Gentle dunes as far as the eye can see, a dry palm tree here and there and a few gazelles trotting in between - at first glance the desert an hour south of Dubai looks like an oasis of silence. And it looks like nothing and nobody can disturb this peace. Until the blazing sun suddenly darkens behind a cloud of sand and dust and the ground begins to shake underfoot: Showtime for Nasser Al-Attiyah and the desert son from the Emirate of Qatar cannot be ragged.
Three months after winning the legendary Rally Dakar with his mini All4Racing, he asks for a cooldown into the hot desert sand and lets his racing car fly through the dunes, which is frightening and frightening. Especially when you sit clamped in a vise next to the driver and see the world out there just like the drum of a washing machine in the full-cycle.
While the normal Mini Countryman is made especially for the jungle of the big city, Nasser sits in a bespoke racing car that has little more in common with the production model than the headlights, door handles and brand logo: on the platform of an X3, that has billions of heights and BMW partner Sven Quandt led Team X-Raid together with BMW and Magna in Graz for each 800.000 Euro within three weeks of handcrafting a kind of Monster Mini, beside which the Countryman looks like a toy car: 22 inches longer, 21 Inches wider and 45 centimeters higher than the original, he can silence any criticism of the cuddly course of Bayern with a gas shock.
After all, no high-bred two-liter turbo roars here with silly 218 PS as in the John Cooper Works. Under the hood is the three-liter six-cylinder diesel M GmbH, which makes in the race car 320 horsepower and with soon 800 Nm goes to work. Even if the translation of the racing gear at full throttle does not yield much more than 180 km / h, this is an impressive experience - not least because the exhaust ends directly under the passenger and the developers did not have to worry about such side issues as sound insulation standards.
The mini is baked from carbon and has no superfluous bells and whistles on board. The fact that the car still weighs just under two tons, is due to the rally regulations - and of course the soon 300 liters of fuel in the tank behind the seats and the three spare wheels, which are stowed in the rear and under the car floor. Because even if the rally drivers are accompanied by a whole service baggage and the X-Raid team arrives every year with more than 50 vehicles to the Dakar, the drivers on the rally stages have to make their car themselves again. "We do not need five minutes to change a tire, and we even change a clutch in fifteen minutes," Nasser says, pointing to the tool battery in the copilot's door, while charging with mischievous grin to the next dune ridge, only to go after it rush into another valley and fully enjoy the 25 centimeters of travel of the rally chassis. ,
Two, three rounds Nasser plays his bad game with his mini and me, torments us with meter-wide jumps, with dives in dune valleys and with a gangrene scrub that patters on the planks and looks over and over again, questioningly, where he should go now. After all, I'm the co-pilot today and he's waiting for his instructions. Although I have actually studied the road book before and even let a professional explain to me what the many colored markings mean, transforming the notes into night-time small work into a kind of coloring book. But while Nasser's co-driver on the Dakar rattles down the commandos effortlessly all day long, leading him over several hundred kilometers of stages, after just two minutes I have lost track and orientation.
How can you find your way around in this huge sandbox, where all the contours blur in the vertical sun? "GPS, trip computer, odometer, compass," says Nasser with a smile. "Joke biscuit", you want to hurl angrily at him. "Then drive so that you can read the battery of the instruments, which were quickly doweled by the mechanics in front of me in the dashboard. Or look for your way alone. I think you know every grain of sand here personally. "
But of course you swallow his anger, make a good face to his evil game and hope that this hell ride will eventually come to an end. He does too. But different than expected. Because at some point Nasser stops in the middle of the desert and asks for a role reversal. If he has had enough of my miserable announcements or today is just generous, he does not show. But suddenly I find myself behind the wheel again, bang the first gear into the transmission and start my personal dessert Storm.
"Gas, gas, gas", it crackles from the speaker in the helmet, because speed is everything in the desert. If the car is too slow, the wide rubber rollers sink too deep in the sand and the car inevitably gets stuck. The faster you drive against it, the more casual the Countryman surfs over the dune crests. He reacts to the soft ground a little bit delayed and he does not like sudden changes of direction. But who takes that to heart, drifts through the dunes with a smile and someday feels like a snowboarder in the deep snow - except that you literally cook your coat after a few kilometers.
So I step even closer to the slim pedal in the too narrow footwell and keep the speed nicely between 2 500 and 3 000 tours. We drive, 80, 100, 120, in between, the digital speedometer even 148 km / h and I can understand so very slowly why Nasser knew after the first secret desert ride in his father's Toyota, that he would once be a rally driver. Because with every meter, the grin on my face is wider, and the faster the mini-monster plows through the sand, the more I feel like the king of the desert. Laurence of Arabia? General Norman A. Schwarzkopf? That I do not laugh!
However, the temperature in the carbon box rises again by a few degrees with every gas blast. Even if there really is an air conditioner and fans a lukewarm breeze from the open hoses on the unlined headliner, it will take only five minutes, then we'll be done. The hot air, the boiling sweat and everywhere the sand - after an hour in the hottest Mini of all time you feel like a breaded schnitzel in the deep fryer and can not wait for this hell ride to end. I do not want a cup and a laurel and not even the handshake of Nasser, who in the end at least pretends to be halfway satisfied with me. But in me there is only one thought: "A kingdom for a shower."
Author: Benjamin Bessinger / SP-X