x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Car enthusiasts need never drive alone on the Emirates' roads

Not surprisingly, in a car-obsessed country, plenty of clubs are cropping up to cater to every taste, from Minis to Ferraris.

The UAE Ferrari Owners' Club was rebranded six months ago and has been officially approved by the car company. The club will host a gala dinner for members at the Emirates Palace next month.
The UAE Ferrari Owners' Club was rebranded six months ago and has been officially approved by the car company. The club will host a gala dinner for members at the Emirates Palace next month.

F430, 612 Scaglietti, 430 Scuderia, M GTA Coupe, 599 - these names and numbers are instantly recognisable to any Ferrari aficionado and they were all lined up in a highly polished row along pit lane at the Dubai Autodrome. The occasion was a track day for the relaunched UAE Ferrari Owners' Club - in six months, 70 owners of the Italian sport cars have joined up. It is just one of many car clubs that have sprung up in the UAE in recent times to cater to petrolheads of all persuasions.

The Ferrari Owners' Club has been endorsed by the marque's factory in Maranello, Italy, and as well as the track day, the club has already taken a group of 26 cars on a cruise to Fujairah and held a family day at Dubai Polo Club. The next event is a gala dinner for members at the Emirates Palace hotel, Abu Dhabi on December 10. Stephen White, the club's director of events and motorsport, sold his 1997 355 Spider and now has a Ferrari California on order, the latest lust-machine from Maranello. "It's not just about the brand, it's the lifestyle associated with the brand," he says when asked why he loves Ferraris. There's a real passion associated with the cars - they are designed to be driven, not just left in the garage."

Club president and owner of a 599 Fiorano, Fred Kamperman agrees. He says one of the main motivations for launching the club was to make sure Ferrari owners truly enjoy their cars either on the track or the open road. For both White and Kamperman, owning a Ferrari is the realisation of a long-held dream. "It's a superb car, every time I drive it or look at it, I fall in love with it again," says Kamperman. "I'll look at it in the garage and walk around it and it still makes my heart beat faster."

Another club that is equally passionate about its cars and hosting big events is the Corvette Arabia club. Elie Deeb, the Lebanese-born club president of the club, founded Corvette Arabia at the start of this year and runs it with a board of five people. Already, the club has hosted two drives, three track days at the Dubai Autodrome and four parties for lovers of the powerful American sports car. There are 50 members and around 500 people affiliated to the club as fans. Corvette Arabia's next event, a rally, is still in the planning stages with Deeb busily negotiating a venue and sponsors.

Deeb's love of Corvettes is hereditary - his father owns five Corvettes and he says he has been a fan "since before I was born." Deeb himself has seven Corvettes with models ranging from 1979 to 1999. When we met him, he showed us an assortment of screwdriver scratches which happened the previous evening when someone tried to break into his 1999 model, also known as "the Black Knight". It has a 5.7-litre V8 engine under the bonnet, 675hp and a 0-100 kph sprint of 3.4 seconds and Deeb was happy to demonstrate the car's prowess in an empty car park.

"I'm a big fan of Lamborghinis and Ferraris, of course, but I can't afford them," Deeb says. "Corvettes are affordable and they are great cars for sport and speed - they give you all you need." Not as fast as Corvettes, but certainly as well-loved by its fans, is the Mini. It has long been a cult car brand and part of the popular culture landscape with its iconic appearance in both versions of The Italian Job as well as being the preferred car of Rowan Atkinson's bumbling comic creation Mr Bean. The chances of seeing a classic 1960s Mini on any UAE street are pretty remote - and this will be even more so once the laws about registering old cars come into effect in January. But more than 300 new Minis have been sold here in the first half of this year.

In response to this popularity, the Mini Club Dubai has been launched with a rally this month. More than 50 Mini owners got together to compete for the title of Mini City Rally Champion with tasks such as driving skill tests, taking creative photos of their Minis and a challenge to see how many people could fit into a Mini. The winning team managed to cram 15 people into a Mini Clubman. The Mini rally ended at the Dubai Autodrome track with owners getting the chance to put their cars through their paces on the circuit usually reserved for Speedcars, touring cars, Radicals and sport bikes.

