25/07/2024 6:49 PM

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Classic cars conquer Jebel Jais in first pan-Emirates rally

The largest collection of classic cars assembled in the UAE has hit the road to take part in a two-day rally in homage to a 1,600-kilometre race across Italy.

The 1000 Miglia Experience UAE Prologue is a two-day rally for 44 participants from the GCC, with select international visitors from across Europe and the US.

Under the original form of the event, racing drivers competed in a race covering the same distance, from Brescia to Rome and back.

The rally began on Saturday, headed to Fujairah, then to Ras Al Khaimah on Sunday, before returning to Dubai via Sharjah.

The scenic route took in the winding roads of Jebel Jais with spectacular mountain views for the drivers to enjoy.

The event was held to the same rigorous timekeeping standards as the original 1000 Miglia in Italy, with time penalties for those driving too fast in specified areas or not keeping to strict race rules.

It attracted some of the finest vehicles made by the likes of Porsche, Ferrari, Mercedes, Austin, Jaguar, BMW and Alfa Romeo.

Martin Halder, chief executive of organisers Octanium, took part in a Jaguar E-Type, described by Enzo Ferrari as the most beautiful car ever made.

“This is analogue driving, and that is the challenge and the fun aspect of this kind of rally in classic cars,” he said.

“In modern cars, everything is electronically controlled. With these old cars, you have to play with the car, check its temperatures and drive it the right way.

“That is what is interesting about it. There are a lot of collectors in the UAE with these kind of cars, but they don’t always have an opportunity to use them in these kind of events. Hopefully that will change.”

The five-day rally across the Emirates had been scheduled for December to mark the Golden Jubilee celebrations.

But because of Covid-19 restrictions that prevented drivers importing their vehicles into the country, the race over 1,000 miles was delayed until this year.

This weekend saw a shorter, two-day test event for drivers and vehicles based in the UAE to test out a section of the route under the same time-trial conditions.

Former Formula One driver Jochen Mass, from Germany, has more than 30 years of competitive racing experience and won the Spanish Grand Prix in 1975.

“To drive to the top of Jebel Jais was sensational, it has been a real highlight of this drive through the Emirates,” he said.

“It was beautiful driving into Fujairah but this was a real treat.

“I wasn’t sure I could make the event at such late notice but it worked.

“It looks fantastic to have all these old cars together but it is a nice mix to have them alongside the modern vehicles.”

Windswept highways of the east coast and hairpin bends of Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain, were some of the highlights taken on by motorists.

Classic cars were rented or borrowed by those taking part, while the vehicles owned were lovingly restored and maintained over decades in order to join the rally.

American car enthusiast Sergio Siderman was driving a 1969 Mercedes 30 SEL 613, a vehicle borrowed from a collector in the UAE.

Anne Wencelius and Suphi Koseoglu with an Austin Healey 100 BN1 1954 at the top of Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

© Provided by The National
Anne Wencelius and Suphi Koseoglu with an Austin Healey 100 BN1 1954 at the top of Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“When there was an opening for this event I jumped at the chance to take part,” he said.

“I came out in May for work from southern California and fell in love with the UAE.

“The amount of power this vehicle has for a 1969 model is impressive. It is an old car with modern-day performance.

“I know this is not a race but I gave it the beans and it can really go.”

Mr Siderman hopes to bring his split-screen 1963 Corvette to the UAE later this year to join the full five day tour of the country, once a date is re-arranged.

That rally is expected to have 100 vehicles take part, with several costing more than $1 million.

The shortened prologue event had just three women drivers taking part.

One of those was Frenchwoman Anne Wencelius, who drove the oldest car in the rally – a 1954 Austin Healey 100 BN1 named ‘Margaux’.

The vehicle was picked up at auction in Amsterdam by her driving partner Suphi Koseoglu, from Turkey.

“This was our first experience of a classic car rally, so it was a dream for us,” said Ms Wencelius.

“It was a miracle that we made it up to the top of Jebel Jais, we had to keep the speed at 80 kph so it didn’t overheat.

“We have had issues with the brakes so we had to be careful going back down.