HIRE CAR MASSACRE: RINGSIDE SEAT
The 'ring's still shut so Dale heads north for a guerrilla ice-driving adventure - what could go wrong?
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.
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.
"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.
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.
Pics: Dale Lomas and James Holm