Sunday supplement: Lap Land
Slip-sliding on the third annual ‘Iron and Ice’ driving experience.
On a frozen lake in Swedish Lapland, 'moose points' are awarded as a penalty for leaving the track. One point if your teammates manage to push the car out of the snow, three points if the tow hook has to be used. Moose points are all pinned to your jacket.
The vast lake in question lies 859 km north of Stockholm by car, and Johan Sellbom owns a third of it. At the beginning of December each year, Johan begins readying the various tracks that will become a winter playground for air-cooled 911s.
“Preparation of the lake always begins with measuring the thickness of the ice,” he says, “after which the people in charge determine the track layout.” Johan then blows the snow away and clears the main access track. Guided by GPS data, he then shapes the individual tracks on the left and right in snow and ice, so they resemble parts of famous race circuits, such as a section of Belgium's Spa-Francorchamps. There is even a track that only consists of bends, called simply Curves.
Johan knows the circuits like the back of his hand now. “I could work as an instructor here if I had the time,” he says with a smile. He clears the snow from a few more bends before heading home. It is supposed to snow again overnight, so the new day will start early with more of the same.
Joining him next morning is Patrick Simon, track spokesman for the VLN Endurance Championship at the Nürburgring, ADAC GT Masters commentator, Formula E commentator, and also a racing driver and instructor. Patrick started his career in kart racing in 1988, followed by races in series such as the Porsche Carrera Cup, the German Touring Car Challenge and Formula Ford, racking up victories in the European Le Mans Series and the Nürburgring 24.
But in the off season, the father of three is now drawn here to Swedish Lapland. For at least four weeks each winter he runs ‘Ice & Iron’, a high-performance winter driving experience that teaches its participants how to handle a 911 at the limit and beyond. “I never tire of experiencing the spirit of the old cars," he says, climbing in to the lightly modified 964 C2. "Driving a Porsche on a frozen lake simply feels great. ‘Ice & Iron’ is a dream come true. Where else do you have the opportunity to push old cars so close to their limit?”
This winter, the programme is taking place for the third time, the cars having been painstakingly prepared throughout the preceding summer. “In my programme, participants learn controlled drifting on a frozen lake," the 44-year-old Patrick says. "The sectional training is geared specifically to learning success, starting with exercises for correct braking, avoidance and load changes. On different handling courses, participants are introduced to both the limits of the vehicle and to their own limits, step-by-step, in small groups.”
The current wave of participants follows him from track to track, each providing new opportunities to learn, and earn more moose points. Patrick demonstrates a clean lap of each new layout, revealing what the culmination of the course could look like for any one of its wide-eyed drivers – a perfect performance after days of intensive practise.
Everyone is up for the challenge, utterly focussed, forgetting the world around them and thinking only of the perfect steering angle, the right amount of throttle, the precise moment to initiate a drift on the brakes or gas. And Patrick is always on the side lines, thumbs up, radio crackling into the cars. There are errors aplenty, moose points accumulated, but everything almost always falls into place. And the feeling when you finally nail the drift, then a seamless sequence of bends before that one perfect lap, is truly unforgettable.
Nowhere in the world are sunsets more dramatic than in Lapland. As the cars trace their final circles around the lake, the last minutes of daylight turn the crisp snow a brilliant amber. Yet even as night falls, ‘Ice & Iron’ has one more card to play. Despite temperatures that can plummet to minus 40 degrees Celsius, the infamous night test is still to come.
In pitch darkness, on another unfamiliar track, pupils are dilated in the darkness. Everything the participants have learned over the last few days will now be put to the test. Engines roar and tyres tear at the freezing surface of Johan’s frozen lake. Headlights bounce off the high banks of snow as the cars pirouette around the makeshift circuit with increasing confidence. Eventually everyone has cleared the final hurdle, a clean lap in the freezing cold and dead of night. It’s an invaluable experience that brings with it both transferable skills and treasured memories. And a few more moose points to be worn with pride on the long journey home.