Sideways in the Land of a Thousand Lakes

Porsche Ice Driving Experience

Photo: Sideways in the Land of a Thousand Lakes 1
April 23, 2020

Porsche owners can take part in track days under the supervision of qualified instructors and coaches at race tracks all around the world. Plenty of owners, however, are hesitant to drive their vehicles on anything other than warm, sunny days. They keep their Carreras, Carrera 4Ss, GT3s, et al., stabled during the winter months while patiently waiting for that first breath of spring to have some fun.

But with the Porsche Ice Driving Experience, Porsche wants you to know just how much fun these cars are capable of producing any time of the year, be it hot, wet, or icy out. It is designed to not only show you how it’s done, but it also affords you the skills to return home and enjoy your Porsche anytime, anywhere, in any type of conditions. And believe me, you will be astounded at how well Porsches are at achieving these goals.

It is well known that Porsche does not want its automobiles to be considered ‘garage queens.’ They are to be driven and driven as they were intended: hard and fast! (While always keeping safety in mind, of course.) As virtually every Porschephile knows, the brand has been developed through an incredible racing heritage. Not only on the most famous hard-surfaced race tracks around the world, but also in numerous grueling rallies including the Carrera Panamericana, Dakar, Monte Carlo, and throughout Scandinavia, which means from sand and gravel to ice and snow.

With that, Porsche first offered ice driving experiences beginning in Austria in 1990. In 1996 the company moved the program to Finland. Though at first it was held in two other areas of the country, in 2014, it was moved to the skiing region of Levi, which is just north of the Arctic Circle in an area known as Lapland.

For the Ice Driving Experience, Porsche has created a proving ground for both Porsche enthusiasts and pro drivers alike to hone their skillset with the brand’s latest vehicles while under the tutelage of some of Porsche’s finest drivers.

Porsche offers three levels of the program: The Porsche Ice Experience (for drivers who are new to this), the Porsche Ice Force (the intermediate level), and the top Porsche Ice Force Pro program, which I experienced, that includes time in both street and race cars.

Photo: Sideways in the Land of a Thousand Lakes 2

My trip began from my home base in Las Vegas, Nevada, a long way from Levi. I first flew to Helsinki via Finnair (a 15-hour flight), which passed comfortably with the help of Finnair’s excellent crew. Once in Helsinki, I connected to a flight that took me an hour and a half further north, to the town of Kittila. That was followed by a 15-minute shuttle ride from the airport to the program’s hotel.

The hotel where I was staying can be best described as a five-star facility that Porsche has designated as ‘home base.’ It usually is home to the visitors to Finland’s most popular ski resort, which is literally next door. After checking in, you’re treated to a fantastic welcoming dinner and an introduction to what to expect by the program’s directors. If you were excited by the trip there, after dinner, the anticipation of what is to come will only stoke those fires further!

The first day begins with an early breakfast, just another facet of the program. In fact, your meals during the program are wonderfully prepared and always delectable. All part of the experience package, which includes your hotel, the ice driving program and vehicles, instructors, airport shuttle, photos and video of your participation, are included in the price of admission. The only thing you need to buy separately is your flights to and from Finland.

After breakfast, there is a mandatory driver’s meeting where you are broken into various group levels of participation, then sent to separate conference rooms with your instructors. The talent pool for instructors at Porsche runs deep. There are some 13 drivers/instructors on call for the program, with all of them holding stellar credentials. Our two instructors, Andreus Mayrl and Mark Wallenheim, were simply outstanding.

Andreus, our lead, hailed from Italy and has been with Porsche for 11 years. His background is road and hill-climb racing while also working with Porsche Engineering in vehicle dynamics. While he is indeed an incredibly talented driver, it does not end there; he was also on Germany’s national bobsled team and competed as a downhill skier. This guy exuded speed.

Mark Wallenheim is from Germany and has been with Porsche for six years. His skill set too is impeccable, and why not? He was the German Rally Car Champion in 2012 and currently fields his own Porsche Cup Car racing team competing throughout the country.

Photo: Sideways in the Land of a Thousand Lakes 3
Outside the ‘hut’ where lunches are served, C4Ss, GT3s, and Cayman GT4 Clubsports stand at the ready for duty under headlights as sunset comes quite early above the Arctic Circle.

