Monday, July 6, 2015

UAE Trip - Part Three

In the last part of our story, we stopped at the end of my first day in UAE; where we rented a C7 Stingray Corvette from Dubai, and took it home to Abu Dhabi at around 3am to spend the night and start the second day early in the morning.

We woke up early next day, and while we ate our breakfast, we discussed our plan for the day which on a high level scale should end up with us going to Dubai by midday to meet our friend (whom we left the previous day to catch the renting company) at JBR for lunch, meet another friend coming from Al Sharja, and return the car to the renting company by 10pm. The only missing part of the plan was the morning activity till lunch time. We had a Corvette, and we had spare time, so we should be on the road driving, but where to?

My friend who lives in UAE suggested going to one of the best known driving roads in the country, known as “Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road”. This road was featured earlier on Fifth Gear, where Tiff Needell drove an M3 up the road. This road is an 11.7 km twisty climb to the top of one of the highest mountains in the country, with 60 corners in total. It has two lanes for ascending, and one for descending. I eagerly accepted the suggestion. How cool would it be to drive on such a famous road (search for the road name on Google) in my dream car. And that’s just what we did.

Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road lies in Al-Ain. To make it more clear, the three destinations we hit during our trip (Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al-Ain) form a geographical triangle, with each city on the tip of the triangle. The sides of the triangle measure between 150 ~ 180 kms each. So in order to go to Al-Ain from Abu Dhabi, we would drive 180 kms, then another 160 kms to go to Dubai, and finally 150 kms at night to return home to Abu Dhabi. Boy, was I giddy from all that excitement.

Before we set out to Al-Ain, we passed by a common friend who is a car enthusiast to take him for a ride in the Vette (he was impressed). Then we set out for Al-Ain after we filled the tank with fuel. Most of the way had a 140 km/h radar monitored speed limit, so I put the car in relaxing cruise control and started a more careful examination of the car. Fuel consumption, different gauge setups, air conditioning quality, exhaust noise while cruising in different modes, finish quality, HUD (Head’s Up Display), etc…

Most notable to me was the cylinder deactivation feature. When driving at a steady speed with no inclines, the car deactivates 4 of the 8 cylinders to save fuel (indicated by a green “V4” on the instrument cluster, cannot be noticed otherwise). And when you step on the pedal, it immediately switches to full V8 power without a hitch, again, this cannot be noticed if it weren't for the indicator on the instrument cluster. The fuel savings are incredibly impressive. Cruising at 120 km/h with air conditioning on, the engine was barely turning at 1,500 RPM, and the car averaged 15 km/l or 42 mpg in US terms!!! I mean, we’re talking about a 6.2L V8 with 470 HP and 600 NM torque. Increasing the cruising speed to 140 km/h (still in V4 mode) resulted in 12 km/l or 33.8 mpg, which is still very impressive. Well done Corvette.

The other thing that impressed me was the HUD. I never had a car with an HUD before. If you don’t know what that is, it is a hidden projector unit mounted on the dash to project some data (car speed, RPM, navigation, etc…) on the windshield where your eyes fall on the road, so that you can keep your eyes on the road and get all the needed telemetry. The one in the Vette is very bright, with adjustable height and colored information. You can choose between different modes showing different parameters. I chose the simple one showing the car speed.

We arrived at the start of the mountain road at around 2pm, with the temperature hovering between 37 and 39 degrees Celsius. We had the air conditioning on and the roof on, the sun was very strong to try and remove the roof.

I was wary of the car’s power, the tire grip and the unfamiliar corners, so I started the climb slowly with the traction control on. Immediately we discovered that the corners were extremely tight with not enough straights between them, except in the middle of the road, where there are some longer straights. There were black scuff marks on the walls surrounding every single corner. It seems a lot of people misjudged there braking points and had a close encounter with the cement blocks. Scary, and all the more reason to treat the climb and speed gradually. At about third of the way up, I noticed that the transmission temp gauge was climbing near the top quarter of the gauge. I was driving in manual mode, shifting the car through the paddles on the steering wheel, so I thought maybe that was it. I never noticed that gauge during my earlier driving, but I assumed the needle should point to the middle and not way up. So we drove the car slowly for a little while to cool it down, then we parked in one of the parking spots all over the way to let it cool down more, while we took some pictures and had a look at the scenery.

The road looked epic from where we were standing. It looked like a huge black snake slithering to the top of the mountain surrounded by heat soaked desert all around. We took a few pictures of the car, which was dirty from the rain on the previous day, then soldiered on after the car has cooled down. The road continued the same way all the way to the top, with a few longer straights along the top half. You’d find people parked in the several parking spots on the side of the road taking pictures. I didn't know what to expect at the top, but to my disappointment, I found a huge parking lot with donut/burnout tire marks everywhere, lots of young people standing around their cars, and a cafeteria. Oh well. At least we enjoyed the climb. We had something to eat and drink, and I managed to spill my juice bottle all over me and my friend. We were a sticky mess, and we won’t be able to change our clothes (which were 180 kms away) before we went to Dubai. The solution was to pour water on our trousers to remove the stickiness, and let it dry under the soaring sun. At least I was wearing a dark Jeans and it didn't look so bad.

During our way to the bottom, we had just a single lane for descent (they were two on the way up), but nonetheless, I felt more courageous and I switched the traction control off. We had a few exciting skids around the corners. The most memorable part of our descent was on one of the straights where I misjudged my speed going into a corner, and had to brake harder than I would have expected or liked. Now I knew how those black marks happened on those walls. Fortunately, no harm was done, and we went on our merry way to meet our friend at JBR (Dubai) driving another 160 kms of silky smooth freeways.

When we arrived near JBR, I noticed that the roads were quite narrow, and traffic was very bad. There were also seemingly endless traffic signs. We got stuck in some horrible traffic jam, and there was nothing I could do. I entertained myself during the 90 minutes long traffic jam by turning the car off when we stopped then firing it up again when traffic started moving to listen to the exhaust snarl as the engine came to life. I also tested the navigation system, and was pleased that it showed me driving instructions on the instrument cluster and the HUD as well. Finally reaching our destination, we faced another dilemma: parking the car. It didn't seem there were any parking spots. Once I found an hotel entrance, I asked them if they had parking spaces (at that point, I didn't care anymore about parking costs, I had to get out of the car), and they said "yes, please leave the car and we’ll park it for you". Valet parking? No way, even if it wasn't my car. So we spent some more time to find a parking spot until we found some underground parking lot. At last.

That was the most frustrating period driving the Vette. Thankfully, we met our friends and had a very nice lunch in a restaurant with a great sea view, then we topped it off by eating dessert at a specialized shop. During lunch time, I learned that our Dubai friend has got himself a nice Porsche Boxter. Cool. After we finished, we drove both the Vette and the Porsche side by side with the roofs down on our way to the renting company to return the Vette. It was very cool. However, when the time came to leave the Vette and go home, I can swear a tear left my eye. That’s how much I loved and appreciated that car. How would I ever drive any other car with less than a V8 and such a tingling exhaust note? :-(

At last, we drove my friend’s Mazda 6 back to Abu Dhabi (another 150 kms) to get a good night’s sleep before starting another adventure the next day. But that’s a story for another part.


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