Burn outs in a Burka - Notes from a small patch of sand.
Steve Griffin hasn't been seen on the circuits this year due to a change of location. He's sent this newsletter from his new home.
I have recently suffered from a probable mid-life crisis and retired from the my quiet life as a country heart surgeon in Yorkshire and moved to be chief of cardiac surgery at The American Hospital in Dubai. It has been a big step and a big risk. So far so good though. I don’t miss anything from UK apart from my garage and my racing. Here is a little postcard from the desert.
I was attempting to cross a busy road named after a famous Sheik, I saw a gap and took a deep breath. I started to jog (stagger at my age perhaps a more accurate description) . My progress was stopped by the realisation that continuing would be suicidal. A black Maserati Quattroporte was approaching at unabated speed having just left a thick trail of rubber at some traffic lights. I jumped back onto the pavement to watch the passing motor. Much to my surprise it was being driven by a woman dressed from head to foot in a black Abaya with a full Burka over her head, just a slit for her eyes and that was taken up with huge Chanel sunglasses. Like many Europeans I have always regarded the covering of women to be a sign of subjugation. Living here in Dubai has made me reappraise that emotion. The driver of that Maserati was anything but subjugated.
Life here in the melting pot that is Dubai is full of surprises. The car culture here is a delight for a petrolhead like me but the motor racing here so far a disappointment.
Motoring is absurdly cheap in the UAE, there is no car tax and petrol is roughly 25p per litre. Nobody in their right minds drives a Diesel so the traffic doesn’t stink of acrid Diesel fumes. Trucks are banned from the roads for much of the day. There is road congestion but it is highly variable and unpredictable.
When I arrived I had sold all my road cars in UK and for the first time in my adult life I was without a set of wheels. I didn’t much like that situation. As soon as I had the correct bits of paper, along with a large number of official stamps ( Arab countries love official stamps), I set out to rectify the car deficit. It soon became evident that second hand car dealers are the same everywhere, some very good but many bad. Here there is a booming business in importing cars from USA and Japan. All are bought ‘blind’ by the dealers. Some of the cars are terrific, many are very dodgy and might even qualify as ‘cars’. I still don’t understand why so many Japanese owners specify LHD cars in their RHD country. Anyway a lot end up here in UAE with only Japanese script on their dashboard computers.
Eventually I bought a lovely Mercedes ML350 from an Afghan diamond dealer (only in Dubai….) through the second hand car ads. One owner, full service history, 10K. A very nice car that Mrs Griffin seems very happy with. Then I set out to get something rather less serious for myself. I looked at all sorts of madness but eventually ended up with a C6 Corvette which looks like a banana with a detachable roof. It is the silliest cat I have ever owned. 6 litre V8 400+ BHP and it weighs the same as a Ford Fiesta. There is a traction control button on it but as far as I can see it makes no difference. The thing will spin its rear wheels in any gear in the rain and will leave a big rubber streak in the dry. The interior is very much Tupperware meets pound shop but the dials are big and the controls heavy. The car has had a finesse bypass and it is a car to be driven with some care but the grin factor is huge.
As mentioned earlier the roads are very dangerous here. One in five of all deaths in UAE are through violence and they don’t shoot each other. It is commonplace to see children free-range in the back of an open 4X4 hanging from the roll cage or a whole car load of women in Burkas with no seat belts. Lane discipline is random to say the least and Zebra crossings are completely ignored unless with lights. Surprisingly traffic lights are generally obeyed. This might in part be down to the custodial sentence handed out for infringement. Pleasingly, aggression is unusual. There is none of the ‘it’s my right of way so I’m coming through’ self righteous behavior so commonly seen in UK. People here are very tolerant of others. They have to be, locals are only 15% of the population. Imagine living in UK with 85% foreigners, UKIP would have a field day. Also there is a zero tolerance for drink-driving. You can drink and drive but if you are caught and lucky you are deported if you are caught and unlucky you spend time in prison. Strangely enough it makes life very easy, once I put that first glass of wine to my lips I know that any further travel will involve a taxi and they are very cheap. No guessing.
