The 2018 Overnighter Fun Drive will start at the UAE Motorplex Umm Al Quwain and take around eight hours. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Taking hundreds of four wheel drives into the desert in a coordinated and organized event, year after year, is no mean task.

The Gulf News Fun Drive has been successfully creating memories in the desert for the past 33 years. Throughout its journey, sponsors have played a crucial role in not only supporting the event but also creating a community of safe and skilled off-roaders.

Gulf News spoke to the sponsors of this year overnighter Fun Drive about what makes the event an ideal place to showcase their brands.

A fun event

Al Futtaim, being the Main Sponsor of the event, is participating through various segments of their business, like Toyota, FastFit and BFGoodrich. Collectively, they have been part of the event since decades.

Ahmad Ali Mohammad, Marketing Operations Manager at Al Futtaim Motors - Toyota spoke to Gulf News and said: “This event is ideal for us as a UAE-based brand because it’s part of the UAE’s culture to go to the desert.”

Speaking about how the event brings Toyota fans together, he said: “We meet our customers at the Fun Drive. Some of them are coming to us for over 10 years.”

Mohammad also said that the Fun Drive showcases their cars to potential buyers. “People have come in to showrooms to buy vehicles right after seeing them in action at the event.”

Additionally, he said that the company aims to build stronger relationships with their customers and the Fun Drive allows for that.

This time, Toyota has planned a number of activities, mainly targeting participating children, at the camp. “I encourage everyone to come and see the Adventure Zone we have set up at the camp.”

FastFit, aftersales solutions services provider has sponsored the Fun Drive for the past five years.

“We are so excited and happy to be a part of this edition of the Gulf News Fun Drive again. To do this in the capacity of a sponsor, or ambassador if you will, gives even more meaning to the event to us,” said Ralf Zimmermann, Managing Director - After Sales Services.

Zimmermann also said that the event will allow the brands to showcase items they offer to a target audience.

He said that the tyre company, BFGoodrich, which is the official Tyre Sponsor for the event, offers a number of products that are ideal for off-roaders. “BFGoodrich has two tyres that would be of optimum interest to these off-roading enthusiasts, the KO2 and KM3, both are dubbed the best off-road tyres in the market with extreme toughness, world class grip and traction to climb rocks and conquer sand. We can’t wait to show these tyres off!”

They have a number of activities and goodies lined up for participants as well.

“At the starting point we are giving the drivers a desert scarf to wear during the day, which of course they can keep. During the drive there will be a specific off-road challenge towards the end of the drive, dubbed the ‘BFGoodrich KM3 challenge” which will test the drivers off-roading capabilities to the limits,” said Zimmermann.

Their team will also be helping participants get through the route. “We will be present at several points of the drive to assist people with their tyre needs,” he said.

As the evening sets in, their team will be serving beverages to the off-roaders and have more activities lined up. “Hot coffee and tea will be served during the desert evening cold, we are also hosting a tyre flipping activity for which a lot of strength is required and will surely warm people up.” Zimmermann added.

Pat Fallon, COO of Byrne Equipment Rental, one of the largest plant and equipment rental companies in the Middle East, said: “Byrne have been providing rental equipment to the Gulf News Fun Drive since its inception, and have been a Support Sponsor of the event for the last 15 years. As a fun event for the whole family, Byrne is delighted to be involved and to showcase our wide range of event equipment which includes power generation, lighting, food and beverage counters, and portaloos and showers.”

The brand is often associated with some of the top motor-related events in the UAE like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Many other companies that operate in the automotive sector are naturally attracted to the Gulf News Fun Drive because of its appeal among off-roading and car enthusiasts.

International Automobile and Touring Club, UAE (IATC), have been sponsoring the Gulf News Fun Drive since it started and Hamad Ali Al Mazroui, Managing Director and Founder, said: “We are from the desert and the Fun Drive gives us an opportunity to show the drivers how to safely drive in the desert and also teach them how to get out of the sand if their car is stuck.”

TORC, distributors of performance aftermarket parts, spoke about how the event brought like-minded people together.

“We have been part of the Fun Drive for four years, we enjoy the outdoors what better way to meet like-minded people at this great event. It is a good place for people to see what we do in enhancing off-road vehicles so you can enjoy the drive to the maximum,” Navin Jacob, Operations Manager at TORC, said.

The company plans to display different parts and accessories for off-road vehicles and camping accessories at the event this year.

Fly Audio is a Support Sponsor at the Fun Drive. They are a company that offers navigating systems and audio devices for vehicles. They, too, aim to target participants who would be interested in the wide range of products they offer for four wheel vehicles.

Their team will be displaying their products at the camp and handing away goodie bags and giveaways, according to Sahibzada Mohammad Suliman, Sales Manager.

Flow Composite Manufacturing FZC, one of the event’s Support Sponsors are also aiming to interact with vehicle enthusiasts. They have been participating in the Fun Drive for two consecutive years.

“At Flow Composite, one of our core focus is to locally manufacture aftermarket composite products like fibre glass and carbon fibre for the automotive industry. We believe that the Gulf News Fun Drive is one of the best organised outdoor events for off-road enthusiasts in the UAE,” said Pradish Thomas, Managing Partner.

Their team believes that the event brings together groups of people who are interested in vehicle enhancement and that will help the brand’s growth.

