Austria's GP Ice Race delivers chills and spills

The heir to the Porsche empire revives a risky auto race on the icy Austrian Alps.

By Bloomberg Pursuits , February 9 2020
Austria's GP Ice Race delivers chills and spills

On an airstrip in the shadows of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier in the Austrian Alps, Ferdinand Porsche watches as some of the world’s fastest cars whiz by on ice at almost 90 miles an hour, spraying spectators with snow during sharp turns.

For the second year running, the 26-year-old son of the Porsche supervisory board chairman and a scion of Austria’s wealthiest family has overseen the revival of a decades-old tradition of sports-car races on ice.

Ferdinand Porsche, co-founder of the GP Ice Race.
Ferdinand Porsche, co-founder of the GP Ice Race.

Over the weekend, he and a friend, Vinzenz Greger, 30, brought together world-class drivers like Rene Rast and Daniel Abt for a race in near-zero temperatures before 16,000 car-crazy spectators with Queen and Jonas Brothers tunes blaring in the background.

This year’s GP Ice Race, though, was not like those between 1937 and 1974, which took place on the frozen Lake Zell. With the lake now failing to freeze over, it was held on an airstrip iced over with a tractor and a water-tank.

A defining feature of the ice race is skijoring, a traditional winter sport, seen here in 1955. Early race editions took place on the frozen Lake Zell.
A defining feature of the ice race is skijoring, a traditional winter sport, seen here in 1955. Early race editions took place on the frozen Lake Zell.

For Ferdinand, restoring the race in an era of climate worries is about rekindling a family passion for testing the boundaries of well-engineered machines against the elements while also trying to be responsible by keeping laps short and limited and driving cleaner cars.

Racing on ice

“I know it’s a bit crazy to start a car race when everybody is talking about the climate,” he said in an interview, standing in front of the airstrip in a bright blue overall and yellow mountain shoes.

“But we’re actually trying to get motor-sport into the 21st century by having classic cars and totally new ones that are running on low or zero emissions.”

The latest Porsche Taycan Turbo S electric sports cars drift around the alpine track high in the Austrian Alps. Race emissions are being balanced out with green actions for the first time.
The latest Porsche Taycan Turbo S electric sports cars drift around the alpine track high in the Austrian Alps. Race emissions are being balanced out with green actions for the first time.

For the first time, the race’s emissions are being balanced out with green actions that will reduce 144 tonnes of CO2.

While the race had cars from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, it also featured an increasing number of electric vehicles from the Porsche and Volkswagen empire – from the Audi Formula E and the Volkswagen ID. R to the Taycan Turbo S.

Floodlights illuminate the temporary ice track at night in the Tourenwagen 2WD classification race.
Floodlights illuminate the temporary ice track at night in the Tourenwagen 2WD classification race.

In the end, rally models of Skoda, Mitsubishi and Ford took first, second and third places in the race. The new, street version of the US$185,000 electric Taycan was Porsche’s top finisher at 23rd in what was its first such competition.

A skier limbers up behind a rally modded Volkswagen Bug ahead of the Skijoring 2WD classification race.
A skier limbers up behind a rally modded Volkswagen Bug ahead of the Skijoring 2WD classification race.

Greening is a relatively new phenomenon for car races, which burn large amounts of fossil fuels and have a notoriously bad environmental record. Formula One has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030, while Indy race cars now run on 100% ethanol fuel, a corn-based, renewable energy.

A Porsche 911 GT3 RS, driven by Josef Unterholzner, powers towards the finish line in the Tourenwagen 2WD class.
A Porsche 911 GT3 RS, driven by Josef Unterholzner, powers towards the finish line in the Tourenwagen 2WD class.

For sports-car aficionados in attendance at the Alpine ice race, the green wave and the fact that the event was being held on a track near the lake rather than on the lake itself did little to dampen spirits.

Clockwise from top left: Spectators check out the electric Volkswagen I.D. R prototype, fans take photographs alongside an Audi Quattro Sport S1 rally car, chilled cocktails from the ice bar, and Porsche artworks for sale.
Clockwise from top left: Spectators check out the electric Volkswagen I.D. R prototype, fans take photographs alongside an Audi Quattro Sport S1 rally car, chilled cocktails from the ice bar, and Porsche artworks for sale.

