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Final preparations at the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive camp in the desert. Hundreds of partcipants are expected to converge here this weekend. Image Credit: Puneet Bajaj/Gulf News

Dubai: It’s happening, finally, this weekend. The route is set.

Marshals have done their final checks. Information packs containing off-road tips and practical reminders have been distributed.

Everyone is excited about their desert experience with family and friends in Al Ain’s Tilal Swaihan region where the overnighter camp is set.

Hundreds of participants in their 4x4 vehicles are off to conquer the undulating dunes of the UAE, on the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive — dubbed the “Tilal Swaihan Experience”.

Not a race

As the name suggests, Fun Drive is not a rally or a race, but a family-oriented desert drive without any compromises on the health and well-being of participants as well as those organising the event.

This is the 41st edition of the popular Fun Drive, which manifests Gulf News’ lead in hosting a leisure-filled off-road event for the community.

Desert destination

This is the third time the off-road event is being held at Tilal Swaihan, approximately 70 kms from Al Ain.

The area is a tourist destination and recreational campsite that blends local resources and UAE’s rich culture with world-class amenities and attractions.

Route director John Spiller explained that the drive will take Fun Drive participants enthusiasts through the country’s post picturesue desert spots in a “loop” form.

“This means we start and end at the same point. It is a very practical route map in terms of catering and those who want to leave their families behind at camp site.”

Fun, adventure

He said the route this year promises both fun and adventure for the participants – whether those venturing on their own for the first time – or the more experienced regulars.

In terms of practical safety measures, Spiller explained: “The escape roads are just two kilometres away and so it is very manageable.”

Marshals on duty at the Fun Drive have prepped and done their route review.

This year, the group of marshals include six women who will be in full force to help distressed off-roaders, if any, through the day.

Perfect location

Over the years, the Gulf News Fun Drive has become a brand in itself for community entertainment that keeps growing year after year. With more participants willing to join the two-day event to enjoy the beautiful UAE outdoor experience, I call on all participants to enjoy and make the best out of the Fun Drive this year.

- Abdul Hamid Ahmed, CEO, Editor-in-Chief & Executive Director Publications, Gulf News

Abdul Hamid Ahmed, CEO, Editor-in-Chief & Executive Director Publications, Gulf News, said: “We are happy that the Gulf News Fun Drive is happening in Tilal Swaihan for the second year in a row. Tilal Swaihan is a perfect location as the facilities, desert dunes and nature all work together so well to provide a very successful venue for the Fun Drive.

“Adding to this, I acknowledge the support from our sponsors mainly ADNEC, Al Masaood Automobiles, Al Ain City Municipality and the rest of our sponsors who have contributed to make the Fun Drive their own event.”

“Over the years, the Gulf News Fun Drive has become a brand in itself for community entertainment that keeps growing year after year. With more participants willing to join the two-day event to enjoy the beautiful UAE outdoor experience, I call on all participants to enjoy and make the best out of the Fun Drive this year,” said the Gulf News EIC.

Long to-do list

Naheed Patel, Gulf News’ Promotions Manager who has been organising the Fun Drive event since its initial conception said: “Another day to go, another night with very little sleep. There is a long list of things to do. And it will all be over at 10.30 am on Sunday when the last participant goes home.

"The core team at Gulf News will then sit and discuss the highlights, the special moments of the event. This has been a routine every year since the Drive began. This year will be no different.”

Cherishing old memories

Patel said every year, the Fun Drive leaves behind special moments to savour. Some, however, stand out.

“Like this one time, there was a huge petrol tanker that got stuck and needed to be towed out by gigantic machines. It didn’t help that someone in his wisdom arranged for trucks of water to soak up the ground to an extent that the tanker got jammed even more!”

Another fond memory etched with Patel: “There was a time when a participant came to a halt at a dusty checkpoint to ask me the name of the perfume I was wearing!”

She said as far as this year is concerned, there are a few innovations on this edition. Patel reminded participants to go through the mails that are being sent out and act upon the requirements specified.

