Thursday, February 14, 2013

Memorable Roads: Jabel Hafeet

Text by: Victor Photos by: Victor

Most people who just can't get enough of driving have a place of "their own" that they usually go to. A certain strip of road where you know no-one is looking so you can push your car a little extra hard or perhaps a twisty road where you can get a proper feel of the handling and make the tires scream and remind you of why you love driving.

The 12km road up Jabel Hafeet, a 1.219m tall mountain located in Al Ain, UAE, is one of those places. People come here to sprint their cars up the twisty road that features 21 corners, hairpin turns, and an amazing view that gets better and better the higher up you get. This is the perfect place of putting your car to the test.

At first, the road doesn't seem to be anything special as its entry is just a normal roundabout exit, and it would be easy for people who are lost to accidentally come up the road. But boy, would they be in for a surprise! The smooth, newly surfaced road is a dream to drive on, and along the way there are several parking lots where you can pull over and have a good look of your progression up the mountain.

Every corner you come out of will put a large grin on your face and lead you straight to the next apex. But be advised, there are other people in faster, more powerful cars, who are out here for the same reason as you are - to have fun. They will come flying out of nowhere and all you will see is a blur roaring past you, leaving you in a state of disappointment for having a slower car. But don't fall for it, the joy of driving up this road lies in the driver, not the car.

One of the downsides of the road is the hotel resort located on the top of the mountain. There is nothing wrong with the resort, the real problem lies with the fully loaded hotel-shuttles with curious tourists that might crawl in front of you. Luckily, the Jabel Hafeet road has three lanes (two going up and one going down), so overtaking is easy (when you are going up the mountain). Another downside is the 40km/h speed limit on the road. But it won’t be long before you realise that people tend to consider the signs are mere “recommendations”, and even the shuttle buses are driving up the mountain F1 style at a steady 80km/h.

Once you reach the summit there is a large parking lot with a fantastic view over the city. Apart from the resort at the top, there is also a huge palace which belongs to the rulers of the Emirates. Once you have grasped the view, felt jealous over how the people who live in the palace get to drive up this road every day, and maybe gotten a cup of so-so coffee from the café beside the parking lot, it's time to go back down.

Before you get all excited over driving down the road, let me warn you that the Jabel Hafeet mountain is infamous of setting brakes on fire. It is incredibly difficult not to dab on the brake as you go down as engine braking doesn't seem to quite work down this mountain road, especially if you are in a rental Hyundai i20 with a schitzo auto-gearbox, for example. It is extremely important to keep this in mind so you don't have a steady hold on the brake the whole way down. My tip is not to go so fast and stay in a low gear or you will be one of many who have flown down with the brakes on fire. And that usually hurts. A lot.

Final tip, and this applies if you are planning on going up any mountain road, bring a car that has a proper manual gearbox! This will make the experience a lot better as you will learn how the car and engine behaves and most importantly, you won't be furious of the gearbox hopping to a gear that you don't want to be in. 

Dream car for driving up the Jabel Hafeet mountain road:
Lamborghini Gallardo PL 550-2 Balboni - Mid-engined, Manual gearbox with Rear wheel drive - Yes please!

More affordable car for driving up the Jabel Hafeet mountain road:
Renault Clio RS - 200bhp N/A engine for direct response, clever LSD and, of course, manual 6-speed gearbox.


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