“Car racing is pure emotion,” said Bastian Nusser, a 22-year-old engineer, eyeing a Volkswagen ID. R race car. “It’s incredibly cool that e-cars are now speeding up faster than combustion engines.”

The race had a folksy air, far from the glamour and champagne-fueled parties at Monte Carlo or the ski race next door in Kitzbuehel.

Deckchairs, mulled wine and warm clothing keep spectators happy in the bar tent zone. Beef broth and goulash with dumplings was on the menu.
Deckchairs, mulled wine and warm clothing keep spectators happy in the bar tent zone. Beef broth and goulash with dumplings was on the menu.

Visitors bought burgers - vegan or organic options at €9.90 were available – and local beers and mulled wine. Guests in a modest lounge were served beef broth and goulash with dumplings, and entertained by a four-man band in traditional costumes playing local folk songs. The race’s prize of honor was a cowbell from a Porsche mountain farm.

While most cars were piloted by men and women in impeccable racing outfits, the Porsche family sported casual clothes, funny hats and colorful jackets and shoes.

Attendees, some wearing alpine inspired apparel, mingle beside classic Porsche 356, left, and Porsche 911/964 sports cars.
Attendees, some wearing alpine inspired apparel, mingle beside classic Porsche 356, left, and Porsche 911/964 sports cars.

The race was held about 60km southwest of Salzburg, in Porsche country. It was there, in Zell am See, that Ferry Porsche bought the Schuettgut farm and estate in 1941 to help feed and shelter his family in war-plagued Austria.

An ice-ready Porsche 356 Speedster with studded tires sits on a trailer between races.
An ice-ready Porsche 356 Speedster with studded tires sits on a trailer between races.

Since 2003, Ferdinand’s father, Wolfgang Porsche, 76, owns the property, spending much of his spare time there.

The third of Wolfgang’s four children, Ferdinand thought of reviving the ice race after he spotted old tires with spikes at the farm’s stable-turned-garage, and his father told him of a time when Porsches raced on Lake Zell.

Race goers watch as driver Catie Munnings powers an ice race custom special Bentley Continental GT W12 around the track in the Tourenwagen 4WD classification race.
Race goers watch as driver Catie Munnings powers an ice race custom special Bentley Continental GT W12 around the track in the Tourenwagen 4WD classification race.

“Car racing means sweat, team work, long hours, setbacks and achievement – that’s why we do it,” said Wolfgang Porsche, dressed in a dark-blue parka and a white Carrera cap, as he recounted tales of when he was a regular at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, picking up ideas from drivers and engineers. “We’ve learned so much from that for our regular models, it’s the very reason why my relatives got started.”

Wolfgang Porsche, chairman of Porsche, center, entertains fellow attendees. "Car racing means sweat, team work, long hours, setbacks and achievement – that's why we do it," he said.
Wolfgang Porsche, chairman of Porsche, center, entertains fellow attendees. "Car racing means sweat, team work, long hours, setbacks and achievement – that's why we do it," he said.

The race was called off in 1974 because of an accident that killed a worker. That, more unstable weather conditions and additional safety requirements led to the end of the race. The lake needs seven days of below-zero temperatures for an ice layer of at least 20 centimeters, which rarely happens now.

While holding the race again on the lake seems remote and electric cars mean the extreme growl of an engine and the smell of oil and gasoline are missing, the thrill of speeding down an ice track remains undiminished.

Driver Thomas Rippel pilots a classic BMW 320 to the start line for the Klassik run.
Driver Thomas Rippel pilots a classic BMW 320 to the start line for the Klassik run.

"The one reason why I still race is that I’ve always wanted to make sure that I can impose my will on the car, rather than the other way round,” said Hans-Joachim Stuck, a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans car race. “And racing on ice is the most difficult thing to do, because you never know what’s next: snow, ice or frozen mud. You need to be alert."

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This article was published under license from Bloomberg Media and the original article can be viewed here

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