Party on wheels peels out of Toronto as Gumball 3000 luxury-car rally kicks off at Yonge-Dundas Square


At Yonge Dundas Square on Saturday, a DJ pumping remixed versions of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” and Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was drowned out, sporadically, by the rev of luxury-car engines — as the Gumball 3000 car rally kicked off its route to Miami.

The square and the adjacent route down Yonge Street was packed with onlookers, craning necks over one another to catch a glimpse of souped-up Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches, many custom-wrapped and adorned with the likes of whiskey-brand logos. An emcee with an undone shirt and long fringe on his sleeves name-dropped celebrities in the fray: actor David Hasselhoff, whom he liked to a “benevolent uncle,” or the electronic musician Deadmau5, “Ontario’s favorite son,” who headlined Friday night’s official launch party along with rapper Bun B.

“Touch him gently! No rough fingering please!” the emcee howled repeatedly, as Hasselhoff circled around, high-fiving members of the midday crowd. Some onlookers said they came into Toronto a day early just to see the fleet of cars displayed along Bay St. before they set off on the days-long route, which moves through US cities like Nashville and Atlanta.

Speed ​​isn’t the goal, organizers say — a message the emcee repeated over booming speakers as drivers set off, shortly after 12:30 pm: “Drive safe! It’s not a race, it’s a rally!”

DJ and electronic musician Deadmau5, aka Niagara Falls, Ont.'s Joel Zimmerman, checks out a 1969 Beetle with a smile before Saturday's start of the Gumball 3000 road rally in Toronto.

But some participants and onlookers hoped to see the drivers for the roughly 100 teams go pedal to the metal. Chase Warner, who identified himself as part of a team from sponsor and clothing brand Kappa, said the idea was to drive fast: “As fast as possible without getting arrested, or the cars seized.”

Warner said Kappa’s team rented two cars and brought them up from Miami — a Lamborghini Urus and a Rolls-Royce Cullinan, which he estimated to cost roughly $300,000 apiece — plus a humbler Suburban tailing behind to carry the rest of their crew so they could switch roles throughout. The latter vehicle had already been ticketed before the event started, I added.

In the crowd, Cameron Cavanagh and Josh McKenney were itching to see the pricey vehicles pick up some speed. “They closed down the road,” Cavanagh said, referring to the blockages that had shuttered a stretch of Yonge to other traffic. “They’re going to rip it.”

There were three things they wanted to see: “Loud cars, fast cars, and expensive cars.”

Fans and a McLaren at the Gumball 3000 start at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto on Saturday, May 28.

Abraham Dababo, who came to Toronto from San Francisco, planned to take a more cautious approach as his team set out on the route. His buddy’s sleek Porsche 997.2 GT3 RS could probably get up to 240 kilometers per hour in speed, Dababo estimated, but their plan for him was to adhere to the legal speed limits: “I do n’t want to get arrested in Canada,” he said.

Dababo lauded the event’s philanthropic efforts. According to the organizers’ online tally, teams had raised more than 500,000 British pounds, which converts to more than $800,000 Canadian, for charitable efforts by Saturday. He also pointed to the global interest the rally drew.

“It’s very welcoming, and I encourage anyone who wants to join it. It’s expensive, but its worth it,” he said, noting their team’s entry fee was roughly 50,000 pounds. That doesn’t include costs like transporting the luxury vehicles to the starting line — nor the cost of the vehicles themselves, with the emcee at one point claiming that more than a billion dollars’ worth of cars would drive through.

The annual event began in 1999 and has been to Toronto twice before, but COVID forced it to take two years off, and this is the first time that the flag drop — the rally's start — was here.

“Getting your car to the grid is probably one of the biggest steps, but once you’re here, its nothing but fun,” Dababo said. “We cross the line on day one, but it’s four days of straight partying.”

The annual event began in 1999 and has been to Toronto twice before, but COVID forced it to take two years off, and this is the first time that the flag drop — the rally’s start — was here. For some onlookers, Saturday’s event warranted a long drive or transit ride, and could even be a family affair.

A father said he brought his two sons on the GO Train from Guelph to catch a glimpse of their favorite driver from YouTube, and his lime green Shelby GT500. Rebecca Nelson, from Kitchener-Waterloo, made the trip with her 16-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son. Cars, for them, were a family interest — and Lamborghinis were their favourite.

Car collector and YouTuber Shmee150, right, given name Tim Burton, strides along Yonge Street Saturday before flag drop of the Gumball 3000.

“It’s been a while since anyone was able to get out because of COVID, so it’s just nice to get out and enjoy something,” said Nelson, who was hoping to feel the rumble of engines revving as the cars drove by. “It’s pretty exciting that we’re able to come to something kind of local.”

Mariel Slavinskiy had followed the Gumball rallies for years — and leapt on the chance to see one in person. “It’s all about the cars,” he said. “Supercars, the more expensive the better.”

He brought along his best friend — and fellow car aficionado — Jacob Dan, who said after learning what kinds of luxury cars would be rolling through town on Saturday, he couldn’t fathom turning it down. “Nothing,” Slavinskiy told the Star, “comes close to this.”

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