1000HP 4WD

DUNE RAIDERS

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Ain’t it strange how you fall into stuff some­times, and ner­vously chuckle your way through only to come out the other side and think, “Wow, that was mad­ness — got to do that again …” Well back in Jan­uary, it hap­pened while I was in Qatar. Hav­ing been to a beer con­fer­ence in Dublin (yeah I know, large cliché go­ing there), my trip home just hap­pened to co­in­cide with some soft, sandy heaven in the Mid­dle East.

The op­por­tu­nity for a stopover in the dunes arose when I dis­cov­ered AirBnB would al­low cheap ac­com­mo­da­tion in an area of our world nor­mally re­served for $500 rooms. A ran­dom com­ment to my AirBnB host linked me with a 10-year vet­eran of the dunes, and a bunch of world-stan­dard drag rac­ing at a fa­cil­ity which makes Mere­mere look like a goat track.

I had noth­ing more than an ex­pec­ta­tion of a leisurely drive into the desert, lit­tle did I know Thurs­days begin the Arab world’s week­end, so ev­ery man and his cat was out bash­ing around. And we’re not talk­ing a ca­sual 50kph wal­low in the sand here, as soon as we hit the dunes our speedo went to 140 while watch­ing many, many other bash­ers sprint by as if we were stand­ing still. It was about this time our driver, aptly named Ji­had, turned and asked, “Do you scare eas­ily?” I have a pen­chant for gig­gling like a school­girl when things get a bit hairy, so through my laugh­ter the an­swer was, “No, get on with it, this looks like fun.” With that, we plum­meted over what felt like a 50-me­tre cliff face … It was prob­a­bly 70 de­grees, but for a first ef­fort I soon re­al­ized this was go­ing to be more than a leisurely tourist drive in a Nis­san Pa­trol. I never ac­tu­ally asked Ji­had if he’d done any work to his 4x4, but my in­stinct says it was fairly warm.

The area we vis­ited is near Doha’s Sealine Beach Re­sort not far from the bor­der with Saudi Ara­bia. This south-eastern cor­ner of Qatar is cer­tainly an adventure play­ground for lo­cals, and kilo­me­tres of quad, jeep, buggy and even camel rides greet you while dunes ap­proach in the dis­tance. Af­ter a quick stop for a cup of mint tea and to take pics of camels while tyre pres­sures were dropped to a lowly 10psi, and we were off leav­ing a wake of sand be­hind us.

Half an hour of rim rid­ing and div­ing over the edge when least ex­pect­ing it had the chuck­les flow­ing thick and fast. Some of the ac­tion was most cer­tainly YouTube­wor­thy. Do your­self a favour and search out “Qatar sand dune bash­ing,” that should give you an in­di­ca­tor of the fun we had.

As the sun be­gan to drop, a ca­sual com­ment from Ji­had about Fri­day be­ing race day didn’t go un­no­ticed.

Sur­pris­ingly, in among what ap­pear to be nev­erend­ing moun­tains of sand, Qatar has an area that sits be­low sea level, and when the tide rises so too do in­land seas. At low tide, how­ever, the flat beds be­come the quick­est cor­ri­dors for travel, as I found out en route to our Fri­day des­ti­na­tion. It struck me while do­ing 140kph, slid­ing side­ways through traf­fic, that those mad Arab drift­ing videos we se­cretly ad­mire are a lit­tle more prac­ticed than you might re­al­ize. With a solid 45-de­gree an­gle of attack, the lo­cals all ap­pear to main­tain com­po­sure as they toss the wheel, change mu­sic on the iPod, light a cig­a­rette and hold a con­ver­sa­tion at the same time, never even look­ing as if sweat could bead on their fore­heads.

I hadn’t a hint of what to ex­pect, but in what seemed like no time, we ap­proached a vir­tual herd of ma­chines gath­ered in a dune val­ley. Drop­ping over an­other nearver­ti­cal sandbank to be greeted by 1000 off-road­ers was not some­thing you’ll for­get any time soon. Sure the dunes had plenty of traf­fic, but this gath­er­ing was a mind blower. And all were parked as if they had ar­rived for a drive-in movie.

Once again the gig­gling be­gan as 4x4 af­ter dune buggy af­ter glo­ri­fied golf cart af­ter daily-driven work ute ploughed head­long at a dune eas­ily 100 me­tres high. To this day I still don’t un­der­stand the com­pe­ti­tion, but it ap­peared that he who rode the rim (or close to it) for the long­est time went home with the largest dune cred.

