat filled to the brim with ’32 Fords.

 

This was the first and last time I saw the 918 on the trip.

 

Before we knew it, it was time to unload. With everyone revving their cars’ engines in elation that they’d actually made it all the way, I nearly passed out from the exhaust fumes.

 

Interestingly, I think out of all the cars driving in the event there were only five with manual transmissions, this ACR Viper being one of them.

 

Team Motorhead breathed a collective sigh of relief as the LC500 rolled off the ferry.

 

We proceeded to take a parade lap around the tiny island, sharing the roads with ATVs and the occasional scooter.

 

Many of the tourists and the locals had absolutely no idea what was going on, but it was all in good fun.

 

The 2017 Gumball 3000 was such an interesting event from beginning to end, with so many new experiences that I never thought I would ever get to be a part of. We made it without a hitch and I was very glad to be a part of the Motorhead team for this one.

 

I want to thank Ko-hey for having me on board, and Katsu Takahashi who was the video producer for being a great camera car precision driver.

 

Loren and I ended up staying two nights in Mykonos and this was the view outside of our room. I would say that I could get used to this, but honestly this life of wealth and showboating is not for me. I love cars and car culture, and while partying is fun once in a while, my idea of a vacation is sitting at home working on my cars. I guess that makes me pretty boring.

But all joking aside, if I were given the opportunity to go again, would I? Well, let’s just say I am curious to see how they are going to fly 150 cars from Europe to Japan for the 20th anniversary event next year…