DCSIMG

Cannonball crazies clocked at 150mph

Key quote

"I feel it [the case] was unfairly treated. Anyone could have been caught. They just wanted to catch Cannonballers. The sentence they imposed on me was harsh and they were trying to make an example of us." - GERALD HARRISON

Story in full IT WAS billed as an adrenalin-filled journey of "madness and mayhem" in which dozens of drivers speed across Europe in high-performance cars.

But for two participants in the annual Cannonball Run Europe, the dream of cruising from London to Rimini, in Italy, in their 100,000 supercars, ended when police clocked them travelling more than 150mph.

Gerald Harrison, 27, from Glasgow, and Marc Sharifi, 47, of Ongar, Essex, had their precious cars confiscated and spent two days in cells when they were caught shortly after arriving in France.

Organisers say they believe the vehicles will now be sold at auction by French authorities.

The two men, both estate agents, are understood to have become "a bit over-enthusiastic" after discussing their machines on the ferry journey to Calais.

Mr Sharifi was recorded at 159mph in his Ferrari Spider 360, while Harrison was travelling at 155mph in his rare Porsche 933 Ruf after UK police tipped off their French counterparts that the convoy was on its way.

The Cannonball Runs - based on rallies held in the United States in the 1970s and immortalised in the 1981 film of the same name, starring Roger Moore and Burt Reynolds - have become increasingly popular.

But French police, fed up with UK drivers treating their roads as an "adventure playground" have decided to clamp down on the "crazies behind the wheel".

The men were arrested last Sunday at a speed trap on the A26 at Bethune, after a tip-off by Kent Police. They were brought before French magistrates during the week.

They each received three month suspended jail sentences and were fined 750.

Speaking from his home in Hyndland, Glasgow, Mr Harrison said: "I feel it [the case] was unfairly treated. Anyone could have been caught. They just wanted to catch Cannonballers. The sentence they imposed on me was harsh and they were trying to make an example of us."

Mr Harrison, who has a fleet of eight cars ranging from classic Volkswagens to Porsches, conceded that his speed could have caused an accident. The father of a nine-year-old son said: "I was speeding and I could have got killed. I almost believe it was fate that I was caught.

"I'm happy to still be here and not in a French prison. I'm a highly skilled driver. I knew what I was doing but just never knew what might happen."

During the case, French newspapers described the two men as "super rich". They described Harrison in court as having an air of Leonardo Di Caprio about him.

The town's public prosecutor Louis Wallon, said: "We cannot accept what they are doing. They are a menace. The motorway was busy and driving at that speed is totally irresponsible."

Organisers of the once secret event, which now boasts a website and a 4,500 entry fee, insist it is not a race and the aim is to average 60mph.

Jan Dechamps, the event's organiser, said it had been targeted by the police.

"We cannot condone people driving at excessive speeds and people not respecting the law," she said. "They were excited and enthusiasm got the better of them."

A Kent Police spokeswoman said: "The two men were taking part in a rally known as the Cannonball Run between London and Rimini in Italy."

Cannonball Runs were started in America in the 1970s in tribute to Erwin G "Cannonball" Baker, who broke 143 American distance driving records in the 1930s and 1940s on his motorbike.

They were resurrected in 1999 as Gumball and Cannonball runs and now take place across Europe, the US and North Africa, with celebrities like supermodel Jodie Kidd and actors Billy Zane and Jason Priestley taking part.

 
 
 

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