The leading modified Mitsubishi Pajeros (Monteros), which seemed to win most of the races, finally had some serious competition from Volkswagen, BMW, and Nissan. VW had highly modified Touaregs with 2.5-liter turbodiesel engines. BMW ran relatively stock-looking X5s, also with diesels. Nissan ran gas-powered Frontiers; Mitsubishi's entries also ran on gas.
Aside from these factory teams, there was a mix of modified Land Rovers, Isuzus, Toyotas, and even a couple of locally entered Chevrolet Sierras. The trucks had van-type bodies for aero-dynamics and storage of spare tires and tools, which made all the race cars look like SUVs.
The racing wasn't as ferocious as in the SCORE races in Baja, as this wasn't a sprint but a series of events each day. Stamina, good navigation, and reliability are key ingredients to a successful race team.
On the way back to Dubai from the desert, we learned more about local customs from our tour guides. Mashaal Abdul Rab is from Yemen, and his partner Mark Saunders is an ex-pat from Britain who has lived in Dubai for 10 years. They run one of many companies that take tourists into the deserts each day in SUVs to experience the dunes, have dinner at sunset, and ride camels. These tours are popular with Europeans who never come close to anything like this back home. Mark and Mashaal also help organize the Porsche Adventure Holidays, which offer several desert safaris every year for Porsche owners and club members. It's now a popular vacation for Porsche fans who get to drive Cayennes through the dunes. Additionally, the guys helped Porsche during the development phases of the Cayenne, when the engineers did much of the hot-weather and off-road testing in Dubai. It's becoming a place that attracts European manufacturers who have traditionally used Death Valley for hot-weather testing.
In the southwestern U.S., it's fairly easy to experience the thrill of driving off-road in the desert--although there are far fewer places open to driving than enthusiasts would like. Now, because Europeans have discovered desert off-roading, Dubai is a playground for tourists. Undoubtedly, more Americans will also venture east to play in the sand.