My journey: Chopard Classic Car Rally Dubai
On any other Friday, my day begins at 10 am. I go for a quick swim, a leisurely breakfast, and then settle in on the sofa with a good book and coffee. Today, however, I am up at the crack of dawn. It's the morning of the inaugural Dubai Chopard Classic Rally, and I've got a spot in one of the press cars.
The cars gather in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa, one of the most iconic buildings in Dubai, and an apt beginning to a rally that includes some of the most iconic motors every to come off a production line.
The oldest car on display is a 1949 Bentley and the youngest is a sprightly 1985 Renault 5 GT Turbo 2.
But the real star is car number one; a 1973 Porsche 911. In the passenger seat is a living legend of motorsport Jacky Ickx. The Belgian has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans six times, achieved eight wins and 25 podium finishes in Formula One, and he is also a former winner of the Paris - Dakar Rally.
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In the driver seat is none other than Karl Scheufele, the co-president of Chopard and the man who made this rally come to life in Dubai. Needless to say, Scheufele is a huge classic car enthusiast himself.
My car for the day is a magnificent 1972 Corvette Stingray, with a ‘big block’ engine. Its black shiny paint work and leather interior of the same colour would have you believe it has just left the showroom. What's more, the humongous air vent on the bonnet would intimidate even the most ferocious of Ferrari.
Our journey for today is 160 km away to Hatta Fort, on the UAE-Oman border. This is a timed rally, but speed is largely irrelevant. It is good knowing if push came to shove most other competitors would eat our dust.
I’m the co-pilot today, and my job is to make sure we don't stray from track. I get acquainted with the driver, another Belgian, Gregory Delhaye. We are handed a timesheet which needs to be followed before the long line of priceless classic cars sets off toward Hatta.
As we drive along, I get acquainted with Gregory and find out he owns five of the participating cars at the rally, including the one we are in. He’s been in town for 17 years and owns a classic car business, amongst other investments, and tells me there are an estimated 10,000 classic cars in the UAE.
He also tells me that there are collectors who with more than 200 cars in a garage but are very discreet about it. According to the experts, a classic car is defined as being a noteworthy model that's 25 years or older.
For Gregory, being a collector is a habit, an obsession that generally starts when you buy your first classic car. “I, for example, bought a 1973 Corvette Sting Ray,” he says, “Classic cars are like your wife, if you don't take care of her she will leave you”.
An hour away from Hatta Fort and we pass the oldest car of the race, a 1949 Bentley, stopped on the side of the road. We stop to investigate but are quickly told by officials to keep moving.
By mid-day, we've completed the first leg of the race in three hours and nine minutes, which is good time considering we stopped to aid the Bentley.
Before turning into Hatta Fort, however, we need to come off track and go for a brief treasure hunt for a sign that needs to be logged as part of the race. After a consolidated team effort, Gregory finds what we're looking for, and we continue another 35-minutes to the fort.
After a quick lunch, we're on the road again – this time back to the UAE. But first, we need some petrol. Every vehicle that pulls in receives ample attention from the service station staff.
After another checkpoint – we must again have our timesheet stamped, and there's another treasure hunt, this time at the Mleiha Archaeological Centre on the outskirts of Sharjah. Archeology tells us that anatomically modern humans' lived here 130,000 years ago.
As the sun begins to set and the Burj Khalifa appears in the distance, and I realise this epic journey - which started 9 hours ago - is about to come to an end. We arrive at the finish and receive our final stamp on the timesheet, before driving down to the car park to see our fellow competitors parked up safely.
It is, without doubt, an event not to be forgotten, and for that, we are grateful to Chopard for the initiative. I am confident to say; myself and all others involved will certainly hope this becomes an annual affair.