How many times have you been driving on Sheikh Zayed Road when you’re suddenly forced to slam on your brakes and swerve to avoid a driver who has decided to cut into your lane? Quite a few? Yeah, me too.
So I signed up for the Audi Driving Experience at the Dubai Autodrome to try to improve my defensive driving – well, that and because I’d heard I could speed a brand new Audi TT through a ‘high-paced slalom’ in a time trial against a bunch of people I’d never met. Think ‘Star in a reasonably priced car’ from BBC’s Top Gear, but with orange cones. That comes later.
First, before they let newbies off the leash, I have to learn how to handle a car in dangerous situations through steering techniques, emergency braking and lane changing (both on a track leading to a wall of cones, rather than a stationary car or group of merry picnickers). Instructor Sean Stevens demonstrates the first lesson – emergency braking – by revving the Audi Q5 away from the cones and flooring it. Twenty metres before the ‘hazard’, he slams on the brakes and guides the 4x4 round the cones – but not without flattening one of the orange markers with his rear tyre. ‘The sunlight got in my eye,’ he grins.
Now it’s the turn of the participants. My initial panic turns to surprising confidence as the vehicle remains under control when the brake pedal is slammed to the floor at speeds of up to 100kph. The ABS kicks in with a judder and allows the Q5 to easily navigate what had at first looked an impossibly small gap between the cones. As comfort levels rise, Sean uses the handheld radio in each car to persuade me to accelerate harder and to hit the brakes later with each turn. I could get used to this.
Next comes emergency lane changing in the Audi TT, which again involves navigating around a cone-marked hazard at extreme speed – this time without the brakes (gulp). Sean again demonstrates at breakneck pace, aiming the car at a hazard with lanes to the left and the right, before easing off the accelerator and, with minimal steering, bending the car round the curve to the left as though the wheels are on rails. ‘You want to turn the steering wheel with as little effort as possible to keep load transference to a minimum,’ he says. Easier said than done, it turns out, as the first driver screeches round the hazard erratically. The second barrels the TT straight through the cones.
It’s my turn, and luckily there’s not much to live up to. Yet on Sean’s last-minute command of ‘right!’, I turn the car left. That’s embarrassing. But after pleading that it was the pressure, and not fault of the third-rate primary school teachers who never taught me the difference between left and right, I get it right second time.
After a cup of tea and a biscuit, it’s time for us to go back out into the searing heat for a time trial, enabling us to put together everything we’ve learned. This is what I’m here for. How often are you told to fire someone else’s car round a track as fast as you can? The course beckons, marked with more friendly orange cones to delineate tight turns, slaloms and a hairpin bend. With steely determination on every face, the drivers fire the car round the tarmac with varying degrees of success. But every one of them screeches through the finishing gate with a wide smile on their face.
I finish third out of 10 – not quite Stirling Moss, but not bad. Good enough for a certificate that hangs proudly on the wall at Time Out Towers. And next time a 4x4 driver cuts in front of me on Sheikh Zayed Road, I’ll be ready…
The Audi Advanced driving course is Dhs950 for a half day; the next courses take place on August 12, September 10 and 11. See the website for info on Audi Sports Car half-day courses, the Audi R8 full-day experience, chauffeur courses and the team-building experience. firstname.lastname@example.org, www.audidriving.net (050 283 4053)