"As a proud Mini owner, I enjoyed participating in an activity that brought like-minded enthusiasts together," says Paul Macleod, one of the drivers who took part in the first rally. "I will definitely be joining the club." This enthusiasm is music to the ears of club President Mahmoud Chemaitelly. "We are very excited and judging by the positivew response we received from the rally, we're confident that the Mini Club Dubai will be successful," he says.

The next event for the Mini Club Dubai will be at the Sharjah Motor Show, which will be held from November 18-20. "Besides the actual exhibition, an event will take place that will give Mini drivers an opportunity to test their driving skills and receive training advice from experts," says Chemaitelly. Affiliation with the UAE Automobile and Touring Club, presided over by local motor racing legend Mohammed Ben Sulayem, can help clubs host better events with more support. BMW Club UAE president Ayham Al Daqqa says that the launch of their club was two years in the making but it has now been running successfully for a year with the Automobile and Touring Club's support. "Their endorsement has been extremely beneficial to us in that it allowed us to host a variety of events with their blessing and consultancy," says Al Daqqa. "That was invaluable throughout our first year."

"Our member count now is at 300 enthusiasts and we don't limit our membership and events to BMW owners only," he says. Members can log onto the club's website for forums, technical feedback, and discounts for services such as parts, detailing, wheel alignments. The club has run charity events, leisure drives and motorsports and has opened the High Performance Driving School which Al Daqqa describes as "the perfect concept for aspiring race drivers." The school is aimed at people who would like to try race driving but don't own a race car or can't afford the running costs associated with running a competition car.

"They get to drive a specially prepared BMW with one-on-one supervision by our seasoned drivers on a real track," says Al Daqqa. "The turnout has been phenomenal." The club will be appearing at this weekend's Grand Racing at the Dubai Autodrome with a stand as well as a parade lap to show off some of the members' flasher machines. Getting involved with the local racing scene is also important to the Seat Sport Club. The club has been around since September 2007 and has 70 members. Seats are racing in the touring car category of this Dubai Autodrome motor sport season and the club sponsors one of the Seat Leon Super Copa cars. "We have a racing team that always joins most of the motor sport activities in the UAE ," says Mohammed Al-Tarifi, the club's founder.

Al-Tarifir says the club organises social events such as charity drives and motor sport activities, such as track days. The track days he describes as "non-competitive motorsports". "Our target is to cater to all Seat owners in the UAE and even to branch out to other countries in the region," he says. Kenneth Wong founded the Mitsubishi Evo club, another club devoted to the joy of driving hot hatches but says it's "not a formal entity at this point in time". He has handed over the reins to Motaz Abu-Hijleh, who has been active in racing the powerful Mitsubishis in the UAE.

At this stage, the club largely exists online through forums on the Evolve Motor Club, which caters to owners of cars other than Evos. "I originally started the club as a focal point for getting objective information for fellow Evo owners across the UAE - most of the discussions and support usually takes place on the online forum." Wong would also like to see the club promote responsible sport driving. "I still maintain the need for responsible enhancements of the car, focusing more on improving driver skill and attitude - less ego and a more defensive style of driving."

For future events for Evo lovers, Wong thinks it will be easier and better managed under the umbrella of the Evolve Club which has already been actively organising social gatherings for the last Friday of each month as well as motor sport activities. One of the UAE's newer clubs is rather specialised - it is aimed at owners of Infiniti G35 and G37 coupes and has been established by Samer Al Saleh and he has big ambitions. The club first met in September this year and has 52 members across Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Al Ain.

"Average turnout for events has been 15 which is satisfying for a club less than two months old," says Saleh. The club has gone on group drives, held photo shoots of members' cars and the next events planned will be a social lunch or dinner and "we're hopefully reserving the Dubai Kartdrome". "Future plans include getting sponsored in order to start a G Coupe team to participate in events at the Dubai Autodrome and establishing a G Coupe Club race track driving school and finally becoming the largest car enthusiast club in the UAE," says Samer with a grin.

It is am ambition shared by many other UAE car clubs - race tracks and roads across the country could soon become crowded with tribes of drivers loyal to their marque. In a country where running even the most gas-guzzling car is still an affordable proposition, UAE's car clubs have a big future fuelled by a shared passion for cars that goes beyond the daily commute. glewis@thenational.ae