Thrust SSC - Supersonic Race Update

Issue 102 Lead Article - 1st April 1997

Drink For A Thirsty Cat

by Mike Hearn, ThrustSSC Roadshows and Firechase

The Jaguar Firechase
(The Jaguar Firechase)

The Jaguar Firechase fire & rescue vehicle has become a familiar sight in Al Jafr. Its appearance in the village and on the base camp as it sets out for the desert is electrifying. It really looks the sort of the very fast, high tech support vehicle you expect to see in LSR racing!

No surprises then that there were a lot of questions asked when we decided to take it off the road for a few days until we could get some very high octane fuel. The high performance supercharged engine works on a minimum octane level and because we were regularly putting the pedal to the metal on the Al Jafr desert in quite high temperatures, it was clear that we would need to use the optimum fuel. High octane leaded fuel is obtainable in Jordan, but most people are perfectly happy with lower octane fuels, it is only the exotic machinery that needs to be fed with expensive tipple. Since we really couldn't risk blowing the engine we decided that it was worth going over the border to Israel to buy 98 octane unleaded petrol, a simple decision to make but it wasn't quite so simple, as it turned out.

I guess that picking up the telephone to find out how to get help with all of the formalities was when it really sank in that the Arabic Sabbath was not a good time to start! Nevertheless Ninetta and Mike set out in the Land Rover Discovery to drive the 460 kilometres to the north of Jordan where we intended to cross at the Sheikh Hussein bridge. The drive there is tremendous, the mountainous areas north of Amman are beautiful with spectacular views and sheer drops beside the roads to make you gulp when a truck approaches from the opposite direction. A lot of nail biting went on since we had arranged for a taxi driver to wait for us at the Israeli Border. We were threading our way past Amman - a challenge at the best of times but at night a very tricky indeed. Eventually we conceded defeat and found a hotel in Irbid and telephoned the Israeli taxi driver and made our hollow apologies for keeping him waiting for over two hours after his 60 kilometre drive from Tiberius. We arranged that we would telephone in the morning and make a fresh time to meet and then set off to Tiberius where we could buy the right fuel and the essential jerricans.

The following morning we turned up at the border post. Initially it was all too easy. The telephone preparations made introductions smooth and it was soon arranged that we would have permission to take the unprecedented step of taking the rented Discovery right up to the Jordan side of the Israeli border, instead of the more usual parking place 300 metres away. The difference is significant when you are carrying ten 5 gallon jerricans of fuel! It seems that the outer border guards are Army and the inner border is manned by police and - you guessed it - we had overlooked the essential call to the Army border commander. It took a lot of frustrating arm waving and heavy use of the four or five words of Arabic that we knew before we finally climbed in to the Disco and drove triumphantly to the border. Here we formally left Jordan and clambered on to the bus over the short steel bridge to Israel.

Israeli customs and immigration was easier but frustrating. We had hit a training period for a group of youthful girls who had decided to do their national service in the "front line". It was all good natured but excruciatingly slow. We finally made it and were met by a very irritated taxi driver. And we set off for Tiberius. We were treated to a fine and sunny day, wonderfiil views of the Galilee and of the Golan heights. We had to rush around changing Dinars in to Shekels and then fill up the ten Jerricans with 98 Octane unleaded. This was loaded in to a hastily rented pick up truck and the convoy set off back to Jordan.

The Jaguar fighting a fire during training
(The Jaguar fighting a fire during training. Photo: Peter Ross)

The fun began when we wanted to take 50 gallons of high octane petrol through Israeli customs - not everyone wants to do this! Eventually we made a deal and loaded it all on to luggage trolleys and skipped through the outside of the customs shed, just to ensure that we avoided chain smokers inside! Then we loaded the whole consignment on to a bus (the passengers never knew what was underneath them) and drove all the way to the Jordanian side, but only after making an "involuntary" contribution to the new bridge that was being built. It was then that we enjoyed the privilege of parking the Disco close to the border.

The journey back to Amman was interesting. The scenery on the coastal road was amazing and the village markets were the stuff of travel brochures. Our only problem was breathing in the high octane fliel all the way because the breather caps were venting in the heat and a split seam caused by a clumsy bit of loading was gently leaking fuel. We survived all of this and actually got through the maze that is Amman. The solution is to hire a taxi and ask the driver to lead you through.

The last 300 or so kilometres were really interesting. There was a really energetic thunderstorm happening for most of the way and it was so severe that we couldn't see where to go. This was how we just managed to miss the couple of trucks that had overturned in the middle of the road, spilling their loads as they did so. At least the pyrotechnics kept us awake and finally we arrived at a very flooded Al Jafr in time to have a meal and flop in to bed.

The sequel of course was the inevitable Murphy's law. It rained so hard after this trip that we never got the chance to use the fuel and the glistening Jag stood forlornly in the Thrust hangar until it was once again loaded in to the Antonov for the trip back to the UK.

Mike Hearn

The author of this article, Mike Hearn, is ThrustSSC's Roadshow Manager and a member of the Firechase crew. Mike is an honorary platinum member of the Mach 1 Club.

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