Dunes, driving and dinning: 42nd Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive marks another success

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GWM TANK SUVs at the Gulf News Fun Drive
Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Families and friends enjoyed a weekend filled with an off-road adventure across the desert during the 42nd Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive – Tilal Swaihan Experience.

The Drive over the Tilal Swaihan dunes kicked off on Saturday morning (February 10), and, after staying overnight at the camp site featuring dinning and entertainment, participants went home with joyful memories on Sunday (February 11) following a scrumptious breakfast.

Participants, marshals, and sponsors of the Gulf News Fun Drive all came together for the event.

GN Fun Drive logo for 42nd edition

Image Credit: Gulf News

The Gulf News Fun Drive – dating back to 1986 when an off-roading event of such stature was unknown – welcomed hundreds of participants. On Saturday, marshals and participants started registering at the check in counter as early as 6.30am.

Sherzad Vasania, a marshal on duty, was one of the early birds to register. “I never miss the Gulf News Fun Drive. I used to be a participant. Last year I started out as a marshal on the Drive and here I am once again. I love the positive energy that comes along with everyone. It’s a Drive not to be missed.”

By 7am, the area was buzzing with marshals, participants, and sponsors who made their way in. Greeting them was Naheed Patel, Promotions and Events Manager, Gulf News, who has been at the helm of it all. She was greeted with hugs by one and all.

Suraj Shetty, Event Manager, Capital Hospitality said preparations were in full swing to treat everyone attending the 42nd Gulf News Fun Drive with a hearty meal. A breakfast had been laid out from 5am by Capital Hospitality – the official caterers for the Fun Drive. Kiara Bora was there with her friends Scarlett Dsouza and Shannon Barboz. “It is my first Fun Drive while my friends have been on the Drive several times. I have watched so many movies on off-roading. I did not want to miss it all,” she said.

Marshals Paul Clark and Rob Campbell, who have been marshalling the Gulf News Fun Drive for years, said they love being part of such a large-scale desert event as it is so well-organised.

Hundreds of cars lined up their vehicles for the flag-off a little past 9am. As every year, Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, also known as the ‘Rainbow Sheikh of Dubai’ flagged-off the Fun Drive.

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Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan (centre), with Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Gulf News, CEO and Editor-in-Chief, Hamed Al Mazroui and participants. at Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive 2024 at Tilal Swaihan. Photo:Ahmed Ramzan/Gulf News
Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan

‘Everyone enjoys together’

Abdul Hamid Ahmed, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Gulf News, said: “The success of the Gulf News Fun Drive is that it is a family oriented activity where everyone gets to enjoy together. It is a well organised event with marshals coming together to help participants.”

Gulf News Fun Drive Route Director John Spiller also led a team of vehicles lined up for the Drive. He was driving a Great Wall Motor (GWM Motor) TANK 500, the automotive sponsor of the 42nd edition of the Gulf News Fun Drive.

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Humaid Matar Al Dhaheri, Managing Director & Group CEO of ADNEC Group, Abdul Hamid Ahmad CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Gulf News and Hamad Ali Al Mazroui, Managing Director of IATC flag off the 42nd Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive the ‘Tilal Swaihan Experience’. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Another GWM vehicle, the TANK 300, on the Drive was driven by Namrata Mukesh and Pratheesh Balakrishnan. The couple bought their TANK vehicle a couple of months ago. They were very happy with its performance on the dunes. “I drive this car mostly and it is a great four-wheeler,” said Mukesh.

The route designed by John Spiller delivered its promise of thrills. The route this year was different from that of last year. The start threw in challenges with punters stuck right in at Check Point 1 and 2. “But that is the fun of it all,” explained Sai Keerthana, who enjoyed her day out dune-bashing with her husband. “We completed the route. It was our first time but well worth it. My husband and I were celebrating Valentine’s Day [in advance] on the Gulf News Fun Drive.”

She added that the challenges just helped the couple learn more about their car and the skill involved with driving on sand dunes. “The Tilal Swaihan desert landscape is absolutely gorgeous to see.”

Participants make their the way

Participants began to make their way back into the Tilal Swaihan camp site from 4pm onwards. A slew of entertainment was lined up and several activations were ready and waiting for the participants to take part. Several prizes and discount vouchers were given away by the Fun Drive sponsors.

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The sprawling venue for the feast
Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News


The entertainment on camp site began from 5pm. A number of dancers – of Tanoura and Bollywood styles – enthralled the audience, while the belly dancer was welcomed to a huge applause. A group of African drummers kept the evening alive.

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Egyptian folk dance during the shows
Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

But the highlight of the evening was a 2.5 metre by 1.4 metre cake weighing 200kg themed around a desert dune. The cake was decorated with 15 toys – camels and four-wheel cars to add to the desert drive theme. The cake made of vanilla sponge cake (80kg), 20 litres of sugar syrup, 50 litres of whipped cream, 20kg of strawberry jam, 10 kilos of honey crumbs to give the sand effect.

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Abdul Hamid Ahmed, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Gulf News, cutting the 200kg cake
Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Breakfast on day 2

After a thrilling day, participants rested in the camp and woke up next morning – some at 4.30am – for a hot breakfast in the chilly desert.

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Breakfast at the camp site
Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Dr Roohi Riaz, daughter Rania Irfan and their friend Dr Jolly Anne could not contain their excitement. “It is my first Gulf News Fun Drive. The experience was amazing. The marshals did a great job helping us get out of the sand whenever we got stuck. It was absolutely thrilling. Beside we learnt so much about desert driving thanks to the marshals.”

The Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive Tilal Swaihan Experience is supported by Al Ain City Municipality.
The exclusive automotive sponsor for the Gulf News Fun Drive is GWM Tank, Al Naboodah.
Checkpoint sponsors include GWM Tank, Castrol Magnatec Dobinsons Springs & Suspension Trading LLC which is the exclusive lubricant sponsor. Al Jazira Poultry Farms LLC, TORC – The Off Road Company are other checkpoint sponsors. Yokohama Geolandar is the official tyre for the event and Quanta ice cream.
Other support sponsors include Al Ain Water, Karcher, Xbox, Byrne, Mister Baker, Steigens, Ciel Marketing, Armaf, Baqer Mohebi, Tornado and Plastica Industries LLC.
Caterers for the Fun Drive are Capital Hospitality. The Iranian Hospital is serving as the medical partner, while the recovery is being handled by IATC – International Automobile and Touring Club of UAE and Twinings was the official tea sponsor.
The Ciel Charging Station was powered by ICharge Point.