Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thirty – ‘til We Run out of Road.

Everything’s gone black.
I’ve panicked.
But I haven’t passed out, though that might have been a blessed relief. With the two tracks before me I couldn’t immediately see where the track was going, so I couldn’t anticipate the movement of the car. Closing my eyes really hasn’t helped (thanks for nothing Obi Wan!) so I open them again.
Breathe. Just breathe.
Soon I’m gasping like an asthmatic at Lamar’s class. It seems to help. The two tracks spread apart and I can see what’s coming next.
Hard left.
Hard right.
UP and down.
I’m mentally addressing the track. “Please don’t spiral. Don’t go upside down, no fancy stuff. We’ve all had a bit of fun here, now let’s just calm down and head smoothly back to the platform”.
Amazingly the track capitulates, and we slow down and pull back in. I’m gasping, I’m drenched in sweat, and there’s a tight band of pain attempting to form in the left side of my chest. I’m afraid that’s 3 for 3 in “me not enjoying roller coasters”, but at least I gave it a shot.
They’ve fixed the F1 simulator and it’s the same as the ones the real drivers use, so I’m looking forward to my go, but another person has thrown up in it. After my distress on the coaster I can understand people having uncontrollable reactions to movement, but it’s a simulator! You’re in control. If you feel woozy, stop and get out!
So Mark and I have to make do with the F430 simulator. It’s a laugh, but you’d have as much fun at home with your mate shaking your chair. (Doesn’t everyone have a force-feedback steering wheel, a ten foot screen and a bucket seat at home these days?)
We’ve done practically everything. They’ve finally opened the vertical slingshot ride, but the queues are ridiculous, so we leave. Right next door is the Yas Marina circuit so we head over to see what we can see. Not much today, but we sign up for a tour on Saturday. Awesome.
Back to the Holiday Inn, and a nice steak at the Vista restaurant next door, with a view of Dubai’s 7 star hotel. Tomorrow we have to be up early to go on a “desert safari”, otherwise known as “dune bashing”. After my experience of the roller coaster I’m worried about being driven off-road by some lunatic. However I’m reading Jenson Button’s book and he says it wasn’t so bad for him, and he’s a terrible passenger, so it should be OK.
“Oh my friend did that and got whiplash” says the lady at the next table. Great.
Though she does tell us an amusing story about life in Dubai: One night, with her husband in dire straits (medically, not musically) she calls the hotel reception:
“I need a doctor, and make it quick”
“Yes madam, right away”
Lady waits ten nervous minutes, her husband is very ill, but there’s no sign of the doctor, so she calls again:
“Where is he?”
“On his way”
Another ten minutes, then a knock at the door. Thank goodness. Relieved that her husband will now get some much needed medical attention, she opens the door to find member of hotel staff cheerfully brandishing a small plastic item.
“Here you go ….adaptor!”
But at breakfast I’m still worried about my reaction to the movement of the dune bashing vehicle, and wondering how much I can offer the driver to take it easy. Sarah’s looking worried, though she’s concerned about us hitting something. I don’t know why, there’s nothing to hit in the desert is there?
An Indian bloke called Dennis rolls up in his Toyota Land Cruiser, complete with high wheel clearance and roll bars. We drive for an hour to reach the dunes of the desert, then he pulls onto the sand and lets the air out of the tyres.
Here we go. He charges toward a dune and the strangling sensation wells up, then subsides! This ain’t so bad! On the soft sand he can’t get past 40mph, and I quickly understand which lines he’s aiming for. Soon I’m enjoying myself, though I’d still rather be driving, and Dennis isn’t wearing his seatbelt so he obviously isn’t worried.
“How long have you been doing this?” asks Sarah.
“Ten years” replies Dennis, missing an easy chance for a wind-up.
“…and have you had many crashes?”
“No crashes” comes the reassuring answer, especially after he’s told us there can be up to a thousand dune bashing cars out there!
“…but I’ve rolled many times”
Ohhhhhhhkayyy. But my discomfort is physical, not mental, so I’m happy to bounce around while the radio plays “Staying Alive”. We meet a few camels, then head out to the camp in the desert for our next dice with death.