Most com­peti­tors were run­ning harshly-boosted sixes, with the oc­ca­sional LSX do­ing duty across the face of the dunes. Lim­iters and waste­gates were abused most of the time, with any­thing from two to six oc­cu­pants all laugh­ing their way across the sand. Roll cages are at a min­i­mum, and the spec­ta­cle of a side­ways drift at 70 de­grees with a 10-me­tre sandy rooster tail in its wake is some­thing you have to ex­pe­ri­ence in the flesh.

As night fell, so too did the mad­ness that is Qatar dune bash­ing. A pro­ces­sion of four-wheel drives headed for Doha, or one of many en­camp­ments in the dunes. And yes, I was still gig­gling as we weaved our way through the lu­nacy of Arab mo­tor­way traf­fic.

Strangely enough, af­ter a day out in the sand I came to re­al­ize there was method in the ap­par­ent ran­dom­ness of the driv­ing. Yes, it ap­pears to be chaos at all times, yet when ev­ery­one drives in the same man­ner it be­comes nor­mal.

The next day Qatar Rac­ing Club hosted its an­nual In­ter­na­tional ADRL drag-rac­ing se­ries, with rac­ers from Amer­ica, Canada and Europe all striv­ing for victory over Arab State en­tries out of Qatar, UAE, Saudi Ara­bia, Kuwait and Bahrain. That’s at least eight na­tions meet­ing in the one spot, NHRA could never boast that much di­ver­sity in its cham­pi­onship.

Rac­ing was dom­i­nated by the Pro Mod­i­fied ni­trouss­nort­ing 15-litre doorslam­mers, while the Im­port ranks were dom­i­nated by 2JZs. The Arabs have man­aged to trans­plant them into ev­ery­thing from GT-Rs to Dat­sun 240Zs, and even down to KE70 coupés and Amer­i­can fox­body Mus­tangs. And they’re fast — with the quick­est team over the day be­ing the Get Boost R32 of Mo­hammed Haji, from Bahrain. His back-halfed Sky­line went as quick as 4.45 at 171.96mph (276.7kph) in the eighth mile. That equates to 6.85 in the quar­ter mile. And this from a home­brewed com­bi­na­tion based out of a bud­get-con­strained op­er­a­tion.

A solid 25 en­tries con­tested the ADRL se­ries, and they’re just like Ki­wis when it comes to their ad­dic­tion to rac­ing. A Kuwait-based team blew the plenum in their last pass late on Fri­day night, so packed their car up, towed it 700km, fixed the prob­lem and drove back for the next day’s rac­ing. There’s no fly­ing in parts in this par­tic­u­lar di­vi­sion of rac­ing, they’re all do­ing their own thing, and com­ing up trumps while do­ing so.

The fa­cil­i­ties at QRC are built to NHRA spec­i­fi­ca­tions, and they even fly in Amer­i­can track prep and op­er­a­tions teams to en­sure the best pos­si­ble groom­ing of the fa­cil­i­ties. En­try is free for spec­ta­tors, and if you’re lucky enough to score VIP passes, then golduphol­stered Laz­i­boy-es­que thrones are your grand­stand seat­ing for the night’s ac­tiv­i­ties. Down the bot­tom end of QRC there is full garag­ing for com­peti­tors, and the world-renowned Al An­abi team has com­plete work­shop fa­cil­i­ties headed by Aus­tralian Ivan Pavlovic and a team of Amer­i­cans. Their head­quar­ters is a lolly scram­ble of ex­ot­ica, with ev­ery­thing from a Jun-pre­pared 350Z to 322kph Nis­san Pa­trols hid­den in the depths of a rugby field–sized ware­house.

Work­ing closely with the Qatar royal fam­ily to draw sus­pect ac­tiv­i­ties off the streets, QRC also hosts a full drift­ing arena down the bot­tom end of the track. I didn’t catch any of the ac­tion un­for­tu­nately, but that just gives me an­other ex­cuse to go back. Then there’s the Qatar mile land-speed rac­ing, along with plenty of sand drag rac­ing and dune climb­ing, as well as an ex­otic-car grave­yard ru­moured to mea­sure five square kilo­me­tres just out­side of Doha. Add th­ese and a cou­ple of crazy car mu­se­ums to the list … did I say I am go­ing back? Too right I am!

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