During our chalk talk, Andreus and Mark tell us about the over 17 handling exercises that will help us ramp up our game in being able to drive the cars on the ice at speed. They talk friction circles, braking smoothly, to using the brakes while turning in order to initiate the ‘rally flick.’ Learning that flick is an important element of the program in order to be able to drive the vehicles well on ice.

Once the driver’s meeting concludes, we’re loaded onto a bus and then driven to the Porsche Ice Driving facility some 25 minutes away. It’s still dark when we arrive due to our being so far north. Sunrise doesn’t come until 10:00 a.m., with sundown at an early 3:30 p.m. So you’re doing a good deal of your driving with only headlights showing you the way.

We step off the bus at the garage, which houses the exact number of cars for each group all lined up in pristine queues, each vehicle detailed to the max, a truly stunning sight. Porsche has over 144 vehicles set aside for this program, so each morning, your vehicle is always fresh and clean, as if by magic.

We are each assigned a car, our first being a brand-new 992 Carrera 4S coupe. Andreus gave us a brief overview of the vehicle’s interior operations, showing us how to turn off all traction control and how we will be driving with the PDK transmissions in manual mode. Once buckled in, engines start, and we slowly follow our lead out of the garage.

Andreus drives the instructor C4S, while Mark follows with our dedicated Cayenne, which is used to dislodge any car that has the misfortune of not making it around a turn and ending up on top of or in a snowbank. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, being removed from a snowbank will more than likely become part of the experience.

Each segment of the program is designed to get us up to speed in an orderly, safe, and well-practiced manner. We start on the low-friction circles, which are circular areas made very wide, but with soft snowbanks wrapping around the edges. This is where we learn how to break the car loose to get it into a drifting motion, then control the drift with consistent throttle modulation in order to maintain a constant sideways slide/ drifting attitude. Once we get the hang of it, we’re turned around to go in the opposite direction.

Photo: Sideways in the Land of a Thousand Lakes 4
Each vehicle’s all-season tires contain some 200 spikes up to 4.0 mm (0.16 in.) long.

It’s just when I feel like I’m getting it that I ask either Mark or Andreus to ‘show us how it’s done.’ What I experienced was a bit intimidating, but more importantly, inspiring. How these guys drive on the ice is spectacular! Their skillset is beyond what you feel is even possible, as what they do with any of the cars on ice is out of this world. The speeds they carry into and through the turns is insane, while always keeping the car in a sideways slide down the straights followed by turn after turn of precision arcs around the course.

It’s this skill level they are offering to share with us and wanting us to achieve that gives us the will to keep going. They are always issuing positive feedback so necessary for a newbie to build confidence. Best of all, they give you the feeling that they’re never giving up on you. They feel you can do it, so you push yourself to accomplish it.

Once we’ve achieved some level of prowess on sliding the car, we’re off to the slalom course where we learn the rally flick. The flick is more extreme for the all-wheel-drive cars than the rear-wheel-drive cars for a subtle, yet profound reason. All four wheels are helping to maintain traction, so learning to get the cars sideways is an art.

The flick is a combination of turning the car opposite the direction you wish to go, then, as you turn in the correct direction, trail-brake to break loose the rear of the car in a sudden movement hanging the tail out. In addition, you must get the vehicle turned in early, the nose touching the inside snowbank serving as the apex, with the rest of the vehicle, at times, achieving a 90-degree position to the apex (if you are in an all-wheel-drive car; if rear-wheel drive, not so much!).

You keep your eyes up, looking down the track to the next turn, slow hands moving the wheel ever so slightly with only a slight counter-steer using subtle throttle movements. The car slowly begins to straighten as you exit the turn. All done in such a way to be fluid while never upsetting the chassis.

The all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S is an excellent car for the ice driving program. When you develop the skill to do the rally flick, the C4S is a graceful dancer. But you must do things your mind says are wrong! By that, the urge to continually counter steer into a slide must be suppressed, as the all-wheel-drive is counterintuitive to what you’ve always been taught.

Photo: Sideways in the Land of a Thousand Lakes 5

Due to all four wheels gaining traction, you must allow for the front tires to be more neutral in order for them to do their work in helping you to gather up the car, then allowing it to straighten slowly. This is what is the most difficult part of the learning experience, that being, not to use your usual correction methods with the all-wheel-drive cars.

