So another year and another 750+ happy entrants left their homes in the very early hours of Friday morning, to be at the Umm Al Quwain Motorplex by 7.00am. Although the first car to head out onto the course, an extraordinarily wide Jeep driven by Shaikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, would not be flagged off until 8.00am, naturally nobody wanted to be late for the traditional breakfast. Having loaded up on carbohydrates, they then loaded their cars with the goody bags and samples supplied by the many sponsors of the event, whilst stopping of course to grab two or three copies of the essential wheels Gulf News Fun Drive preview edition.

With tyres deflated and (in most cases) the tracking app activated on their phones, soon hundreds of drivers and thousands of excited friends and family members were heading out into the wild blue yonder. Except in this case it was a wild orange yonder, consisting of small, gentle dunes which Course Director John Spiller said would “present nobody with any great difficulties”. But he spoke too soon for within a short space of time, those gentle dunes had left 30 plus cars stranded after their drivers had all taken wrong turn. Note to next year’s participants — it pays to follow the road-book, and the route marker discs, not necessarily the car in front!

 

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Shaikh Marwan Bin Rashid Al Mualla, Chairman of Emirates Motorplex Umm Al Quwain and Rajeev Khanna, Commercial Director, Gulf News, flagging off the first car, driven by Shaikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan at the 37th Gulf News Fun Drive

After Control Point Two and a short tarmac liaison section, the route took participants into  more challenging dunes, so the convoy began to spread out over a dozen kilometres or more. After that roller-coaster ride through the sand, over “Ajit’s Apex” and “Haseeb’s Hardship” amongst others, the reward was a much smoother run through the area identified in the route notes as Savannah. For now the sand driving was over and thanks to BF Goodrich, participants were able to reinflate their tyres quickly just after the Total Control Point. Next came a quite spectacular wadi climb through the mountains, where I found myself leaping in and out of my car every five minutes as yet another amazing photo opportunity presented itself. In danger of wearing out the shutter, it was a relief to my camera — though less so to me and the hundreds of drivers ahead and behind — that the following wadi drive was incredibly dusty. Perhaps next year Gulf News could secure a car wash sponsor?

 

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The climb through the mountains not only proved to be extremely thrilling — but very dusty too!

The route finished with the trickiest dunes so far, so once again everyone let the air out of their tyres and headed for the overnight camp spot through several kilometres of sand. I stood for a while at the wheels Control Point, wondering if someone might ask for my autograph on their souvenir editions… but clearly the lure of a hot dinner was far more enticing to the drivers than a scribbled note from yours truly, and after battling through the last few big dunes, we arrived at the campsite.

Congratulations to John Spiller and his team for setting what was a very original and entertaining route, showing off much of the beauty which Umm Al Quwain and the other Northern Emirates have to offer, and which will have helped, I’m sure, demonstrate to many drivers just what they, and their vehicles are capable of achieving.

No stucks for me in the sand this year — but then, you only have my word for that!