DUBAI // No dune-bashing trip is complete without getting stuck in the sand at least once. But when you're in a 29-tonne 6x6 off-road truck, it is a bit trickier than usual to get free.
There's no point trying to push all that bulk, digging out the sand from the three axles would take all day, and what vehicle is going to be big and powerful enough to haul out such a heavyweight?
This was the problem faced by a team from Renault Trucks yesterday when they put the Kerax 450.26 racing truck through its paces in the Dubai desert.
The idea was to show the press what the mighty six-wheeler could do ahead of its appearance at next week's Commercial Vehicles Middle East show.
The truck came a cropper when it sank into soft sand at the top of a dune. Fortunately the combination of a support truck, a tow rope and the driving skills of two-time Dakar rally veteran Gilles Chauve soon had it moving again.
"Compared with a bike or a car, driving a truck off-road is very difficult," said Mr Chauve, who owns a Dubai company called ME Racing. "It is very physical. You must concentrate 100 per cent.
"To drive a truck in the desert you need to have experience, you have to learn the terrain and be able to read the dunes. It is very difficult to go straight with a truck, you have to use the terrain. You go to one point, then another point … there is always a way to pass through."
Strangely, the ride in the truck was much rougher along the track that led into the desert near the Bab Al Shams resort than it was on the dunes. A racing harness kept passengers in place, but their arms and legs were continually jolted around as the big wheels passed over the bumpy road surface. Gazelles darted away in fright as the monster approached.
Once out on the sands, however, the truck was in its element, traversing lofty dunes with an ease that was preposterous for such a large, heavy vehicle. It was much more comfortable in the cabin than before, and the high seating position gave sweeping views across the desert.
Watching the truck while standing on a dune was equally memorable - it was quite a spectacle to see such a large vehicle accelerate over a high dune with its front wheels momentarily off the ground.
The go-anywhere truck was developed for a marathon expedition from North Cape in Norway to Cape Town in South Africa, and it is the support vehicle for the annual Dakar rally in South America.
The average 4x4 seen scuttling up and down the dunes of Big Red every weekend would be put to shame by the technical specifications of what must be the ultimate off-roader. The 10.8-litre engine pumps out 450hp, which is delivered to all six wheels through a box with 16 forward and two reverse gears.
As with any high-end vehicle, buyers must expect to fork out for a few optional extras. The basic truck costs Dh440,000 but, on top of that, the six racing absorbers cost Dh29,000 each, the tyre inflation and deflation system is Dh122,000 and the roll cage is Dh195,000. In all, the extras push the price up to more than Dh1 million.
The inflation-deflation system is essential to keep the truck moving, and Mr Chauve continually used a control panel on the dashboard to adjust the pressure as he steered his way over the dunes.
"You have to always adjust your tyre pressure," he said.
Mr Chauve's love of driving in the desert began when he lived in Saudi Arabia before moving to Dubai 10 years ago.
He added: "Every time you go into the desert you discover something new."
Commercial Vehicles Middle East will run from March 6 to 8 at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.
* First the Hummer, now brakes slam on Sherpa Scout
DUBAI // Fans of bulky military-style off-road vehicles who are still in mourning following the demise of Hummer have suffered a fresh blow.
Renault Trucks has shelved plans to produce a civilian version of its Sherpa Scout military vehicle.
“We need to focus on our core business, which is trucks,” said Marco Bonaveglio, head of operational and product marketing in the Middle East. “A civilian version of the Sherpa Scout would have been a niche market, which would cost money to develop, so the management has decided to postpone it for the time being.”
GM shut its Hummer division in 2010 after worldwide demand for large gas-guzzling 4x4s plummeted during the economic downturn. There was no shortage of buyers in the UAE, however, where the brand was a particular favourite among young Emirati women. The cars were based on the American Humvee military vehicle.
To rub salt into the wound, off-road enthusiasts will be able to see what might have been when a fully functioning civilian Sherpa Scout concept vehicle goes on display at next week’s commercial vehicles show.
The National took a ride in the concept and found that it coped well with desert dunes. Its extreme width provided great stability, and its no-nonsense military styling gave it plenty of presence on the road.
* Colin Simpson