Off-road thrills get heart racing
By Roy Kietzman » The off-road track at Bahrain International Circuit is hard to beat for the thrill of the road and to gauge the driving skills of both the pro’s and other drivers behind the wheels. It’s doubtless the single such facility in the Middle East.
The three-kilometre-long course has no fewer than 32 obstacles for drivers or passengers to experience, from rocky crawling areas and a water tunnel to scary perpendicular, 85-degree inclines to descend. The track is an adrenaline-filled action one.

“The course has something decidedly different to teach in off-road driving,” says Rodney Davies, BIC activities and events manager.

A mud pit is being added to the challenges of what’s dubbed the Arabian Driving Adventure which is “widely regarded as the most exciting motor course in the world.” That’s what the publicity says, and, having tried it, I’ll certainly endorse it.

Besides toning up the techniques for the pro’s with off-road driving, ADA aims to make ordinary drivers more aware of safety aspects and how to navigate different terrain with ease.

Some visitors may wander in to BIC to check the facilities at Sakhir, in the centre of main island Bahrain, but it’s far better to book a visit ahead of time so, as a passenger, visitors can experience off road first hand by taking a 45-minute rough-and-tumble ride (BD 10 per person). Passengers must be aged over 6 years.

But, outside of the quasi-entertainment aspect of just going along for the ride, as it were, a far more important part of the ADA programme is the driver-training role where participants get three-hour classroom instruction which includes a briefing on off road, a presentation and on-track coaching, always using a Hummer. Such a course runs BD 65.

However, corporate days are also held where drivers are trained to international standards. A key factor in all this is safety.   

“We take safety extremely seriously here at BIC,” underlined Davies, where a wrong manoeuvre by an untrained driver could be dangerous, even fatal. At least 20 drivers, in the majority Bahraini, are in the teaching faculty.

One of the instructors is a Bahraini woman who was taken to the US for advanced training with experts being wowed by her professionalism at the wheel and her command of the road.

Some of the teachers turn out to be radio personalities, well known in Bahrain, like David Bloomer and Marie-Claire.

“Being accustomed to radio, they’re used to talking, dealing with the public and, more importantly, explaining things in an easy-to-grasp manner,” said Davies. Two skid cars are used in driving-training programmes which demonstrate to drivers how to avoid losing control on an open road.

When unavoidable trouble looms, instructors show the best means of minimising the risk for oneself, passengers and other road users.

“We guarantee that you’ll leave SkidXtreme exhilarated and a better driver,” assures Davies.  

Drivers encounter situations that they may never run into. But, then again, they may, and at least they’ll know how to keep control of their vehicle.

At times, training deals with pure desert survival which is primordial in this region where drivers come from various countries in the Middle East.

Another key factor in the ADA equation is using off road to test or show off the reliability and resilience of specific models of car manufacturers, like the Jeep and Mitsubishi Pajero.

A monumental move in 2007 has been the signing of a contract with Hummer to open an Arabian academy for the star models.

Such a facility will be the single academy in the world after the one at its headquarters in South Bend, Indiana, USA, which has a long history of motor manufacturing.

“Having a Hummer academy here will be the opportunity to present the ultimate in off-road driving,” Davies enthused, strengthening BIC’s role as a regionwide centre of excellence in motor sports and driving.

An academy edifice is being constructed with a dedicated course for 325-horsepower Hummer 2 and 220-horsepower 3 models.

Hummers are already used in twice-monthly courses for the Hummer 2 (1½ days) and Hummer 3 (3 days).

Whether passenger, professional driver or using a car for pleasure or business, everyone stands to benefit from the off-road course, learning new techniques in road handling at Bahrain International Circuit.