Evening camp

“The evening camp will have many activities together with mouthwatering hot palate ticklers, on the chilly night,” said Patel.

Naresh Bhaya, Director – Finance at Gulf News, and who has been a marshal at several Gulf News Fun Drives, recalled how technology has changed the face of the annual event.

“I have been part of the Fun Drive since when its conceptualisation. Initially, I used to take part as a participant. Later I became a marshal,” recalled Bhaya.

He said: “The initial years of 1986, 1987 when we first started the Fun Drive, we had just 75 to 80 cars. We used to start from Jebel Ali Hotel. Pepsi was the only landmark those days. We would end up in Hatta all the time. The drive was scenic and we would drive through wadis where we could see water flowing by the side. It was a beautiful drive.”

Security, safety

One of the most important features of each drive has been the security and safety.

“We had ambulances available. Doctors would drive along the route back in the days to secure the safety and security of all participants. The ambulance is available.

“There was a time where one of the boys raised a panic button that he had been bitten by a scorpion. I picked him up and put him in my car and drove him to a point where a medical helicopter picked him up.”

From diagrams to SatNav

Bhaya said the Gulf News Fun Drive has evolved with time. “When we first started, we drew the route map as a Tulip diagram.”

“Tulip diagrmas or ball-and-arrow instructions, are simple diagrams of the route junctions with the ball indicating where you come from and the arrow indicating where you are going to.

“They are given in order. Today we have advanced navigation app and trackers to ensure participants are not lost.”

Serious passion

Filipino marshal on duty at the Gulf News Fun Drive, Laila Estrella Taha, is all set for the 41st Gulf News Fun Drive.

“I have been off-roading since 2014. It used to be hobby. Now it is more than just a hobby — it is a serious passion.”

Taha said she is ready.

“My car is fully equipped with all the safety gear, first aid, and other important tools. It has been serviced and checked. I wish for all participants to have fun, stay safe and enjoy the Gulf News Fun Drive.”

Check list

First-time Fun Drive marshal Thilini N.K. Wadugodapitiya has prepared a check list of some must haves for participants to carry in their vehicles.

“A tyre pressure gauge, deflator, spare tyre are some must haves for participants. I would also advise one to get an air compressor, flag, shovel out as well.”

An experienced off-roader, Wadugodapitiya said participants must ensure their car fluids are checked and topped up.

“Make sure your car is serviced before the drive and check for any technical faults. Participants can do visual checks of their tyres to see there are no cracks on the side walls. They must fill up their fuel tanks before they head out. Deflate the tyres to 15 psi as recommended,” she said.

How the day will pan out

As always, participants are in for off-roading thrills in the pristine endless sands, coupled with entertainment and sumptuous dining at the camp site.

Flag off

Flag off is expected at 8.30am, after a hearty breakfast. It will be a loop, meaning the convoy will start and end at Tilal Swaihan, in one overall location, but with different activity areas.

There will be various check point areas, where participants can take a rest, check their cars and take selfies or groupies, with the vast sand dunes in the background.

After a day tackling the dunes, participants will then enjoy a night of festivities and dining. They will rest in their respective tents, under the cool winter sky.

The following morning, they will wake up to a golden morning, surrounded by dunes. A hearty breakfast awaits before they return to their homes, with loads of memories to share.

Support of partners
The Tilal Swaihan Experience sponsors include Al Masaood Automobiles, as the main sponsor.

The checkpoint sponsors are Castrol Magnatec, Dobinsons, Amaron, Denim, Al Jazira Poultry Farms LLC and Yokohama Geolandar.

Support sponsors include Al Ain Water, Halwani Bros, Hayatna, Reef, Ciel Events, Ahmad Tea, Mother’s Recipe, Byrne, Plastica, Jansport, X-Box.

Vehicle numbers are by Sukoon Insurance. The official tyre sponsor is Yokohama, the official battery is Amaron. Castrol Magnatec is the official lubricant. Capital Catering and Services are the official caterers and Iranian Hospital is the medical partner.