The type of cars that are bought here are quite unlike anywhere else in the world. Enormous SUVs are almost mandatory. Nobody would dream of buying a car with less than a V6 and most are V8s. In the case of Range Rovers that will include a supercharger. The idea of trying to drive a car with a puny Diesel V6 of 3 litres or less would be considered unthinkable. Some of the Japanese Amazons and Land Cruisers in massive V8 spec would need an HGV licence to drive in UK. The absolute favourite among Emarati is the Mercedes G wagon in 6.3l twin Turbo AMG trim. If the six wheel version is available they would take it shopping to the supermarket. The monster SUVs are particularly good for the main competitive driving activity in Dubai which is blasting from one set of traffic lights to the next. The modus operandus is to floor the throttle at the green, take the car to the rev limiter and then stand on the brakes at the next red before repeating the process at the next opportunity. The concept of corners or rain is troublesome to the local drivers. When either occur a trip to hospital or the undertakers often follows. I live on Jumeira Road, one of the favourite ‘cruising’ destinations for young people with too much money and a muscle car. The type of cruising is not the sort that would appeal to George Michael, it is for the 0-60 brigade. The road has more rubber down than Santa Pod, sometimes the tarmac is actually chewed up with the violence that is unleashed from these behemoths.
In my next life I might like to come back as a supercar salesman in Dubai. In a country where the man who stamps your passport earns 100K a year (sadly they don’t treat us foreigners quite so generously for menial tasks, we have to work for our cash), boys of seventeen can afford a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. This contributes to the nasty statistic I suggested above. The number of supercars per mile on the roads here far outstrips Monaco or Mayfair. The supermarket car park next to my house sometimes resembles a corner of the NEC during the motor show. There is a big trade in the nearly new as the local guys don’t like last year’s model. Also there is only so much grief that can be given to a double clutch semi automatic drive train. Such is the way the cars are driven buying second hand fragile supercars is a mugs’ game. That is why I decided on a bread and butter Chevy with a lazy V8 and an auto box.
We have one race track in Dubai, the Yas Marina F1 circuit in Abu Dhabi (about an hour away) and another F1 track in Bahrain. You would have thought with all these circuits that club racing would be thriving. It isn’t. There is a Radical series which is well run and well organized but only has entries of fifteen or so and is scarily expensive. There is a single seater series which is sold as a ladder to F1 but of course plays to the ex-karting children who think they are the next Lewis Hamilton. The reality is that the nearest they will ever get to an F1 car is visiting Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. Lastly there is a catch all Touring Car series which is really a ‘run what you brung’ type of thing. The annual 24 Hour race is something for me to consider but the costs are very high. GT3 cars are pretty much required and they don’t come cheap to hire or run.
Perhaps the most memorable event to take place in Dubai involving a car was DC’s little stunt at the top of the Burj Al Arab hotel’s helipad. The hotel is down the beach from my house and looms out of the sea mist when I take my morning jog or swim and the helipad looks tiny from the ground. All I can say is that DC has big balls. If you haven’t seen the video I think you will like it.:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LECb6Oag5aw or google coultard burj arab.
The most popular motorsport by some way is dune bashing, the sand sea that abounds in the Arabian Peninsular is crossed with endless wheel marks. It holds no great interest for me, it looks like soft play for petrolheads and would appear to have the subtlety of a wife-beater. I will pass on that one. It allows the use of those massive SUVs and Arabic people just seem to like sand….
From my point of view, I will be flying home to race when time allows, I cannot wait for Spa. Enjoy the season.
Disclaimer: The above represents only the unofficial view of the writer and not of the Monoposto Racing Club in any way whatsover. Subheadlines and captions are not originated from the named author. We are unable to reproduce results due to copyright reasons. If any pictures are copyright and the owner wishes them removed please email us.
An Emirati Motorist, probably not subjugated. (pic credit Rex)
Not only the boot, but the boot of a Moskvitch.
An elegant Dubai boulevard.
A "sensible" Mercedes G-Wagen
A very silly 6.3L 6x6 G63 Mercedes.
David Coultard doing something slightly less dangerous than trying to take the **** out of Eddie Jordan.
"Soft play for petrolheads with the subtlety of a wife-beater."
By way of comparison with Was Marina Dubai, here is Walsall Marina (Picture ed is now fired - ed)