The 2021 FIA Formula 1 season will go down in history as one of the best-ever seasons and we had no idea we’d be traveling to one of the most anticipated season finales when we first started planning the trip to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. We had been planning this trip for months and planning a trip several months in advance in our new COVID-19 world is not easy. The entry requirements kept changing and countries were added and removed from the UAE’s ‘red list’. This posed a particular challenge for our friends in Nigeria who at one stage, did not even have direct flights to Dubai. Indeed, covid-19 restrictions and red tape were the banes of our lives throughout this trip.
On the Wednesday before the race, I took the overnight British Airways flight from Heathrow to Dubai and while the flight on the Airbus A350 itself was pleasant enough, I’m still aghast at the number of people who STILL do not take mask-wearing seriously enough. I think it is a form of madness.
We landed on time on Thursday morning, cleared immigration and the covid checks before retrieving our bags. There were quite a few of the boys on the flight and we proceeded out of the airport to jump into taxis to our respective hotels. I’d be staying in the Hilton Dubai Jumeirah, chosen for its location on Jumeirah’s popular beach and its easy access to Dubai’s excellent motorway network.
The rest of Thursday was spent relaxing and exploring our surroundings with my trusty Canon 5D MKIV.
I think it is a form of madness
There is no doubt about it: Dubai is one of the most Supercar-obsessed cities on the planet and this has been confirmed by some social media research I stumbled across. Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Mclarens, Maseratis, Bentleys, and Rolls Royce. Any car that can be classed as a ‘supercar’ or a ‘super sports car’ was present and correct in the first FIVE minutes of my first walk in Dubai.
And that is not all, the Supercar rental industry must be among the busiest anywhere in the world. Supercar rental companies everywhere and get this, you can rent anything from a Porsche to a Bugatti Veyron. It all depends on the depth of your pocket.
I also love the Emiratis’ attitude towards owning and driving a Supercar. There is none of the guilt and hand-wringing associated with Supercars in Europe and you do not feel you have to apologise every two minutes to the environment and the killjoys.
In Dubai, loud exhausts are the order of the day and they celebrate their Supercars with an almost child-like innocence.
Good on them.
Friday. When you are in Dubai, you need to act appropriately and drive appropriate cars. So I’d arranged for some Supercars to be delivered to our hotel. The original list included a Lamborghini Huracan, a Ferrari 488, TWO Audi R8s, and a number of Porsche 911s. Covid issues meant this list was whittled down to only four cars. It should have been five, but we lost the Lambo as it was delivered. Don’t ask. Sigh.
The Best Road to Nowhere
We all came to the UAE primarily to watch the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the final race of an epic Formula 1 season, but there was another reason I flew all the way to the UAE and that is the Jebel Jais mountain road, the best road you have never heard of.
Jebel Jais is a mountain of the North-Western Hajar range in the Musandam Governorate of Oman and also in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. The real summit is in Oman at a height of 1,934m. The highest part of the mountain in the UAE, and the highest peak in the UAE lies at 1,892m above sea level. The road basically ends at the border with Oman.
The Jebel Jais mountain road is only 170km (NE) away from Dubai or a little over 2 hours if you drive as the authorities expect you to, or well under 2 hours if you drive like some of the Emiratis do. The route is via the Emirates road and the E611, and both of these motorways are wide and smooth and they tempt you into ever-higher speeds, but beware, the first 140km is littered with speed cameras according to Waze. Not all these cameras are functional though and the Emiratis know which ones are functional and which ones are not, so we used them as our speed camera detectors. When the Emiratis blast through, we follow, when they back off, we back off.
The temptation to speed proved too much for the driver of the Corvette and he let rip once and was duly flashed by several speed cameras. Chastened, he soon fell back into our ‘follow the Emiratis’ pace.
Follow the Emiratis
Stuck In The Sand
We arrived at Ras Al Khaimah in the late afternoon. Delays with the delivery of our rental cars meant we left Dubai much, much later than was ideal. And we were about to be delayed even further. Our Boxster somehow got beached by the side of the road at the foot of the mountain. I will not explain how he managed this amazing feat, ‘what happens in Dubai, stays in Dubai’ and all that, but it would take nearly two hours, three full-size off-roaders, half a dozen Emiratis, and THREE tow ropes to free him. Boxster freed, we proceed to tackle 30km of the best mountain road you will find anywhere, wrongly thinking that the day’s drama was over.
