THE GREATEST ROADS: JEBEL JAIS MOUNTAIN ROAD

Over the years there have been many contenders for the title of ‘greatest road on earth’. Now a new stretch of snaking asphalt in the United Arab Emirates may have claimed the number one spot.

We take the McLaren 650S Spider up the incredible Jebel Jais Mountain Road to find out.

 

Is the Jebel Jais Mountain Road the greatest strip of asphalt on earth? Stretching away from the road that runs between Ras Al-Khaimah in the United Arab Emirates and the Oman border, it snakes its way up Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain at around 1950 metres. 

This awe-inspiring feat of engineering was commissioned by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi, ruler of the Ras Al-Khaimah emirate, with the aim of attracting more tourism to a mountainous and previously hard-to-access area. Work began in 2005, but is now almost complete; the final few kilometres to the summit are still under construction, and a barrier ultimately blocks your progress. But the first 36 kilometres is now very much open to explore. It’s driving nirvana, a motorway’s width of tarmac carving up the mountainside with an inviting mix of fast kinks, challenging hairpins and breathtaking views. Today, we’re driving the Jebel Jais Mountain Road in the McLaren 650S Spider. Its combination of a 650PS (641bhp) twin turbo V8 engine and retractable hardtop make it the ideal companion for a blast up a twisting mountain road bathed in glorious sunshine.

 

The McLaren 650S Spider on its ascent to the top of the Jebel Jais Mountain Road.

 

Strike out for the Jebel Jais Mountain Road and you’ll almost certainly assume you’re lost. First you’ll find speed bumps lining a dusty old road used mostly by trucks – the 650S’s hydraulic lift system and supple suspension prove invaluable – and then you drive for miles with an increasing disquiet that this can’t be the place. Finally you reach a roundabout; turn right and you’ll soon find yourself at the fortified Oman border; turn left and you’ll find the start of what might be the best road in the world. We slow for a moment to lower the 650S Spider’s retractable roof; warm sunshine floods into the cabin.

At first the road is a broad two-lanes wide, with open expanses either side, but soon it flows into a canyon, tracing the lines of the dry, rocky river bed down below as precipitous rock faces tower overhead, shielding the sun. The road’s fast but well-sighted, and reassuring feedback through the McLaren’s steering wheel reveals plenty of grip in reserve. We switch the 650S from Normal to Sport Handling and Powertrain modes and change the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox to manual shifting; the suspension stiffens, the throttle response sharpens, the engine note intensifies.

 

The refined and purposeful interior of the McLaren 650S Spider is the perfect driving environment.

 

The road begins to climb slowly at first, the radius of the corners gentle, fast and inviting. The 650S Spider’s front end hooks into the bends, staying composed as the speed builds, and the distinctive bark of its twin-turbo V8 is amplified by the canyon walls and retracted roof. The road is completely deserted, and yet as we round a corner it broadens out still further, opening up a third lane for overtaking that continues to the very top; it brings even more intensity to the driving experience, allowing you to sweep through the corners and clip each apex. The 650S is in its element, and soon we’re climbing up above the river bed and the bleached canyon, back to the burning sun. 

As the altitude builds, so the nature of the road changes; it’s now straighter, but it still flicks slightly left and right and lifts and falls as a light shimmer of heat haze drifts over the surface. It’s deeply satisfying to squeeze the accelerator pedal of the 650S and feel the immense torque of the eight-cylinder engine punch up and up towards the rev limiter after each pull on the gearshift paddle. We climb higher and higher at an incredible rate.

 

Alcantara, leather and weight-saving carbon fibre adorn the luxuriously appointed cabin of the McLaren 650S Spider. The side intakes and active rear Airbrake are both optionally available in lightweight carbon fibre.

 

Past the halfway point and the hairpins appear, allowing the road to cut across the challenging topography. You can feel the 650S Spider’s mid-engined layout add an extra keenness to direction changes, have the confidence to exploit the carbon-ceramic brakes’ massive reserves of stopping power, and stand on the throttle as the rear tyres claw monstrous traction from the recently laid surface. 

Near the summit we pull the McLaren over at a vantage point, marvelling at the monochromatic ash-brown landscape and the ribbon of road that improbably curls and twists over it. Above us we can hear the faint tap-tap-tapping of heavy machinery breaking ground, a reminder that this is long, hard work for the labourers who graft here daily.

The road is deserted for hours, but later we meet a convoy of motorcyclists who’ve come from as far as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait after hearing about this amazing road. They offer us food and we sit in the 28C heat – a pleasant 10C cooler than at sea level – sharing stories of our blasts to the top; we all want to return.

The Jebel Jais Mountain Road might not yet be finished, but it’s already one of the greatest roads on earth.

 

 

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THE McLAREN 650S SPIDER

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