There is a fair way to trudge through the desert on the way to the next stop. This is the longest single driving leg of the day and the navigation systems all reckon on about an hour behind the wheel to cover the 80km through the towns of Margham, Nazwa, Maliha, Al Dhaid and Manama. Destination: Al Taween, ‘The Road to Nowhere’.
And then the sandy haze lifts its veil over the Hajar mountains, and the jagged grey rocks finally appear just like they always do — invariably you can rely on the Hajar mountains to greet you after the monotony of dead-straight desert roads, yet you still have to expect your favourite stretches to sometimes simply not be where you last left them… The swift rate of progress and development in our country means things change quickly — some of our preferred bits of testing tarmac are hardly accessible this year, but then again, there are others we discover, and one new highway under rapid construction linking Masafi directly with Khor Fakkan, tunnels galore and all — CotY 2017 should be fun.
So, finally, here we are at the base of the big rocks, solid and immovable, resolute and stubborn: you can’t cross them. Well, unless you have an Emirati passport and a Land Cruiser, of course. Otherwise you shall not pass. Even 1,400m up top, The Road to Nowhere is just a dead end. It tries to make its way around, a bit tacitly, without any markings or warnings, although there’s plenty warning to be warranted. Everything in the mountains is blind and badly cambered, crested and tucked away just waiting to bite a trashy sportscar or a rubbish driver. Same difference. Every brow and apex leap you off into the unknown, and the crumbling shoulders fade into dust. This road is the ninth judge — if a car can make it here it can make it anywhere.
As Gautam, Fadi and Tim race to the top, the rest of us have only a barrage of turbocharged V8 ricochets to go by.
“It really is as thrilling to drive as it is to look at,” Tim says from the bucket seat of the McLaren 570S. “How can they possibly call this a sportscar?!” Tim has a point — Woking, straight-faced and all, calls its 570S a sportscar. It’s got a carbon fibre monocoque chassis, and 562bhp and 600Nm of torque, and it tops out at 328kph hitting 100kph from rest in 3.2 seconds. Try that in your MX-5.
But all things being relative, in the realm of supercars and hypercars where a thousand horsepower gets you a wild-card admission, McLaren might have a point — we’re convinced, and we’re making it Best Sportscar.
“The mechanical suspension is a huge difference,” adds Tim, “and with physical anti-roll bars instead of the electronic job on the 650S and 675LT, the suspension turns this into an entirely different animal.”
Animal is the right word, because the 570S commands respect and dedication as it moves and jimmies underneath you over every surface imperfection. Speaking of which, this car is compromised, by price. That means it’s less ones and noughts and more uh-ohs and oh-ohs. Hang on to it and make sure you know what you’re doing, because the 570S is the first modern McLaren that we can thoroughly label a drivers’ car. Tim refuses to get out.