GALLERY: Sliding, Skijoring, And Clipping Snow Drifts At The GP Ice Race In Zell am See
Photography by Andrea Casano
The first edition of the GP Ice Race in the Austrian lake town of Zell am See became an instant success, and why wouldn’t it have? A beautiful event inspired by the past and put together by the efforts of Vinzenz Greger and Ferdinand Porsche (who make up the G and P of the GP Ice Race, in case you thought it was “Grand Prix”), it is a wonderful addition to the winter classic car event calendar, a break from the indoor shows that dominate the winter scene.
The historic roots of ice racing in Zell am See extend further than last year’s inaugural GP Ice Race, and the event has seen almost immediate interest from manufacturers wishing to tout their classic department metal and mettle. After last year’s success, it was easy to predict that last weekend’s version would be bigger and more crowded, but in an ironic twist on old-car ownership and enjoyment, only the unusually warm weather threatened the fun of the 2020 Ice Race. Thankfully the event team fastidiously attended to the track to save it from melting.
It would be misleading to say this is a typical racing event, or even ice racing event. Participants in each category had just one session per day to fight against the stopwatch and their two timed rounds lasted roughly two minutes on the relatively short track. Only the top four drivers from each category had the chance to race once more in the daily finals. The majority of the drivers seemed to be happily coping with that though, and understood that their time was limited due to the sheer amount of participants. The enormous interest in the Ice Race resulted in a variety of cars to enjoy, both in- and outside of the automotive ice rink specially constructed for the occasion.
The Ice Race mixes old and the more modern racing cars like the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Zagato, and the latest electric cars from Porsche and the Volkswagen Group. All the electrified machines—including the VW Golf eR1 which debuted in Zell am See—made impressive runs on the ice, but my heartbeat always increased when the representatives of the old school came out to slide around the course.
A few days prior to the event, the organizers of the famous Luftgekühlt Porsche events announced that they would put together a small but curated selection of eight P-cars to place on stage in typical après-ski style in the center of Zell am See. Due to Luftgekühlt, Petrolicious’ friends Patrick Long and Jeff Zwart flew over to organize the one-of-a-kind exhibition. Totally surreal that one could enjoy a cup of mulled wine and the sight of illuminated ski slopes, while admiring the the Dynamics and Lightweighting Study (DLS) mule that Singer brought over, or checking out the markedly visible weight-saving solutions on Gérard Larrousse’s 911 ST, the lightest ever 911 produced by the factory.
Although Zwart left his Pre-A 356 at home—a car well-known for being sideways in the snow in Colorado—he had the chance to hoon around between the snow walls in the works 1971 Monte Carlo Porsche 914/6 GT during the weekend—not a bad rental if you ask me. Hans Stuck got some seat time in one of his old Jägermeister F1 machines, which we’ll be taking a deeper look at next week.
Indeed it seemed that most of the major Porsche experts of the UK also arrived to Zell am See. The ST’s restorer, Historika911, was accompanied by James Turner from Sports Purpose, and Richard Tuthill. Tuthill wasn’t afraid to put the pedal to the metal in Turner’s colorful 911, which was built by himself and designed by Paul Smith. He went straight into the classic category’s finals with an outstanding performance. Tuthill also put Singer’s DLS test car into his trailer and performed a few demo runs to demonstrate what the Williams-developed 4.0-liter flat-six is capable of. RUF brought some goodies too, and with the CTR Anniversary joining the DLS, Zell am See played host to two of the worlds most popular Porsche-shaped machines.
But it wasn’t all about Porsche and co., and in the privateer’s service area one could find for example a lovely duo of Abarth 850TCs from Switzerland, a nice selection of racing Beetles, and a Lancia Stratos (the wedge-shaped Lancia was guided by Michael Stoschek, well known for his love for the make).
Attendees also had the rare chance to meet a handful of five-cylinder turbocharged Audi Quattros in the service area, a great opportunity thanks to the Ingolstadt-based marque’s 40th anniversary with their famed all-wheel-drive cars. To celebrate, Audi Tradition rolled out a 1985 Sport Quattro S1 E2 and trusted the ’84 World Rally Champion Stig Blomqvist to tame the flame-spitting beast. BMW Group Classic made a tasteful choice for ice racing this year with a Monte Carlo Rallye-prepared Mini Cooper and E30 M3, while on the other side of the size scale they dusted off the X-Raid Mini All4 with which Stéphane Peterhansel secured his 10th Dakar win in 2012 in South America.
The All4 wasn’t the only Dakar-winning car present in the snow, as the Porsche 953 4×4 that won the African (back in the days when the Dakar Rally used to finish in Dakar) rally towed the Norwegian skiing ace, nine-time World Champion and four-time Olympic Champion Aksel Lund Svindal in the skijöring section of the event.
I didn’t dare dream to ski along with Svindal, but thanks to the repeated invitation from my friends at Chrome Cars, I was again registered among the skiers. Skijöring is one of the highlights of the weekend for me and many others, and it’s rare to see so many daredevils and fun-seekers come together before a crowd of 16,000 people to race against each other in this lesser known sport. I had the funniest conversations with fellow skijörners in the regrouping area before the start. This is also where I met with Alessandro Cunico, who borrowed a set of original Martini Racing overalls from his father—three-time Italian Rally Champion Franco Cunico—and acted like a rally copilot being pulled around the track behind the car.
At last year’s event, I cut my skijöring teeth behind an ex-works Mk1 Ford Escort, and based on how much fun I had in combining classic racing and skiing, I had to go again in 2020. This time I had the chance to grab the rope attached to a 1969 Saab 96. Compared to the wildly dancing, rear-wheel drive Escort, I prepared myself for an easier ride behind the front-wheel drive Saab, nicknamed “Teletubby” because of its extra searchlight attached the roof.
That said, one shouldn’t underestimate the kindly-looking Saab 96, as these cars were very successful on the rally stages in period with drivers like Erik Carlsson and Stig Blomqvist. This example made 90hp thanks to its modified V4 engine, and from the back of the five- meter-long rope I found myself dealing with some surprising speed in the straights. Our run on Saturday was stopped in the last corner by some weird signals from the track marshal, and we finished second to last. Laughing at our result, we agreed over the barbecue with my driver and Chrome Cars chief mechanic Tilo Hahne, to go as fast as we could the next day. Despite the worsening track conditions and the melting ice, we managed a smooth and clear run that catapulted us to the middle of the field in the weekend’s overall ranking, right behind another Swede in a Volvo P1800. Not that it really matters where we ended up, it just added to the overall good cheer that infects everyone who comes to the GP Ice Race.