Friday 15th March 2013


HIRE CAR MASSACRE: RINGSIDE SEAT

The 'ring's still shut so Dale heads north for a guerrilla ice-driving adventure - what could go wrong?


With the Nurburgring still shut for repairs and excess snow , my master plan for some March lapping has been going badly. No matter how many times I ask, the 'ring management say it's too dangerous for me to do a snow lap.

The organisers seemed a sensible bunch
The organisers seemed a sensible bunch
I keep watching the video of Chris Harris drifting Porsches around an ice lake and I get more and more frustrated. Without accommodating contacts or some very deep pockets, how on earth can a mere mortal get to the Arctic Circle and drive sideways on ice?

Quite easily actually...

After a few conversations on Facebook result in a flash-mob phenomenon I end up booking a flight on lastminute.com. Organised and cajoled together by Robert Larsson, our motley crew of PHers and petrolheads finds itself flying and driving into the icebound town of Lulea just a few kilometres south of the Arctic Circle.

The next day we pick up our hire car. A lovely Audi A4 Quattro from a major rental company. With the extra insurance and lightly studded tyres. Just a couple of loosely-spaced rows of steel jut from the outer shoulders. On tarmac the car skates around and the ABS chatters instantly. But as we take to the boat ramp and creak and crunch our way down onto the frozen lake it all makes perfect sense.

Extra insurance the only wise decision all weekend
Extra insurance the only wise decision all weekend
Our track time and car rentals are supervised by local freelance instructor Per-Erik Niemi. The week before he was working for Audi, the week after he'll be with Porsche. But right now Robert has paid for him to look after this bunch of numpties from all over Europe. We start with a simple slalom from end to end of the lake, drifting around lengths of rubber hose that jut vertically out of the ice. What could possibly go wrong?

I only do one run through the pylons, but when I arrive at the far end of the lake an amazing sight greets my eyes. Two completely mangled hire cars, airbags flapping in the wind. One driver forgot to slow down in time for the end of the slalom and was still slapping from side to when he pranged into the side of a parked car in the queue to come back...

Rescuing the wrecks is horrendous - minus 14 is cold. But the 40mph wind is just sadistic. All heat is sucked from my fingers within seconds of taking off my gloves. And have you tried to push a car on sheet ice? I'd already slipped over once in the briefing, so I just resort to kicking the debris off the track while Per and his sons do the real work.

An old Volvo never looked so sexy before!
An old Volvo never looked so sexy before!
While the other guys go for an early lunch Thorsten (my mate from the 'ring who is sharing the experience and rental car with me) and I get clearance to go solo out to the 'big' track.

"Be careful," we're told. "Go slow to start with and remember the ice is much thinner under the snow because of the insulation. Be careful if you see wet patches..."

Wet patches? Thin ice?

We go so slowly around the slow and twisty track, dodging wet patches and trying not to crash. It's fun, but quite stressful and nearly 3km long. After lunch we don't bother going back there, we just follow Robert's GT-R and Per's GT3 out on to the short track. Short, wide and with thick 60cm ice well ripped up by studs, it's the stuff dreams are made of.

THIS is why I flew to Sweden. Swinging the back from side to side, it's like stepping up to a penalty kick, judging the distance and changing your stride to match. But here it's changing the lengths of the drifts. Right, left, the back end of our A4 estate slides right round ... then SNAP, you let it come back to the right and you're pointing into the centre of the corner, holding it on the gas. Wheels pointing straight in, more and more gas into the 4WD actually keeping the car in the turn. A full 90 degrees to the direction of travel. It's awesome fun and a great challenge. Thorsten and I take it in turns for 20 minutes at a time. Interspersed with passenger rides in the GT3 and GT-R, and a whole bunch of pushing, digging and pulling as we all take it in turns to park our hire cars deeper and deeper into the snow banks. And then rescue each other.

Oops, stuck again! Best get pushing...
Oops, stuck again! Best get pushing...
It's about 3pm when the over-confidence starts to get silly. I stuff my Audi deep into the inside of the first turn and beach myself good and proper. My mate Christer rolls by with the windows down, gloating, accelerates away, and then Scandinavian-flicks his poor rental so high up a bank that there's not a single wheel left on the floor.

After the rescue operations cease we all agree to call it quits before any more cars are written-off. Thanks to Robert's connections, we have time for some Swedish VIP hospitality and fresh Reindeer steaks in Lulea. And just 24 hours later I'm back in the village of Nurburg looking at a snowed-in Nordschleife. That I'm still not allowed to drive because it's "not safe". Hah.


Video here:

 

Pics: Dale Lomas and James Holm

Author: Dale Lomas
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