‘Fastest snake in desert’ also at home on UAE roads

By Emiratis, for Emiratis — this is the vision guiding the men behind the Zarooq Sand Racer, a new car specially designed for the UAE desert.

The two men behind the Zarooq Sand Racer, the first car specifically designed for the UAE desert, Mohammed Al Qadi and Iannis Mardell. Victor Besa for The National.
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DUBAI // Built by Emiratis, for Emiratis … that’s the vision behind the Zarooq Sand Racer, a car specially designed for the UAE desert.

The Zarooq promises a driving experience like nothing else, marrying the power of a supercar with the dune-climbing ability of a four-wheel drive.

Founders Mohammed Al Qadi, Iannis Mardell and Bruno Lafitte hope to have a huge impact on the country’s motorsport and car industry, tapping into Emiratis’ passion for off-road driving and racing.

“Imagine going straight from the road to racing in the desert, all in one car,” said Mr Al Qadi, a graduate of Ajman University and a leading motorsports figure for more than 15 years.

“Just like the zarooq, the fastest snake in Arabia, our car’s home will be the desert. But it will also be road-legal with great road performance.”

It all started with a dream to set up a single-model desert racing championship, but the founders soon realised there was no car suited to it.

“So we decided to assemble a team to design and build the car we have all dreamed about, specifically made to race in the desert,” said Mr Lafitte. “We set out to build a racing car – nothing less.”

He is the nephew of six-time Formula One Grand Prix winner Jacques Lafitte and a top-five finisher in Formula Ford, Formula Renault and Formula Three.

Mr Mardell, a British and French citizen who has work-ed with global motorsport leaders, said there was no better test ground than the UAE.

“There was no structured car manufacturing in the country but we have all the assets we need right here,” said Mr Mardell, also a specialist in local industrialisation.

“So now we are building a proper manufacturer and a strong UAE brand. What we’re doing is unique in terms of UAE industrialisation.”

The Zarooq was designed by Anthony Jannarelly, who is also an expatriate in the UAE.

Mr Jannarelly is famous for designing the Lykan Hypersport, featured in the latest Fast and Furious movie that was partly filmed in the UAE.

“Our manufacturing partner is JJ Special, which specialises in modern materials such as carbon fibre,” Mr Mardell said.

“And our engineering partner is Campos Racing, which brings specialised chassis design expertise to the table.”

The Zarooq weighs only 950 kilograms, but its central-rear mounted 3.5-litre V6 engine produces 300 horsepower but can be reliably tuned for 500hp.

“Tuned in less reliable ways the sky is the limit, but we won’t do that,” Mr Al Qadi said. “We have to stick to standards. The car has to be a racing car and road legal, and we can’t compromise one part for another.”

The first cars are scheduled to be delivered in the first quarter of next year.

The starting price is US$80,000 (Dh293,000), going up to $160,000 depending on options, which can include a fully customised body.

“All cars have bespoke interiors so we can give our customers exactly what they want,” Mr Al Qadi said. “Whether it’s high-end or the basics, it can all be done here in the UAE by Emiratis.”

Once the Zarooq is in production it will need a home where it can be raced, so the founders are planning to build a sand racetrack in Dubai.

The track will also be home to an off-road racing school offering private tuition in privately owned or track-owned vehicles.

“We’ll also offer maintenance packages where we look after your car and prepare it for races,” Mr Mardell said.

“We want the racing to be just as convenient as the Porsche Cup in Europe, whether for gentleman or professional drivers.”