The road was busier than was ideal for a truly fast drive, but we gave it a go, aided by two wide lanes going up, but only one lane going down. The landscape is truly spectacular and looks like what the Mars landscape must look like. The setting sun cast an orange glow on it further increasing the eerie ‘Mars effect’.
It was time to see what this R8 Spyder what this car could do, I put everything in sports mode, pulled the left-hand paddle twice, bang! bang! pulled out to overtake the car in front and felt the car start to slip sideways, nothing major, but enough to warn me. I pulled back into my lane (the lower section of the road had only one lane in each direction) third, BANG! fourth, BANG! then just before the first undulating, tight, right-hander, I braked, hard, but there was nothing….nothing for a brief moment and then after what felt like an eternity, I felt the pulse of the ABS as the front tyres miraculously found some grip after running very, very wide…
On we went, climbing higher and higher, dodging through the late afternoon traffic, my car, a RWD version of the venerable Audi R8 V10 Spyder proved to be a fun and confidence-inspiring machine. I was oversteering from one bend to the next and not once did the car throw up any nasty surprises. Yes, it is no GT3 RS, but if I did not have a GT3 RS back in London, I’d have thought I’d discovered the last word in handling. The engine is a peach and I’m not sure how the exhaust on this particular example is legal. Loud, creamy-smooth, and backfiring on the overrun…
The brakes were also a joy to use, progressive, with lots of stopping power and feel. They were still no match for my GT3 RS’ brakes though. Damn! I’m doing it again, comparing this lovely car to the one I left in its garage 5,500km away, but I just cannot help it. Almost every car falls short when your yardstick is the great Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
This R8 Spyder does have an one major flaw though; you cannot get a good seating position in it if you are over 5′ 6″ tall. The seat does not go back far enough and is set far too high. Criminal.
Almost every car falls short when your yardstick is the great Porsche 911 GT3 RS
I tried to forget about my RS and concentrate on this car and this incredible road, a road that has every type of corner and offers up a sweet challenge for the keen driver. The road will also ruthlesslessly expose a car’s shortcomings as the driver of our Chevrolet Corvette C8 Stingray found out in a right-left-right sweeper section. The car seems to be unsettled by a succession of direction changes. The R8 made up a lot of ground on him through these sections.
We reached the summit just as darkness fell and parked up to survey the darkened mountaintop, the cars ticking as they cooled as we watched the last orange remnants of the setting sun disappear below the horizon. I’m glad I came, moments like this are to be treasured, especially after the year we’ve had.
The place has changed since I lost drove it in 2017. It has become a tourist hotspot, so if you are going to tackle this epic mountain road, please do so as the sun rises to avoid the tourist traffic.
What were you guys doing? Were you drifting?
We made our way back down the mountain in almost complete darkness, the road is not lit for the most part, and began what we thought would be an uneventful motorway blast back to Dubai, and it was uneventful for 120km…
Half an hour or so from Dubai, I saw the flashing lights of the 911 in my rearview mirror and got a call from its driver. The Corvette and the Boxster had disappeared.
We pulled up at the next service area to make contact with the drivers of both cars and it turns out the Boxster had suffered a blown tyre and the Corvette had stayed with it. Phew! Everyone was safe.
We stuffed our faces with some UAE Mcdonald’s while we waited for the Boxster to be recovered. The Supercar rental company had sprung into action and were on the scene shortly to meet the recovered car and make arrangements for a replacement vehicle.
The agent who had delivered two of these cars earlier was inspecting the Boxster on the recovery truck and he asked us, somewhat incredulously: “What were you guys doing? Were you drifting?”
As I said earlier: “What happens in Dubai, stays in Dubai”.
Audi R8 V10 Spyder RWD.
Engine: 5.2L V10
Power/Torque: 532 hp @ 7,800 rpm/540NM
Performance: 0-60mph 3.2 seconds
Top speed: 198mph
Porsche 911 (992) Targa 4S.
Engine: 3.0 L twin-turbo flat-six
Performance: 0-62mph 3.6 seconds
Top speed: 189mph
Chevrolet Corvette C8 Stingray.
Engine:6.2 L V8
Power/Torque:495bhp/470 lb-ft of torque
Performance: 0-60mph 2.9 seconds
Top speed: 194 mph
Porsche 718 Boxster GTS.
Engine: 4.0-litre 6cyl petrol
Performance: 0-62mph 4.5 seconds.
Top speed: 182mph