Studded tires, slick conditions, and a whole lot of cars getting sideways. Today we’re taking a look at winter’s motorsport, ice racing!
The temperatures are dropping below freezing and the snow is starting to show up in the weather forecasts. For most racecar drivers that means the season is over until next year, but there are some that continue racing over these winter months. Ice races pop up all around the world once freezing temperatures take over and create icy driving conditions. Racers from every major sport join in the competition and there are even some large-scale championships for ice racing. So, let’s see how these racecars are prepared, the different conditions they face, and some of the ice races you can catch this winter!
Most of the cars you see at smaller ice races are actually some of the cars you see every day like Honda Civics or Subaru Imprezas. The classes are set up depending on drivetrain configurations, so there’s no disadvantage between a two-wheel drive car and an all-wheel drive car out on the ice. You can enter a pretty cheap starter vehicle into these ice races, making them some of the perfect opportunities for amateur drivers to get their feet wet.
While the entry level vehicles are fun, there are plenty of vehicles that come from dirt track and rallying origins too at the ice races. Stuff like stock cars, sprint cars, modifieds, and all-wheel drive rally cars all make appearances at ice racing events. These cars all run essentially the same setups they would in during the hotter months with one major exception – their tires.
If you’ve ever driven on ice before, you know just how hard it is to accelerate, stop, and make turns. These ice racers combat that loss of traction by running studded winter tires. These studded tires range from OEM studs installed on winter tires up to full-on screws with washers punched in around the tires. The added studs dig into the ice to provide better traction when accelerating. They help slightly with braking, but not by much. And as far as turning goes, these cars are all getting sideways and slamming down on the throttle to drift the corners.
Aside from the tires on these cars, the only other real areas of concern are the added roll cage, personal safety equipment, and removing any unnecessary components that don’t pertain to the performance or safety of the vehicle. Once that’s all settled, you can just go out there and slide around for some exciting door-to-door racing!
All ice races feature snow and slick conditions, but they don’t all have the same types of terrain or track configurations. Ice racing is split into two categories, circuit or point-to-point. Circuit racing features laps around the same set track while point-to-point is where racers start at one end of a set course and head to the finish line. Point-to-point can either be a full field racing at one time like rallycross or feature staggered starts for time trials like your traditional rally stage. As far as the terrain, you’ve got a couple different types of locations that these races take place at – dirt tracks, trails, rivers, and lakes.
You read those last two correct. Just like how fishermen travel out on the ice to fish, racers take their cars out on the frozen bodies of water to slide around. When it comes to racing on a frozen lake, a set track is typically marked with cones around the ice or even makeshift walls outlining the course using piles of snow. Racing on rivers can be setup in a similar fashion to lake races, but that all depends on the width of the river. If it’s too narrow, the ice races may incorporate part of the shoreline for part of the track or be utilized for a portion of a point-to-point race.
The biggest issue with racing on bodies of water is ice depth. If the ice isn’t deep enough, there can’t be any racing. The weight of the cars will break through thin ice causing hazardous conditions and potentially life-threatening scenarios, so event coordinators make sure to frequently check the ice depth prior to an event. But what if the ice is too thin? What’s the alternative then? Unfortunately, the race is usually cancelled or postponed to a later date. That stinks for the teams and race fans, but there are luckily alternatives that don’t rely on ice depth.
Some dirt tracks pack the snow around their track and spray some water to create icy conditions for racers to slide around on. The biggest difference here is the addition of banked turns, actual retention walls, and available grandstands for spectators to easily view the races. It’s not as sketchy as racing on a lake, but there’s still a lot of skill to get around these ice-covered ovals.
Then we have the specially composed stages that the rally cars utilize for ice racing. There’s not much done in terms of prepping the surface aside from plowing snow and marking the sides of the track. The icy surfaces for these events are pretty much left up to mother nature. You’ve got packed snow from the multiple cars repeatedly passing over mixed with ice patches developing as the snow thaws and refreezes. Ultimately, these events end in a slushie mess near the end of the season.
We’ve gone over everything about the cars and tracks, but now you need to know where to look for these types of events. There are racing events locally and internationally for you to go out and attend or even participate in. Here are some of the big series to look out for this winter season!
North America doesn’t have a widespread ice racing association, but there are plenty of smaller series all around the USA. Each of these events offer a number of different classes ranging from the most basic of cars to full-fledged racers. See if one of them is near you!
The GP Ice Race is a large motorsports event that takes place in the Austrian Alps. A bunch of big racing names like Max Verstappen and Ken Block have joined in on the event and featured their performance vehicles drifting around the ice-covered roads. The GP Ice Race actually gets its roots from the 1928 Winter Olympics Skijöring event in which horses pulled skiers around a race track. Eventually these events utilized automobiles thanks to Ferdinand Porsche and have since morphed into annual automobile ice races that have continued to grow for nearly 70 years. Thanks to Ferdinand’s influence, Porsche vehicles have been a staple for the GP Ice Race, so everything from Porsche 356s to the iconic Rothmans 911 Rally car can be seen ripping through the snow-covered tracks.
The Andros Trophy is France’s annual racing series that features some of the World Rally Championship’s finest drifting around ice covered tracks. The winter rallycross event switched to fully electric powered rally cars back in 2020, but this only encourages tighter races as each car features identical power units. It’s the premier event of the season as these racers have to rely on their own technical skill to slide these electric racing vehicles across the finish line.
Did you know NASCAR has a European Series? The NASCAR Whelen Euro Series has been around since 2009 and travels to multiple different major circuits around Europe. The European cars look pretty close to the cup cars we have, but their races all feature a lot more turns than the oval tracks the American drivers experience. For 2023, EuroNASCAR is adding something new to celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, ice racing. The first EuroNASCAR All-Star event is heading to Finland for the Artic Ice Race. This is the first ever instance of NASCAR sanctioning an ice racing event and should lead to some intense racing. Be sure to look for live coverage of this event that’s taking place March 4th through the 5th! Hopefully we can experience a NASCAR ice race like this in the states if everything goes smoothly.