Dubai: Scores of thrill-seekers enjoyed traversing the pristine sands in Al Ain region along a specially-designed 140km off-road adventure route in the ‘41st Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive – the Tilal Swaihan Experience’ on Saturday.
At the Fun Drive camp, participants started checking in to finalise registration of their 4x4 vehicles at the crack of dawn. The formalities at the registration booth were smooth as participants had already pre-registered and health and safety precautions were observed.
The morning was windy and chilly, the mood was warm and the level of excitement high. Before the flag-off, breakfast was served by Capital Catering + Services - the official food partner for the Fun Drive - from as early as 6.30am, with participants making their way to a sumptuous spread.
Some participants made a debut at the Fun Drive while regulars said they returned to the annual event to create more cherished memories with family and friends.
Saibal and his friend Anindya were at the Fun Drive with their sons who will soon join university for higher studies. Daksh (son of Saibal) and Aditya (son of Anindya) said the UAE desert has been part of the Arabian heritage they grew up in. “We can’t wait to tackle the dunes,” Daksh had said before the drive.
Saibal, a regular at Gulf News Fun Drive, said safety was a priority as he tackled the dunes.
Three other friends enjoyed a day and night out in the desert.
Poornima Mehta joined her friends Ravi Gupta and Sanjay Kapoor to spend a fun-filled weekend.
Gupta said he would be revving his four-wheeler to tackle the dunes; Kapoor said the friends decided to do the Fun Drive as they all shared the same passion for off-roaring and adventure.
Marshals had manned their posts early and the recovery crew was ready as well. The excitement got a notch higher as the Al Ain Municipality rolled out their MX7 – Panorama vehicle with a 360-degree camera -- a first of its kind -- at the flag off.
Ahmed Omran Al Ameri, Advisor - Director of Municipal Community Centre, Al Aamerah, said it was the first time that this special Municipality vehicle has been taken to a community event. “This car has been specifically designed to help push tourism in Tilal Al Sweihan. We believe that Gulf News as well has been a major driver of tourism for Tilal Al Swaihan. The Gulf News Fun Drive has put Tilal Al Swaihan on the international map and it was a pleasure for us to bring our vehicle out.”
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Hamed Al Mazroui, Managing Director of International Automobile Touring Club could not agree more.
“The Gulf News Fun Drive attracts people from all over the world. People book tickets to just fly in for the event and leave. Such is the mega presence of this event. We are proud to be associated,” said Mazroui, whose company was responsible for the recovery of any vehicles that got stuck during the event.
Seasoned fun-drivers as well as newcomers made their way to the starting line and the flag off, led by Abdul Hamid Ahmad, CEO, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Director Publications, Gulf News, and Al Ameri.
As route director John Spiller had promised, the route that was designed as a loop (it started and ended at the same place) suited for both first-time and experienced off-roaders. There were nine checkpoints across the given route.
Falguni Joshi, who was at the event with her husband Sameer, said: “We are coming again to the Gulf News Fun Drive after a long time. The last time we did the Drive was in Liwa. It has been very exciting so far. We are camping overnight. It has been a very long time since we did this so we are very excited. There were lots of steep hills. It was a very scenic drive along the way with the pretty dunes.”
Marshals at hand
The desert adventure inevitably sees some cars getting briefly stuck in the sand, but there was never a moment of concern as the marshals were ever-ready to extend all the help needed.
Deputy Route Director Mohammed Saeed Al Shamsi said there were over 90 marshals on duty at the Fun Drive.“Our team overlooked the entire Fun Drive to keep a tab on every participant. We had an app in place to track participants,” he added.
Marshals contacted the team through the app. “We were always aware when a participant was stuck. The tracker app monitored all the cars through all sections and check points. We assisted everyone with their needs and dispatched necessary help via the marshals on route. The team also monitored all checkpoints till everyone returned to the camp site.”
Evening of fun
By 3pm, participants started making their way back to the camp site from the Fun Drive route.
Most of them camped overnight to enjoy the spread of food and entertainment lined up for them.
The evening was entertaining with a belly dancing performance, live music and a massive Fun Drive-themed cake.
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.