Dubai: Choosing a route in the middle of the desert that’s fit to host hundreds of cars is tricky and this man has been accomplishing it with resounding success for four years now.
Route Director John Spiller has been an integral part of the Gulf News Fun Drive, helping finalise the route.
He spoke to Gulf News about how the path is chosen, what aspects need special attention when making that decision and gave his first-hand tips to the participants.
His first message to all Fun Drive goers is to respect the surroundings. “Although the climate is very kind this time of the year, the desert is a place you have to treat with respect,” he said.
How is the route selected?
Spiller said that extensive planning goes into selecting a route that’s suitable for such a large number of people and vehicles that consists of both beginners and expert drivers.
“We have found a very nice route for everybody that is achievable for the beginners and towards the end, it’s plenty of fun for the more expert drivers,” Spiller said.
People choosing to avoid the tougher sections towards the end can return to camp. “The route gets progressively harder but the beginners might even make it till there before cut-off time anyway,” he added.
Each year the skeleton of the route is very similar. However, he said: “In the details we find ways to avoid trouble spots that may have risen in the past.”
Some of these spots have been identified through previous Fun Drive events. “Parts of the desert are very drivable but when you’ve had 500 to 600 vehicles drive over them they actually become so soft and churned up that even an expert struggles. So we endeavour to avoid these places and make life smoother for everybody.”
When does the planning begin?
An event like the Gulf News Fun Drive involving hundreds of people takes a long time to plan for. “I never really stop planning it, it’s always on my mind,” Spiller said.
Spiller said that he starts thinking about next year’s drive right after one ends. “When this one ends, I’ll start thinking about the next one on Monday, while it’s fresh in my mind,” he added.
“improvements we can make through planning and through changes in terrain,” he said.
Challenges and tips
Managing hundreds of cars in the desert comes with its challenges. “One of the biggest challenges is the sheer number of vehicles,” he said.
Speaking about some of the things to look out for participants, he mentioned dust that blows over the route. “Hold back and let the dust settle because you have plenty of time to get around and rushing into dust is dangerous,” he said.
Drivers also need to be careful about the drops and dunes that the route has.
“There are fast sections and slow sections. You can be caught up by hidden drops in the fast section,” he cautioned. Although the path is well marked, participants need to be highly attentive. “We mark the route, we mark hazards but if you leave the route, we can’t cover those possibilities so never ever stop concentrating.”
Spiller said that being well prepared for the event is key. “Preparation is the most important thing.”
“Being prepared, having the vehicle in reasonably good condition, checking things like your spare wheel has air in it and you have the jack and wheel brace to change the tyre if you need to. If you’ve got basic recovery equipment like ropes and shackles these all come in handy and save time when the marshals come in to rescue you, if that’s required,” he said.
Reading information will best equip the drivers. “Everybody should read everything they have been given because there’s’ a lot of advice in there,” he said.
If you do get into a situation where you car is stuck, make sure children are either seated safely in the car, buckled in or standing well back from the activity.