Pedal to the metal: spectators enjoy thrilling Liwa dune bashing festival

Four-wheelers tackle the formidable 300-metre Moreeb dune

Away from the camels and dates Abu Dhabi’s deepest desert festival is famous for lies a playground of big boys’ toys.

Buggies in flashy colours and eccentric designs lined up in the heart of the Empty Quarter for the final round of a 90-metre drag race.

Welcome to Liwa International Festival’s open buggy competition – a dazzling flash of colour and diesel in which vehicles worth hundreds of thousands of dollars are put to the test in a 50-degree dash up the side of Tel Moreeb sand dune.

Saeed Al Mansouri, known as Bin Dhahak - 'the son of the laughing one' - stood confidently in front of his $270,000 (Dh1.5 million) buggy; he had already won the first round scoring 3.83 seconds.

Racing with this buggy is like riding an untamed horse. I told you it would break noses

Nasser Al Hai, Rosh Racing Team

He only got into drag racing last August after a motorbike injury to his left leg meant he could no longer race bikes.

“Bikes are all about leg control,” said the 38-year-old, who serves in the armed forces. Al Mansouri had a Funco Motorsports buggy geared up with a twin turbo Redline engine filled with special fuel called Q60.

“The design alone cost me $20,000,” he said, pointing to the colourful purple, blue and neon patterns decorating his ride. The seats have also been specially designed, with the Abu Dhabi logo printed on the top of each seat.

His nickname Bin Dhahak was also painted on the side of the vehicle. Before modification, the buggy cost $170,000.

Majid Al Mansouri, a long-time Abu Dhabi racer, was not so concerned about winning the race, it seemed.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, January 2, 2020. Buggy owner, Nasser Al Hai celebrates, right, with driver, Rashid Al Dhaheri afterr taking first place at the Buggy Race at the LIWA International Festival 2020. Victor Besa / The National Section: NA Reporter: Haneen Dajani
Nasser Al Hai and Rashid Al Dhaheri celebrate at taking first place ahead of arch rival Bin Dhahak. Victor Besa / The National

“I did not add anything to my buggy ahead of this race,” said the 35-year-old, who described himself as a “professional power boat and drag racer”.

“I use it for leisure rides, I have a farm nearby and whenever I’m here I take the buggy for a drive up and down the dunes.”

He took fourth place. “Inshallah, next season I will modify it,” he said later.

Nasser Al Hai, a member of the Rosh Racing Team, was in a new buggy that he designed and modified by himself. “I got into drag racing by chance,” said the 37-year-old engineer. “Around four years ago I was playing around with my friends and they pointed out a competition for us to join, I joined and lost miserably.

“I don’t like losing and I am very stubborn so I started modifying cars and got deep into it. Racing with this buggy is like riding an untamed horse. It has potential but it has not been tested yet.”

He previously raced with buggies he had bought and modified in the US.

“The last one I designed cost Dh1.1 million, this one cost me Dh760,000,” he said. The new buggy still needs trials to reach the perfect combination of weight, horse power, stability and suspension.

“I am trying to fix the technical errors.”

He finished the first round on Thursday in 3.83 seconds – second to Bin Dhahak’s first. In order to win the final round, he would have to finish the race in 3 seconds.

“My opponent is very fierce, so it is difficult to beat him.”

Nonetheless, Mr Al Hai got his own back on Bin Dhahak in the final round.

His older, American-built Dh1.1 million buggy driven by teammate Rashid Al Dhaheri, beat Bin Dhahak by 7 milliseconds.

Al Dhaheri crossed the 90-metre distance in 3.75 seconds whereas Al Mansouri crossed in 3.82. “I present my victory to this man,” said 30-year-old as Mr Al Hai jumped to hug him. “As soon as I hit the pedal it went ‘boom’.”

“It is my car and I knew it, I told you it would break noses,” said Mr Al Hai, as well-wishers rushed to hug them both.

The Liwa International Festival 2020 runs until January 10.

Updated: January 5, 2020 10:54 AM


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