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Sub zero: a day at Porsche's super-cool F.A.T. Ice Race

Take one Goodwood Festival of Speed, shrink it down, add skis and thermal underwear... you’ve got a recipe for an unforgettable day

Published: 26 Apr 2024

I watch as an ancient, bouncing, chuntering VW Beetle finally finds a way past the Hoonitron. It’d been closing in for a couple of laps, and not slowly. A lusty cheer goes up. The Hoonitron, Ken Block’s 4WD EV monster, continues to slither, whirr and wheelspin around, but it’s floundering in the deep, slushy snow. Should’ve borrowed the Corvette’s spiked tyres. They’re the evillest things I’ve seen in a long time. More studs and spikes than a punk reunion.

This is the F.A.T. Ice Race. There’s not really any racing going on. There would have been if the temperatures had stayed colder, but a few days of warmth means the only things that manage to complete a lap at first are the piste bashers. After that it’s pretty much a free-for-all, more automotive mud wrestling than actual competition classes. No one cares: the music’s pumping, the drink’s flowing, the cars are slithering and everyone’s having a great time. There’s a hot tub, bar and firepits. It’s après-ski with added cars.

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And it’s not a huge event. You might think it is because we’ve come here to report on it, it’s plastered all over social media and there are big name brands involved. But it’s not. It’s a cool, little event. Provided you’ve donned a set of waterproof boots to wade across the puddles, you can walk from one end to the other in the interlude between DJ sets. If there are 5,000 people here I’d be surprised.

Photography: Huckleberry Mountain

Here, by the way, is Zell am See in Austria. This is only the second time the event has been held. The first was back in 2019, then COVID got involved, and last year it was so warm there was no snow. If it had gone ahead it would have been grass track racing. This year’s not far off.

But this isn’t a story about the impact of global warming and the irony of staging a high octane event among pristine mountains (Audi’s Hoonitron was about the only EV around). No, this is a story with roots. Back in 1952 this flat valley beneath the Grossglockner, Hochkönig and Oberer Gernkogel peaks played host to the inaugural Dr Porsche Memorial Skijoring Race. Yep, that Porsche.

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The firm was based in Gmünd, about 30 miles away as the crow flies, and when it moved to Stuttgart in 1950 the family wanted to maintain their connection with the mountains. They bought an estate in Zell, and sponsored the skijoring race. Skijoring, in case you’re wondering, is like waterskiing, except cars play the part of boats. And the water is in a different state of matter.

 

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I don’t think F.A.T. Ice Race has sorted out its insurance or risk assessments, because it was planning on staging some skijoring today. I watched some footage from back in the day. I’d rather do the Cresta Run on a saucepan lid. The opportunities for being creatively dismembered by the spiked tyres of following cars are considerable. Naturally it was enormously popular and by 1957 the event was welcoming 5,000 people. Its future came to an abrupt halt in 1974 following an accident. Not, I should thankfully point out, a skijoring calamity.

So when it came back, it was after a gap of 45 years. Still the link to Porsche though. F.A.T. Ice Race is the brainchild of Ferdi Porsche, 30, son of Wolfgang (current chairman of Porsche AG), grandson of Ferry, great-grandson of company founder Ferdinand. Yeah, that’s three ways of spelling the same name, but you’re not going to argue with automotive royalty. Ferdi did not follow directly in the family footsteps, training as an architect rather than an engineer. He’s got an eye for branding and a love of the Nineties. F.A.T. International was a logistics company that sponsored the winning Porsche 962 at Le Mans in 1994. The brand was defunct, Ferdi bought it, and is setting about giving it a second life. There’s merch, a cafe hangout atop the Grossglockner mountain pass, and inevitable talk of community and culture. And the ice race is expanding. This year saw a second event in Aspen, Colorado.

“The idea is to celebrate motorsport and cars,” says Ferdi. “They are the centrepiece, but the people bring the party. We saw some pretty good action today and I think everybody had a blast.” He’s not wrong. It’s tempting to assume that this is another opportunity for the very wealthy and well connected to be seen, to pose with their cars. But that’s not the vibe. It’s a party, it’s welcoming and friendly. There are some stars here, Mark Webber and Valtteri Bottas among them, but they’re just walking about doing the same as the rest of us, gawping at cars.

Everything wears a pair of planks, from 356 to 917. Period correct, natch

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It’s a fabulously eclectic lineup. There’s a posse of beach buggies, a Ferrari Daytona parked up next to an Austin Cooper S, a pre-war Bugatti Type 30 steampunked with a snake’s head horn and dancing devil fuel cap, there are Eighties Peugeots, Seventies Alfas, a lineup of Lambos, Skoda and Subaru rally cars. All parked cheek by jowl under pop-up awnings on Zell’s short runway. Ferdi had said to me, “There’s the $5 million car next to the $20,000 car and nobody cares, it’s just cool.” He’s not wrong.

And of course there are Porsches. If you own a 911 Dakar and you aren’t here, why the hell not? If you’re here and don’t have skis on the roof, what the hell are you thinking? Everything wears a pair of planks, from 356 to 917. Period correct, natch.

This is part of Porsche history, Ferdi obviously has massive clout, Audi and VW have come to join in the family fun, yet it’s not a big corporate back slap. Sure, VW is celebrating 50 years of the Golf, Audi has its RS Q e-tron Dakar car on display – but it’s all quite low key and complementary. This is not Goodwood FoS. This is big brands partnering with a cool little event because they hope some of the cool rubs off. And it helps keep everything sweet under the VW Group umbrella.

It’s just a single day. By 4pm the last bratwurst has been sold, the DJ booth has fallen silent and the final flat six echoes have bounced back off the mountains. The following morning it’s colder, icier, perfect. Too late. Maybe next year.

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