Driving a Monster Truck. Abu Dhabi. Taming Blue Thunder

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High vis gives the go ahead – and fortunately has a kill switch for the trucks’ engine linked to a radio control unit should I veer worryingly off-course – and I fire the engine into life. A couple of turnovers later and the supercharged roar that erupts is deafening, bringing with it a surge of the adrenaline that almost turns my stomach inside out. I don’t notice at first, but clearly the “OH MY GOD!” I’ve just uttered was louder than expected, and high vis is smiling knowingly. Slotting home first gear, I very gingerly press the accelerator to get Blue Thunder rolling.

I’ve been warned that 1500hp can be surprisingly eager in first gear, but I’m clearly being too cautious, the truck bunny-hopping off the start hilariously as the power is sent to all four 66-inch Terra tyres. Manning up as I make the first turn, I press the accelerator a little harder and select second gear.

Now we’re rolling, albeit at a steady 30kph. A sudden jolt as the transmission steps up a gear gives me the first impression of speed in the brute. Clearly there’s an enormous amount more to give from the 575 cubic inch unit, and on the night, the trucks will reach upwards of 80kph. I can’t imagine the acceleration being very linear, the supercharger already eager to smack me in the small of the back as I press the throttle a lifter more, and take care to avoid the button on the transmission box labelled 400 Turbo.

Coming up to the first corner, I reach for the flicker switch on a vertically mounted bar positioned just behind the ignition box. This dainty little switch controls steering for the rear wheels, a system that makes near-five ton behemoths amazingly manoeuvrable: flick left to turn right quickly, flick right to turn left quickly. So intricate is this system that drivers frequently incorporate stationary 360-degree turns, known as cyclone donuts, into their freestyle stunt runs.

It’s an incredibly easy system to use but the resultant speed with which Blue Thunder makes its first 180-degree turn catches me completely off-guard. Power steering through the wheel means the enormous front tyres need remarkably little effort to position, allowing me to concentrate on getting the wheels in line quickly for the upcoming straight. The wheels are fully planted to the dirt and tipping over at these speeds and without hitting the jumps is very unlikely, but the body roll in the cabin reminds me just how loose the suspension and dampers have been set to absorb the impact off a jump. It’s a fine balance though: suspension too stiff with likely destroy the front and rear axles on landing; too soft and the landing wheels are likely to dig into the dirt and cause the vehicle to flip onto its roof. As you’d expect, we’re not really looking for ride comfort in this brute.

The throttle at these speeds is very manageable, so much so that lifting off brings immediate deceleration, and I hardly have to touch the brakes at all. My two-lap run is up very quickly, and so I decide to take the final turn taken at slightly more ambitious speeds. High vis is soon waving at me through the windscreen, signalling for me to brake and pull the monster to a stop. The brake discs are honed for track use, bringing the truck instantly under control, a rock in the bucket seat signalling the discs ferocious capabilities. High vis presses a button on his remote, the Merlin engine cuts out, and my drive is over. I cannot stop smiling.

“You’re shaking. What the hell?” Dan asks with a grin as I hand him down my helmet. The adrenaline is still kicking through me in waves as I think about my drive, so much so that I don’t even notice that my hands are shaking. The same goes for my legs, and it makes climbing out the cabin and down the roll cage difficult. But I don’t care. I’ve been in a two-seater Formula 1 car, driven an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 at speed around the Yas Marina Circuit and hit the drag strip in several different performance machines, but nothing even comes close to the drive I’ve just experienced.

I get a pat on the back from Dan as I dismount, and I’m pleased that my temporary charge is pleased with my efforts, intercut as that is by a few barely controlled giggles. This was not an experience about speed (clearly) or jumps, but a simple act of taming the beast, something I came nowhere near doing during my two laps, granted. Experiencing the thrill of such brutal power lingering beneath the surface, controlling wheels taller than me with surprisingly little effort and seeing what life is like from the bucket seat of a monster truck is a once-in-a-lifetime experience all of its own.

The next evening I’m back at the Stadium for the first running of Monster Jam in Abu Dhabi, from which crowd favourite Grave Digger takes home the silverware. Though I try my best to be unbiased with my event report, the urge to will on Blue Thunder – my truck – to victory is too hard to ignore.

Dan misses the gold in Abu Dhabi, but it doesn’t matter. For him, tonight has been about the crowd, the experience and the chance to drive a truck that few else will ever get the chance to.

I know exactly how he feels.

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