Quad bikes are a good way to get hurt. Just ask Ozzy Osbourne. Obviously your helmet will protect your head, but they can roll over easily, and if you’re lucky, they’ll just break your leg. At least I’m in control, so I climb aboard my steed, ready to receive my safety equipment and instructional briefing.
“These stop. This go. Follow me”
…and he disappears off in a cloud of sand.
Mark follows him, and I try to follow Mark, steering wide onto the soft stuff to avoid getting eyes full of sand. A helmet and a visor might have been handy!
Mark slows and lets me past, shortly before the guide blasts up a steep slope, turns sharp left and accelerates along a sandy ridge. I chase after him, it’s tricky to be fast enough to make the climb, but slow enough to make the turn onto the ridge. I glance back but Mark isn’t up yet. I daren’t look back too long else I’ll fall off, so I hope the guide turns around soon.
Seconds pass. Do I dare risk another glance? Will the guide hear me yell anyway? Then he turns round and his psychotic smile turns to a puzzled expression. There are two possibilities. Mark ran out of power and stalled on the incline, or he’s rolled, pinned and screwed. The guide whips round a tree, drops off the ridge onto a path, and floors it. Thirty yards behind, I’m faced with a choice. If I turn round here I can probably get straight back to the slope and Mark, but if I’m wrong I’ll be lost in the desert. If I follow the guide I’ll have to go flat out to keep up, risking my own big crash.
I mull it over for several milliseconds before the answer springs to mind:
“Boot it!”
…and we zoom back across the dunes to find Mark sandy, but intact and upright, trying to start his machine.
Somehow Mark pulls off proud and embarrassed at the same time: “I rolled it!”
He’d stalled on the climb beginning the turn and fallen backwards. The quad had come for him, but Mark won the rolling race and survived with the odd bruise and scratch. The guide was very impressed. He got Mark’s quad going again with some magic tool, yelled
“Oh my God!”
…a couple of times and careered off into the dunes at full speed.
We made it back to camp, and I chastised Mark for his lack of judgement. “Why did you let me past and then fall off? I’d have loved to have seen that!”
We bashed our way back across the dunes and to the hotel. Enough time for a Sub and a shower before the next driving experience.
Dubai Autodrome is another modern racetrack facility, and my sister had decided that I might enjoy the chance to bomb around it in an Audi R8 V10. Oh, go on then.
I keep trying to avoid the adjective out here, but the place really is deserted. There’s me, Mark, and one other chap here to drive, I go first in case Mark rolls again, and I have the entire track to myself as I learn the lines in an Audi TT. Then it’s into the R8 and off to the moon. I stopped looking down at 240 on the straight and screeched through the corners, following the instructions of a bloke from Wigan. Three times past the pits and it was soon over. Awesome car.
Would I have one? Nah, too planted, too smooth, the Nissan GT-R was more fun. But then maybe I just need a few more laps to find the R8’s limit…
Out on the town for Friday night. We find a pub with a “live band” but it turns out to be two girls performing awful karaoke, with a backing track and some poor sod on guitar who I can only think is sleeping with one and related to the other.
After the excitement, a much needed lie-in on Saturday, before our tour of the Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi’s Grand Prix track.
We’re in luck, there are no cars running, so we get to ride the bus round the track, and stand on the grid.  We head for race control and then the podium, where the guide asks if anyone knows what the drivers spray to celebrate. Jenson finished third here in 2009 so I know this one:
“Rose Water” I shout, proudly. I’m so clever.
“Wrong. Rose water is like a strong perfume. If we used rose water the ladies would have no fun at the party afterwards because all the men would be chasing the drivers. We use sparkling grape juice” …and he shows us the bottles to prove it. Thanks Jenson!
We also get to sit in the North Stand which has a clear view of a large amount of track. They don’t want to make a profit at this track, so there are only 44,000 seats, which means they’re all in good spots.
Sarah and Mark have a plane to catch, back to Qatar and the unpredictable construction industry. I fly home tomorrow, with no idea what will happen next. But sitting in the stand of this amazing venue, we’re sharing a thought for the future.
We’ve got to come back for a Grand Prix!

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