Call of the desert. John Spiller (above), the route director, says the fun drive will appeal to seasoned off-roaders as well as beginners Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/XPRESS

Dubai The 35th Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive - to be held on January 15 and 16 - will be an experience like never before, new route director John Spiller has promised.

The 240km off-road extravaganza spanning seven gruelling stages this year will start at Al Fathiya on the Hameem Road and end at the camp located at the foot of the spectacular Moreeb Dune in the Liwa region. Running along the edge of the famed Empty Quarter, it will be a thorough desert route that will pose as much of a challenge to experts as much as it will appeal to beginners, said Spiller. “It does strike a little bit of awe for many only because it’s so isolated. You can be seriously off-road and in the middle of nowhere sometimes, but the flavour of this particular fun drive is that there will be something for everyone,” said the 63-year-old who takes over the mantle for the first time in the event’s 35th year from the now retired and long-time Gulf News Fun Drive route director Jehanbaz ‘Jum’ Ali Khan.

Off-roading experience

“The tricky thing about designing this year’s route was to create one achievable for beginners yet make it demanding enough for experts and I think we have been able to do that over a completely new route and different route as the event returns to the stunning dunes of Liwa after a gap of three years,” added the Welshman from Denbighshire who has been a route director for many other prestigious rallies globally including ‘The Road to Mandalay’ and ‘The Peking to Paris’ motor challenges.

“I always say the toughest stretch is the 200 metres in front of you and it’s true for even this fun drive. No doubt each section gets progressively tougher than the one before, but at the same time more enjoyable too thanks to the beautiful desertscape,” he added, saying an expert could complete all stages inside six hours. “Of course beginners could take eight hours or more and not necessarily finish the stages, but they will certainly enjoy the overall off-roading experience,” said the long-time Dubai resident who first came to the UAE in 1978.

The event which is supported by Al Futtaim Motors-Toyota is held under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Ruler’s Representative in the Western Region.

The response for the event was so overwhelming that entries closed on the very first day.

FUN DRIVE PACKS

Information packs which include the Fun Drive participant number and the manual will be available for collection on these days: 
Gulf News Dubai Office on January 7 and 8 between 9am and 7pm; Gulf News Abu Dhabi Office on January 7 between 9am and 4pm.

Additional passengers can be added until January 8 from 9am to 7pm only. Cancellation of passengers (not vehicles) will also be accepted during this time. After this no passenger will be added and no refund will be made for cancellation.

Participants must submit disclaimers with original signatures of all passengers. Information packs will not be issued unless the disclaimer has been handed in.

Al Futtaim Motors — Toyota are the main sponsors of the event, just as they have been over the last 28 years. Checkpoints are sponsored by Toyota, BF Goodrich, Dubai Duty Free, Orient Travel, Pringles and TOTAL. The Fun Drive numbers are sponsored by Amity University. Support Sponsors include Byrne, De Longhi, Emirates Water, Liwa Hotel, Mentos, Ritz by Danube, Torc and Wildcraft. Catering for the event is by Jebel Ali Resorts & Hotels and Mafraq Hotel. 
Recovery is by IATC. Entertainment is by Ciel Marketing & Events.

The Fun Drive is being held with the support of the Al Gharbia Sports Club and International Automobile Touring Club.