“The key reason to sponsor this event is because we are able to connect directly with the end users of our products. This platform not only helps us to promote our brand but also helps to further improvise on our product designs and quality through direct feedback from the participants,” added Thomas.

Haven for thrill-seekers

Travel company, Orient Travel and Tours, has been a sponsoring the Gulf News Fun Drive for the last five years.

Divyesh Kumar, the senior manager of business development at Orient, spoke about how it was important for his organisation to be part of an event like the Fun Drive as they were in the tourism business.

“The key reason to sponsor the Gulf News Fun Drive is the long association with Gulf News and the readers who make this a big success year by year. Also, many of our regular customers participate as they like to see us there,” he said.

Being a checkpoint sponsor, they plan to distribute giveaways at the checkpoints and they have also organized games at the camp for the participants.

Another brand that said that the thrill-inducing event fell in line with their image was Jansport.

Arnab Sengupta, COO, spoke about how this was the first time his organisation was sponsoring the event. He added: “We find the event a perfect fit in terms of the youth audience and the outdoor adventure feel for Jansport, a personal luggage brand that we market in the UAE. The Gulf News Fun Drive is a great representation of what the Jansport brand espouses – to be at the cusp of activities that are fun, expressive, adventurous and social. Like the ‘lifetime guarantee’ that comes with Jansport, we see a perennial supply of stories and memories built for our consumers who participate in the event and engage with the brand.”

Participants in need of some emergency camping supplies will have some much-needed help through Jansport’s stalls at the start line and the campsite at night.

Savouring memories

While the Fun Drive lasts for two days, the memories remain for a lot longer. With every moment captured on the omnipresent mobile phones, device memory can be a game-changer. Khwaja Saifuddin Ahmad, Senior Director at SanDisk, spoke about how his personal involvement as a participant led to a corporate sponsorship.

“As a participant I have been a part of Gulf News Fun drive since 2000. There is no other activity in the region which comes close to the fun-filled adrenal rush, which was the main reason for us to partner with Gulf News as one of the sponsors,” he said.

Speaking about the activities planned by the brand at the event, Ahmad said: “Being the World’s largest digital storage company, our activities will be around capturing and sharing the experience through the route, with very interesting prizes for the winners which will be announced at the campsite.”

Most important meal of the day

Breakfast is a big part of the Gulf News Fun Drive and Mafraq Hotels, the caterers, spoke about their association with the event.

“Mafraq Hotel has been successfully catering the event since 2012, whenever it is done in Abu Dhabi. It is one of the major events that we are always looking forward to participating in. The excitement, fun, the crowd and the desert experience have given us a sense of locality,” Maher Akwan, Executive Chef, told Gulf News.

Bringing food to hundreds of people in the middle of the desert is no mean task, but Akwan felt that the location of the Fun Drive helped to highlight the hotel’s location as well.

“One of the uniqueness of the Mafraq Hotel is the location, being in the outskirt of the city, midway from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and on the road towards Saudi Arabia, which is suitable for travelers. We are confident to sponsor the event, with our facilities, capacity and a proven track record of the previous year’s success,” he added.

The hotel plans to have live cooking stations serving fresh items, and hot and cold buffet placed in five areas for easy accessibility to all.

Another hospitality outlet closely associated with the Gulf News event is JA Resorts and Hotels, who have been catering at the event for five consecutive years.

Praveen Thomas, the Cluster Executive Chef, said: “It is a privilege for us to cater at one of the most sought-after off-road events in the country, as we have a vast experience in catering for large scale events in offsite venues.”

The catering partner plans to have a live barbecue station as well as a massive cake that is two by three metres, which will be custom designed to portray the Moreeb Dune which is the tallest dune in the UAE.

Large crowd

One of the challenges that arise when organising an extensive event of this sort is to cater to a large number of people at once. Al Jazira Poultry Farm, one of the Checkpoint Sponsors for this edition of the Fun Drive will be doing just that.

“The participants will be greeted with a breakfast made from Fresh Golden Eggs, we will also be distributing hard boiled eggs at our the checkpoints,” said Kunjal Shariffi, Marketing Manager.

Their contribution doesn’t end there however. “We have some fun drawing activities for children at the campsite and we will end the event on Saturday with a special breakfast recipe created exclusively for Golden Eggs by the talented Chef Praveen Thomas of Jebel Ali Resorts,” Shariffi added.

It is going to be the brand’s first time participating in the Gulf News Fun Drive.

The event does not only call for food but a large crowd, off-roading in the desert also needs water. Emirates Bottled Drinking Water is one of the Support Sponsors at the event. They have been part of it for five years now.

At the event they will be providing participants with water and giving out flyers with discounts.

Vehicle numbers

Amity University Dubai will be providing the Fun Drive vehicle numbers. They first started participating in the event five years ago.

“It has become a yearly event that we look forward to. The spirit of the drivers and team effort that goes into the organisation of the event is commendable, we are glad to be a part of this by being Gulf News’ number sponsor this year,” said Vajahat Hussain, CEO of Amity Education Middle East.

The event’s structure, according to Hussain, reflects the principle the university believes in. He said: “As an organisation that also functions as a large team consisting of students, faculty and staff from schools around the UAE and Amity University Dubai, the Fun Drive brings our teams together for two days and a sense of unity is created through the event.”