AL AIN // The UAE rally champion, Mohammed bin Sulayem, set a high speed record in more senses than one this week when he drove seven kilometres of the winding mountain road up Jebel Hafeet in 3min 39.008sec - an average speed of nearly 120kph. As part of the Jebel Hafeet Challenge and to mark the UAE launch of the Nissan GT-R, the motor manufacturer had arranged with police to have a 22-curve section of the road closed in both directions on Monday morning, giving Sulayem maximum road space as he attacked the hill in the 485hp car.
"To achieve this first ever officially recorded time on the Jebel Hafeet mountain road is a fitting event to mark the regional launch of what I believe is one of the most capable performance cars ever developed," a jubilant Sulayem said afterwards. The president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE and vice-president of the International Automobile Federation used all six lanes to take the Dh420,000 (US$114,350) car up by the shortest possible route.
Would-be imitators, however, need not expect the same level of official indulgence for such high speeds. Legal speed limits are clearly posted and Al Ain Police regularly patrol the mountain. Violators risk black points on their licences, confiscation of their vehicles and a possible prison sentence, not to mention death. The Jebel Hafeet Challenge was part of the Al Ain Custom Car Show events which ran from March 1 to 3.
In a remarkable rallying career, Sulayem won 14 FIA Middle East Rally Championship titles and more than 60 international rallies. In 1991, he launched the UAE Desert Challenge, and quickly established it as the Middle East's first world championship motorsport event. In November he became the first Arab to be elected to the ruling body of world motorsport when he was elected vice-president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and co-opted on to its World Motorsport Council during the general assembly in Paris.