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Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive route director John Spiller with the team of marshals ahead of a recce drive on February 4 Image Credit: Anjana Kumar/Gulf News

Dubai: The 41st Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive – the Tilal Swaihan Experience is here.

As the popular off-road adventure beckons on February 11 and 12, route director John Spiller, deputy route director Mohammed Saeed Al Shamsi and project leaders Mitch Perera and Muhammed Sarwar spoke of how the route was decided upon.

“We are doing a loop yet again this year. So we finish where we start. It is very practical in terms of catering and those who want to leave families behind,” said Spiller as the marshals did a recce of the route on February 4.

John Spiller

“The beauty about Tilal Swaihan is that there are so many access roads. So one is never more than 2km away from the escape roads. So it is very manageable. What we have designed is a standard route which everybody is capable of doing. For the more adventurous participants, we have loops off into bigger dunes where they can have some more fun. If it is not for them, they can go back into the easier route. The route caters to everyone’s needs and is intended not to make it difficult or boring,” he added.

What’s new this Fun Drive

Spiller said 70 per cent of the Gulf News Fun Drive route set up is new. “This time, we are exploring newer parts and they sure, are prettier than last year. The drive is going to be more enjoyable.”

He said: “It is amazing how the terrain varies even within a small area. One has to go only 1km differently and one can see heavy dunes or a flat highway. It is very flexible.”

He said safety and control are the key. “Don’t get carried away showing off and giving a bad example. You get newcomers watching the more experienced drivers do crazy things in the dunes and trying to imitate them and there are tears.

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“There is a big difference between just going out to drive in the desert and actually going to drive a route. It is an adventure where one is being taken by someone else. When you are on your own, you tend to find the easy route. But when it is planned out, you have to conform and do what everybody else does.”

Spiller, who took the marshals through the new route for the 41st Gulf News Fun Drive, said,

“The idea is to familiarise the marshals with the new route so they are aware of what is ahead of them on the day of the Fun Drive.”

History of Gulf News Fun Drive

Gulf News came up with the concept of the Fun Drive in 1986 when off-road adventure was a leisure activity.

“The desert was a mystery and not many dared to venture into it. From then to now, the Gulf News Fun Drive has grown from strength to strength inspiring many people to get out of their comfort zone and do some off-road driving with family and friends. I personally did not intend to be a marshal. I was pulled into it very casually. Today, there is no looking back for me as I come every year to marshal the event,” said Sarwar who is project leader at the 41st Gulf News Fun Drive.

Clarke, who has been associated with the Gulf News Fun Drive since 10 years, urged all marshals on duty to lead by example.

“Respect everybody on the drive. For the new marshals on the Fun Drive, I urge them to think before they act. Check tyre pressure for that is one of the main issues of cars getting stuck there.”

He added: “I am really proud to be part of such a large-scale event. The Fun Drive is unique. It is perhaps one of the few events in the world that sees a ‘civilian’ convoy of hundreds of cars. And to keep that record going is surely an achievement.”

Hamed Al Mazrouei, marshal on duty, said: “The Gulf News Fun Drive is a great representation of adventure, camaraderie, communal living. It brings to life the Arabian culture – the beauty of our desert comes to life at the drive. I just want to reassure all participants to keep their checklist in place. Follow our guidelines completely and the marshals have your back.”