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Marshals take a test drive through the Gulf News Fun Drive route in Tilal Shwaihan on February 3, 2024 Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Over 65 marshals took on a ‘Marshal’s Drive’ to prepare for the ‘42nd Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive - the Tilal Swaihan Experience’ that will be held on the coming weekend (February 10 and 11).

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A ‘breakfast meet’ at the ballroom of Metropolitan Mafraq Hotel was led by none other than John Spiller, Route Director of the Gulf News Fun Drive, who kick started the day-long event to prepare the marshals on the route and general rules on handling participants with care.

Image Credit: Gulf News

“This year the route is similar yet different from last year. There is something for beginners and seasoned off-roaders,” Spiller explained to the marshals gathered for the day-long drive along the Fun Drive route.

The number of marshals to be present on the day of the event is expected to be even higher. According to Muhammad Sarvar, Deputy Route Director of the Gulf News Fun Drive, as a rule, there are 10 marshals who take care of 100 cars. “For the main Drive we will have over 80 marshals on duty,” he said.

Spiller took the occasion of the breakfast meet to brief the marshals on the general rules to be followed on the Drive, including waking up early and arriving on time for the massive off-roading event.

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Breakfast before the briefing Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

He laid down a plan for marshals to spread out on the route to ensure there will be enough help for participants long the Fun Drive.

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Marshals being briefed on the Fun Drive 2024 Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Something for everyone

Spiller said the 142km-ride promises something for everyone. “There are enough escape routes to the main route if anyone wants to leave the Drive and get back to the camp. That is why Tilal Al Swaihan is so interesting and one of the best locations to host a massive off-roading event like this.”

For Sarvar, Tilal Swaihan is a great off-roading location for it is home to some incredibly massive sand dunes. “This means off-roaders have enough and more to play around with. But what is more beautiful about the location is its convenience to the off-roader,” he said.

“There is challenge to all levels of drivers and that is the whole essence of the Gulf News Fun Drive. Yet it is not very scary for the newbies. This year we have added an extra fun section where seasoned off-roaders can indulge in some thrilling rides.”

Mitch Pereira, Head of Control Room for the Fun Drive, will be manning the marshals on duty on the big day. “Along with my team we will be at the ‘control station’ overseeing marshals and communication from participants. The idea is to ensure a seamless exchange of communication between participants and marshals,” he said.

“A good amount of planning and strategy therefore goes behind in organising an event of this scale.”

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Pereira next to a TANK by GWM Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Exploring the route

On Saturday Gulf News headed out with the team of marshals and route directors to explore the new route designed for this year’s Fun Drive. The thrilling moments begin with some inviting sand dunes. But they are not as big in comparison with the lofty dunes you meet along the way. The route promises pretty views and picture opportunities of the sand, the dunes, camels along the way and the spellbinding desert landscape.

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There's never a dull moment along the scenic route Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Spiller and Sarvar have stuck to the adage ‘Save the best for the last’. For indeed it is in the end, the adrenaline junkies can quench their thirst for more and spend a good amount time tackling some lofty dunes before making their way to the camp.

Marclino Fernandes, chief operating officer of Gulf News and an avid off-roader in Dubai, said this year like every year will be an even better edition of the Fun Drive. “I have been part of this event even before I joined Gulf News. I have never missed an edition. What I love about Tilal Swaihan is the ease it offers to beginners in off-roading. For those who are in the mood for extra challenges, they have the escape routes to take and easily get on the road. And for the experienced drivers, there is plenty in offer,” he said.

Zeus Azusa Shiraki, a lady marshal on the sweep team of Gulf News Fun Drive said there will be enough help for participants with a good number of marshals on duty. “Being part of the sweep team, my job will be to ensure no one is left behind and all participants head back to the camp safely,” she added.

Main sponsor

GWM, an exclusive partner of Al Naboodah Group since 2003, is the automotive sponsor of the 42nd Gulf News Fun Drive.

Checkpoint sponsors for the event include the exclusive Automotive Sponsor, GWM Tank - Al Naboodah, and Castrol Magnatec, which serves as the exclusive lubricant sponsor. Additionally, Dobinsons Springs & Suspension Trading LLC, Al Jazira Poultry Farms LLC, TORC – The Off Road Company, and Yokohama Geolandar, the official tire for the event, are among the checkpoint sponsors.

Other support sponsors comprise Karcher, Xbox, Byrne, Steigens, and Tornado Watches and Almarai.

Capital Hospitality is responsible for catering the Fun Drive, while the Iranian Hospital is the medical partner. Recovery operations are being handled by IATC – the International Automobile and Touring Club of UAE. Al Ain Water is the official water sponsor, and Quanta is the ice cream sponsor.