This weekend saw the culmination of the 9-day Liwa Festival in Abu Dhabi with a Dune-Drag racing Championship – with highly modified Nissan Patrols packing up to 1500bhp aiming to rocket to the top of one of the tallest dunes in the world at 300m high.The setting for this most unique of motorsports is Moreeb Dune, or Tel Moreeb ‘Scary Mountain’, in the Liwa Oasis – an entry point to the Empty Quarter and about 100km inland from the Persian Gulf.Where do I find this scary mountain? Basically drive for an hour past Abu Dhabi towards Saudi Arabia, then turn left and drive for another hour.
You’ll be convinced you’re going the wrong way in a featureless desert and probably start hallucinating, but eventually you encounter greenery and date palms, marking your arrival to the birth place of UAE royalty.These days it’s known for date farming and leisure activities. During the festival duration, participants saw falcon racing, camel racing, horse racing, and there was even a photography competition and a prize for the best campsite in the bivouac.
Yeah, that’s all fine, but tell me about the horsepower. There was plenty of that in evidence. As well as a classic and modified car show and competition, there was an official motorbikes and car dune-drag championship run by the good fellows at the Abu Dhabi Motors Club.
In addition to the controlled activities, there were other parts of the near-40 degree inclined hill that were open to public use and abuse. And there was sand abuse going on on a major scale, in what appeared to be a mad free-for-all. Despite the apparent mayhem, we saw no accidents or mishaps whilst we were there although there was plenty of friendly ribbing and blocking of cars going on.
So anyone can drive their car up this hill? You can try – but, as I kept being told by experienced locals, you need power. Lots of it. Oh and a good run up. Only a few ‘regular’ SUVs were managing to reach the summit, and they were all tuned. It was the motorcycles, quads and dune-buggies that were having the best luck.
Regardless of whether you would reach the top or not, the lure of the full-throttle blast up the dune was clearly proving addictive for some.
And what about this actual Dune-Drag championship then, how does that differ? As a distinctly local but nonetheless properly controlled motorsport, the runs are up a clearly flagged part of the dune with marshals wielding fire extinguishers placed strategically and fortuitously, up the hill.