A major element of the Gulf News Fun Drive is the route itself which sets the tone for the adventure for all participants registered for the week.
The Tilal Swaihan Experience has returned after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, with this year’s Fun Drive powered by Nissan held on the weekend of March 5-6.
Route director John Spiller was the man behind the scenes who planned the route with the help of his team of marshals.
This year, Spiller and his team decided to go ahead with a balanced plan, which contained enough adrenaline for seasoned pilots, while a second, toned down route was perfect for enthusiastic first-timers.
“Overall, the idea was for everyone to have fun, so we came up with two different routes,” Spiller told Gulf News.
“Everyone was looking forward to getting back on the sand.”
Planning a route that will accommodate around 700 cars takes a bit of finesse, but it’s a genre that Spiller has long dealt with.
“Those who participated in the Fun Drive for the first time had the option of choosing an easier route. The more experienced riders opted for harder terrain, so they could have their fair share of adventure,” he explained.
He added that the optional route was intended to ensure that everyone enjoys the Tilal Swaihan experience without discrimination. “The route looks like [what we mapped] last time, but we’ve introduced a more entertaining option. We wanted people to enjoy their weekend adventure rather than worry about getting stuck in the sand,” he explained.
The course this time was a loop, meaning that the start and finish points were in the same place.
That day, Spiller said there were 78 marshals on duty to help attendees.
“There will always be challenges, but we’ve always handled them in the best possible way – thanks to our 36 years of experience running the Gulf News Fun Drive,” he added.
Spiller said the pandemic has put a pause on people’s plans to go out and have fun. But when the Gulf News Fun Drive was announced, people left their homes and embarked on an outdoor adventure.
Spiller, an experienced event director, route coordinator and race director with a proven track record of working in international motorsport-related events, said that given the slightly different concept drawn up, the event posed additional challenges, but they were quickly overcome with his team of experts.
This team also included Mitch Perera, a senior marshal who led a team of marshals on Fun Drive weekends, who said an initial survey of the place was always done before planning the route.
“Our initial survey ensures the route is clear of any obstacles along the way. The whole idea of the Fun Drive is to stay off-road as much as possible before returning to the black roof,” he added.
Perera said two weeks before the event, Spiller and a few senior marshals went out into the desert to plan the route. “The marshal’s walk took place a week before the event.”
It was only after all these checks and balances that the participants handed over the roadmap.
This year, Spiller said the course had an interesting flavor. “We included games and fun for participants when they met us at checkpoints.”
From gift boxes and music to games and archery, the checkpoints had something interesting to offer along the way. But what the participants brought back with them was a lifetime of memories.