The weather decided to play nice on the day of the 40th edition of the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive held at Tilal Sweihan, Al Ain on March 5 as 700-odd cars descended into the UAE desert with a collective need for adventure.
Around 2,000 participants registered for the latest edition of the drive, showing up as early as 6am to register their names at the on site desk at Tilal Sweihan camp, from where the Fun Drive would commence.
There was a definite buzz, a festive mood at play as cars lined up to get on with the preparations for this exclusive off-roading event.
Like the edition before, this year, the course was designed as a loop — which meant the start and end-point was in the same place — at the sprawling Tilal Sweihan campsite.
John Spiller, route director for the Fun Drive, however added that this time two routes were planned out – one a more adrenaline driven for seasoned drivers and another toned version for enthusiastic newbies.
The Fun Drive this time was a 153km route through the glistening desert sands of Sweihan with Nissan, Al Masaood Automobiles, coming on board as the title sponsor of the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive — the Tilal Sweihan Experience.
Excited participants made their way over to the sprawling breakfast spread provided by Capital Hospitality that started around 8am. While some feasted on their breakfast, others were seen doing last minute checks on their tyre pressure and finding their moments of zen before hitting the open road.
A Malaysian family were equally super excited. Anthony Tan, Celeste Tai, Harvard Tan, Yan Kai Lin, Lucas and Xuan Le were one enthusiastic bunch on the breakfast morning. “It is our first time and the children are super excited about the adventure,” said Celeste.
Marshals manned their posts early, while the recovery crew was ready to roll. As always, the excitement reached a notch higher when Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, fondly referred to as the ‘Rainbow Sheikh’ arrived in his 2.5-metre military vehicle to kick off the proceedings.
Flag-off and ready to roll
Seasoned fun drivers, as well as newbies, made their way to the start line at 9am with the flag off led by Abdul Hamid Ahmed, CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Director Publications, Gulf News, and Humaid Matar Al Dhaheri, CEO of ADNEC.
Sheikh Hamad’s military vehicle was the first car that roared its way to conquer the dunes.
First-time participants Siegrid-Maria Neumann and her husband Heinz-Josef were excited on their journey to tackle the Sweihan sands. Siegrid-Maria was mostly behind the wheel with her husband taking over when she needed a break.
“We were never worried for marshals were always around to help out,” said the German expat.
This year, the check points promised fun and entertainment as well with games lined up for participants. At the Nature Valley activation for example, participants were greeted to some cool music and invited to play a game of archery and have their picture taken.
At every check point, participants were greeted by a group of friendly volunteers who were more than happy to assist drivers and their families along the way.
By 3pm participants started to make their way back to the camp where a lineup of activities were planned, while a DJ manned the decks, setting the mood for the travellers returning from their long journey.
Lebanese expat Ahmad Haffar, 28 was the official MC in action at the Fun Drive and he was entertaining the crowd all the way. Haffar is the voice of Dubai and the voice you hear at Dubai Metro, Dubai Opera and more public places.
As the golden sun set over the desert sands, the night’s entertainment set the mood with a belly dancer, a magician, fire jugglers and more wowing crowds all around.
Indian expat Sapna Walia said she and her husband look forward to the Gulf News Fun Drive every time. “We loved the way it was organised this year. I can see so much planning goes into putting up such a large event. Whether it is the marshals to rescue us from the dunes or the entertainment and food made available on camp site. It is a truly amazing experience for all.”
As participants departed the next day after a breakfast feast, it was with a promise to return next year.
Fun Drive in numbers
2,000 People participated at the Gulf News Fun Drive
700: Number of cars participating
78: Number of Marshals
267: Number of volunteers, including Gulf News staff
4: Sweep Team cars to ensure no man is left behind
100kg: Weight of the celebratory cake served
153km: Route distance of the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive — Tilal Sweihan Experience