ABU DHABI // The race to crown the king of roller coasters has shifted into high gear. Two attractions with Formula One themes and built next to Grand Prix race tracks - one at Ferrari World on Yas Island, the other the Ring Racer at the Nurburgring in Nurburg, Germany are hurtling towards completion this year. At stake? The title of the world's fastest roller coaster. And by late this year, the champion is expected to be crowned.
The Ferrari World park manager Andy Keeling is unequivocal that the coaster on Yas Island will be in the record books when the park opens. "The Formula One coaster - will be the fastest roller coaster in the world," he said, introducing the world's largest indoor theme park. The current champion is the Kingda Ka roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, with a top speed of 206 kph.
Ferrari World and Nurburgring expect their rides to top that. Nurburgring's Ring Racer is being touted as capable of reaching a heart-slamming 217 kph, although it reportedly failed to reach that speed when it was tested last year. The ride was expected to open last summer but ran into last-minute problems and had to be shut down for more work. Nurburgring's press officer, Stefanie Hohn, downplayed the competition, although she said yesterday that she has monitored developments at Ferrari World closely.
"Abu Dhabi and Germany, well, we're not quite rivals because of the distance between the countries," she said. "But when it comes to the coasters, they're pretty similar because of the F1 theme. "We're not concerned about it. I'm interested [in Ferrari World's F1 ride] because it's a coaster that has a racetrack as well, and that makes things even more interesting. "Something great is going on in Abu Dhabi, but my concern and my need is for the Ring Racer to work."
Claus Frimand, the general manager of Ferrari World, is well aware of Ring Racer. In a statement yesterday, he reiterated: "Ferrari World Abu Dhabi will house the world's fastest roller coaster when it opens." A Ferrari World spokesman would not reveal the coaster's acceleration. For its part, the Ring Racer's website claims it will be able to reach maximum speed in less than 2.5 seconds - double the acceleration of a Formula One car.
While Ferrari World has revealed little about its signature ride, it released the first image this week of another high-speed attraction - a "duelling roller coaster" that would simulate the feeling of a drag race between two Ferrari F430 Spiders. "There are two tracks and two trains," Mr Keeling said, describing the experience of two carriages rocketing along at 95 kph on twisting parallel tracks. Overtaking manoeuvres, twists and speed changes are expected.
The tentatively named "GT Coaster" is among more than 20 rides and attractions to be housed in the 86,000-square-metre park. David Arnold, 36, a Dubai resident from the UK who estimates he has ridden on more than 120 roller coasters, hoped to be among the first to experience the rides when they open this year. "There's not very many roller coasters in the UAE and nothing really big compared to what they're building in Abu Dhabi," said Mr Arnold, 36.
Mr Arnold said the fastest ride he has experienced was Japan's Dodonpa roller coaster, which has a speed of 172 kph. If Ferrari World's ride can exceed Ring Racer's 217 kph target, the thrill would be hard to fathom, he said. "Compared to anything I've ridden, it's going to be very fast, very crazy and very exciting." firstname.lastname@example.org