Onto the ice
Taking on the most treacherous driving surface the Audi way.
Sam Evans and Steve Pizzati
13 April, 2018
There is simply no better demonstration of quattro – Audi’s revolutionary permanent all-wheel drive – in action than on the ice and snow. A surface that is often described by experts as ‘like driving on glass’, controlling a vehicle at any speed on this slick surface requires a deft touch and considerable experience.
Enter the Audi driving experience, or more specifically the Audi ice driving experience, held high in the stunning Austrian Alps at Audi’s ice driving school. Here, the cream of Audi’s expertly trained driving instructors impart their vast knowledge of car control to Audi enthusiasts each year, and in 2018, a group of Australians led by Audi Australia’s Chief Driving Instructor, Steve Pizzati, made the annual pilgrimage to the mountains to take in the finer points of car control.
Amongst the group was Australian content producer, Sam Evans, who captured the experience from leaving Sydney in the height of summer, to touching down in Germany in the midst of winter. Although it was Sam’s first time on the Audi ice driving experience, Pizzati has taken part many times along with his team of Australian Audi driving experience instructors, yet the thrill of getting out on the ice never fails to put a smile on his face.
“The Ice experience is so much more than just sliding around on Ice,” says Pizzati. “It’s a cultural trip, engineering trip, culinary trip and driving trip all rolled into one,” he says.
“And you’re among those soaring mountain peaks. That’s the thing with Seefeld – it’s a postcard place – with lights, horses and sleigh bells.”
But before hitting the ice in 2018, Sam Evans was Germany-bound to take in the Audi head office in Ingolstadt (north of Munich) and soak up some of the tradition that has made the company what it is today.
"It’s a cultural trip, engineering trip, culinary trip and driving trip all rolled into one."
"It's amazing to track Audi over the years and see the cars we know and love today take form and evolve."
First stop, the impressive Audi Museum Mobile, a circular building in the heart of the Audi complex that houses a stunning array of vehicles from the company’s illustrious past.
“It's amazing to track Audi over the years and see the cars we know and love today take form and evolve as resources and technology became more and more available,” says Sam of the experience.
That process of evolution took on a different form later in the day as he inspected the production lines where today’s Audis are made.
“Later that day we were given a private tour of the Audi A3 and Q2 factory line where we saw every step of the car's production. From aluminium pressing of parts, welding of the frame and chassis, electronics installation, interior fitting to engine marrying. It was quite a fascinating sight to see.”
But the main event and reason for the trip beckoned. After the Ingolstadt inspection it was off to Seefeld in the Austrian Alps for some ‘extreme winter sports’.
“We headed south to Seefeld, Austria where we met our driving instructors and began our four-day course learning how to handle the awesome Audi S5 Sportback on a field of ice,” says Sam.
“Over the duration of the experience, we were taken through the basics of car control, experiencing and learning the dynamics of oversteer and understeer in the extreme conditions, and developing a feel for what the cars were doing,” he says.
Extraordinary fun, it is nonetheless a lot more difficult than it looks, and requires every ounce of concentration despite the idyllic surroundings.
The Audi ice driving school is built on a huge paddock in a valley which is flooded using hydrants. The water obviously freezes and is then flooded again and built up to the point that it is safe to drive on. It’s then graded and the fun begins – a safe, but nevertheless challenging environment in which to get acquainted with the famous Audi technology and to hone personal skills.
The training starts with a simple slalom exercise at around 20km/h, which sounds simple enough, but driving on ice is a different sensation to driving on other surfaces. The steering is lighter than usual because you don’t have the grip and the corresponding feedback through the wheel. Balancing the car to maintain as much traction as possible becomes an art form, and even with the studded tyres (which are essential even with quattro), it takes only a little overly enthusiastic application of the throttle to get things horribly wrong.
But over the following days, that feel develops under the tutelage of the Pizzati and the Audi instructors.
“Over time and with practice and patience, we progressed through different exercises to get used to handling the cars while going sideways,” says Sam.
“The ultimate test came at the end with an an epic gymkhana that brought together all of the different manoeuvres we had practiced since arriving.”
For Sam, it was an enriching experience that saw him steadily improve to the point that he was consistently pushing his own limits with each progressive exercise – which paid off in the final gymkhana.
“My fastest time placed me third in our group of 20 – definitely the highlight of the trip!” he says.
An automotive experience with a difference, the Audi ice driving experience is not surprisingly high on any motoring enthusiast’s ‘to do’ list, but even those who are not motoring enthusiasts come away smitten by the experience.
Pizzati sums it up:
“Whether you’re Europeans who live in the snow, or V8 Supercar drivers or a group of Australian motoring enthusiasts you can’t help but go away glowing from the experience,” he says.
"Whether you’re Europeans who live in the snow, or V8 Supercar drivers or a group of Australian motoring enthusiasts you can’t help but go away glowing from the experience."
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