The flick also works with rear-drive cars, just not as abrupt in its execution due to the fact you’re already looking at oversteer having both engine in the rear and rear-wheel drive, or if in a Cayman, with the engine in the middle. This means you should avoid putting your vehicle into a 90-degree position unless there is some serious luck attached. That followed by judiciously slow hands and a firm but delicate touch on the throttle that would make a ballet dancer proud.

Now, about those vehicles we were driving. What is best described as your default vehicle (the one from which you begin your training and go back each day) is the already mentioned 443-hp 992 Carrera 4S with a quick-shifting eight-speed PDK transmission.

Then, there is the insanity of driving a factory-prepared 425-hp 718 Cayman GT4 Clubsport race car on snow and icy race tracks. On ice, I had to remind myself this is a race car, needing delicate, smooth steering matched with careful throttle modulation due to a much stiffer spring setup. With a mid-engine design, you’re easily drifting the car, so you must always be aware of ‘how much’ that drift is, or you will end up backwards quite easily.

I also had the opportunity to drive the brand-new, all-electric Taycan. This car resembles the Panamera in size and styling, though it is much heavier at 5,100 pounds. Along with all-wheel drive, it’s absolutely a technological marvel.

The Taycan Turbo S produces 750 hp (with Launch Control), and a gob-smacking 774 lbs-ft of torque! Driving this car on the ice was surprising. Due to its all-wheel-drive configuration, it felt like a heavier 992 Carrera 4S, even with its longer wheelbase. That being said, the rally flick worked nearly the same as with the C4S. What you had to consider rather quickly was its weight. Putting that much weight into a slide easily carried the vehicle further faster, so taking that into account was very important.

Photo: Sideways in the Land of a Thousand Lakes 6
Whether keeping the nose close to apex snowbanks or simply ending up in one, each vehicle’s cooling vents must be cleared by one of the instructors to avoid overheating, as seen here on a GT3.

One item I found fascinating in the Taycan is the sound Porsche has integrated into it. It sounds to me like a spaceship. Though it is possible to turn it off, I admit that I loved it.

Last, but certainly not least, is the 991.2 GT3, a rear-wheel-drive vehicle developing 500 naturally aspirated horses. It seriously made for some excellent pendulum swings on ice, yet always remained remarkably controllable. In fact, it was my favorite car of the program and the one in which I excelled.

I say that because for me and my driving style, as Andreus would later tell me, the smooth driver is rewarded by the GT3. While in it, we were on the road course that was made up of blind turns and elevation changes winding through a forest. The GT3 was fluid and smooth, and I found myself going fastest on that course due to it. What Porsche continues to do with the GT3 is remarkable. My one-word description of the GT3 on ice: sublime.

Each day we were rewarded with eight hours of drive time in these phenomenal cars. By lunchtime, you’re famished and ready for a break. We were led to what Porsche refers to as ‘the hut,’ which honestly looks more like a ski chalet. During lunch, vehicles are refueled.

Lunch, as with breakfast and dinner, was beyond reproach, each day sitting down to something more fantastic than the previous day’s fare. Enjoy smoked or grilled salmon and trout caught locally, or reindeer steaks that are tastier than U.S. venison while as lean as our bison.

When the first day finally came to a close, I was both exhausted and exhilarated. The following two days had us driving a variety of tracks, from short, technical runs that wound through forests, to a track that has to be over three miles long each lap! After all, practice makes perfect.

My takeaway: I am convinced this program is something that every Porsche driver will not only love to try but will help them with their dry track driving as well. As Andreus said, “Knowing how the car feels and handles sideways will give you way more confidence when driving fast on a dry track.” I could not agree more. No fear comes with confidence and skill combined with great coaching, something you will receive in abundance at the experience. So, how does the Ice Driving Experience measure up? I’m still looking for the end of the tape!

For more on the Porsche Ice Driving Experience visit: experience.porsche.com/en/ice

Also from Issue 273

  • 718 Cayman & Boxster GTS 4.0
  • 993 Turbo GT2 Clone
  • Icelandic Adventuring 356B
  • 'Pink Pig' 917/20
  • Taycan Turbo Drive
  • Market Update: 911 Turbos
  • Porsche Turbo Boost Control
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