Audi's ice driver training in Arjeplog, an outpost of Swedish Lapland, takes you through slippery edges. Shapur Kotwal on the exciting drive
As the rear tyres begin to lose grip, the car begins to slide. You balance it on the throttle and carry on. Audi's ice driver training has to be one of the best driving experiences ever!
Ever dreamt you were on the ragged edge, sliding a car broadside through a long corner, using the accelerator, brake and steering to tease it into attaining the perfect trajectory?
Ever dreamt you could get a fast car into a lurid powerslide with the confidence of a pro and hold it there, indefinitely?
Ever thought you'd be able to attack a set of corners like you were on stage 22 of a rally, perfectly in sync with your car and the conditions?
This then is the place to come, to transform dreamtime into reality.
Just 80km shy of the Arctic Circle lies Arjeplog, an outpost of Swedish Lapland famous for its ice lakes. Not that there is any shortage of snow and ice anywhere in Lapland itself; the flight into Arvidsjuar from Stockholm saw us fly over more lakes than land. Out on the massive ice lake, we meet our instructor, rally legend Jochi Kleint.
Not only is Jochi someone who has taken on drivers such as Walter Röhrl and regularly beaten them, he's also a driver who's taken on and beaten four-wheel-drive cars with a rear-wheel-drive Opel Ascona.
So you can understand the respect Audi has for him. That he also happens to be a phenomenal teacher is a huge bonus.
He starts off with getting our seating position right — knees and elbows bent, but not too close to the steering wheel.
The right seating
Next comes the introduction to the studded ice tyres, which actually deliver a fair amount of grip. Made by rally tyre-maker Lappi, the 20mm studs are uniquely glued onto the tyre with the help of a special machine.
Jochi first takes us out in the A4 Avant or estate. A two-litre turbo with a Quattro four-wheel-drive system, this is the car we will use for our two-day driver's course.
Our driver training starts off on a large and wide oval ice track that has been cleared out with a snow plough.
Slightly wider than the width of a normal road, the path is surrounded by banks of snow. So if you spin, you end up looking like Santa Claus' sleigh.
The first exercise involves a massive leap of faith. Approaching one of the corners on the outside at 65kph, Jochi lifts off the throttle hard (to get the weight to transfer off the rear wheels), turns into the corner (to pivot the rear) and then waits as the lighter rear of the car slews around smoothly on the ice.
“Dynamic weight transfer is the most important thing you will learn here,” he says as the rear continues to move out.
“Wait till the nose is pointing in the right direction for the next straight, wait, wait…” And the car is immediately balanced in a long power-slide. But somehow I get the hang of it pretty soon (I followed instructions for once) and am grinning like the Cheshire cat.
More lessons on dynamic weight transfer follow — the use of the accelerator to get the rear out, how using the brakes before a corner can cause the same effect and, of course, the Scandinavian flick.
This flick involves getting off the gas sharply to get the weight to transfer, half a lock away from the corner and immediately half a lock back to get a pendulum effect going.
Plenty of practice and some success later, we are taken to another part of the track.
A tight and twisting section forces us to use the tricks we have learnt to get the car turning smartly and this is now even more of a blast.
Jochi is always watching and ready with advice. “No, no, absolutely no understeer. We want balance, and the car should be pointing towards the end of the corner, not away from it.”
He takes rides with us in the passenger seat, correcting our steering input and the way we cross hands when unlocking the wheel.
And while many struggle and get their A4 grilles packed with snow off the parcour, some of us slowly get it. Jochi then opens out the whole course the next day, with much faster corners and longer straights.
Now we are really motoring, driving hard and fast, and as sideways as we dare.
The A4 Avant is very well balanced and we take some sections in third, scaring ourselves in the process.
There are more off-track excursions in our group, but the snow banks prevent any serious damage.
The biggest bruise, however, is to the ego, as you have to call for the tractor to extract you.
How I managed to stay off the snow banks and lucked out of trouble all the times I was only partially in control, I'll never know. What I'm sure of is that this is one of the finest driving experiences ever. Worth even more than the very expensive Euros 2850 it cost. If you can afford it, book a place now.