If you ever plan to visit Dubai, do so in the spring or autumn. You don’t want to go in the summer – daytime temperatures can reach the 50s. At this point tourists, and even the Emiratis themselves, head indoors or to their cars to seek air-conditioned comfort.
Spring and autumn are a little more bearable. Mid-thirties is the norm. You’d still not want to stay outside all day, but you can walk around without perspiring from your eyeballs. But wrap yourself in an X-Raid ALL4 Racing Dakar racer, painted black and sat behind a race-prepared engine and temperatures, even in spring, once again start with a five.
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This deeply concerned me. I’ve lived in the north of England for most of my life. I eschew long sleeves as soon as temperatures crest 10 degrees and habitually crank cooling systems down to a deep freeze for comfort while I’m driving. I enjoy hot weather, but only with the promise of an air-conditioned car or chilled restaurant at my destination.
Cockpit temperatures in the fifties are alien to me. When you’re being tumble-dried over jumps and rolling through dips, and wearing a full race suit with a balaclava and helmet, some form of cooling is welcome respite.
I’d learned beforehand that X-Raid fits its Mini Countryman-alikes with air conditioning. When I arrived in Dubai, 2015 Dakar winner Nasser Al-Attiyah informed me that the system was rather more rudimentary than I’d hoped. In reality, it cuts maybe ten degrees from the ambient temperature – no goosebump-inducing 16-degree blast here. It’s enough to make the car marginally more bearable on the actual Dakar where the mercury can climb into the seventies, but no more. The best I could hope for was something in the forties. Bugger.
This would be a non-issue were I a seasoned loose-surface expert already familiar with the rigours of off-road driving, but this is the first time I’ve driven a competition car in my life. Truly exciting, but nerve-wracking at the same time. The list of things I really didn’t want to do on my first crack at a £900,000 rally car was brief, but important: Break it. Roll it. Get hopelessly stuck. Vomit all over my race suit as a result of the constant yumps and 40-degree heat.
I needn’t have worried. evo Features Editor and office rallyist Henry Catchpole assured me that ultimately, the MINI would be ‘just a car’. And he’s right. The X-Raid Mini is just a car. One with a very special set of abilities, but a car nevertheless.