Flat-Out has been running for almost four years now and we’ve been lucky enough to witness some pretty special automotive spectacles: hundreds of bikers tearing up the gardens of a Grade I listed building, precision drivers in ski masks hooning around London in Abarth 500s and a Rolls-Royce Cullinan parked on top of a mountain are just a few that spring to mind.
But witnessing 10,000 people spectating as a century’s worth of automotive history thrashed its way around a frozen race track left us well and truly scratching our collective heads. Probably because this noggin-itching occurred halfway up a mountain… in Austria, where the air does funny things to minds.
To get to the bottom of the slightly mad but utterly brilliant GP Ice Race, you first have to dig out the history books. Way back in 1937, perhaps due to a mild case of altitude sickness, a hardy bunch of mountain dwelling, skijöring enthusiasts (we will get to that later) figured it would be way more fun to use their motorcycles, rather than the traditional horses, to throw their skiing mates around an icy oval.
“You’ll find everything here, from privately owned 80’s Mercs to dedicated one-offs”
Fast forward 83 years and the same event still runs here in Zell am See, Austria. But after a few decades of similar ski-based commitment from Porsche fans, the venue, an old airport (don’t worry, you can still chopper in) is packed full of profligate petrol heads, ready to watch not only a prince’s ransom worth of classic cars slide and skid around the short track, but also witness the latest and greatest in high end tech – from rally to electric concepts – battle it out to be the crowned the fastest over two laps of the very slippery GP Ice Race track.
With the races split into several disciplines, you’ll find everything here, from privately owned 80’s Mercs tucked under a gazebo, to dedicated one-offs from the likes of Bentley and Volkswagen, designed to promote the latest tech to the baying crowds. It’s bizarre but beguiling to see full-spec rally cars from the VW Group and things like Porsche’s latest battery powered Taycan wheeled out in an attempt to entertain the crowds (as well as passengers) between races.
“Fast forward 83 years and the same event still runs here in Zell am See”
This year, Volkswagen pulled the cover of their latest in electric tech in the form of wide-bodied golf that shares its important bits with the company’s Festival of Speed winning ID-R. Although not quite matching the rasping back end of a race specced(ish) Trabant in terms of entertaining sounds, it silently destroyed the track alongside even the most visceral of vintage sports cars.
But back to the origins of the GP Ice Race for a moment. Skijöring (if you haven’t worked it out already) essentially involves attaching a knotted rope to the back of your powerful machine, finding someone daft enough to grab hold of it, then speeding around the ice circuit as quick as you can while your best mate does their upmost to stay upright on a pair of skis. And these guys didn’t ease up on the throttle for the sake of keeping their ski partner’s bones intact.
Sounds mental, right? Rewind to the St. Moritz Winter Olympics in 1928. Riderless horses pull skiers on the race track at maximum speed. Skijöring is becoming a cult and will soon embrace motorsport. Ten years later, the first motorised Renntandems cross the ice in Zell am See. Soon after, the first ice races for motorcycles of all classes and automobiles take place.
Things we never thought we would see sliding around an icy oval: Red Bull Camry NASCAR, Audi Sport Quattro S1, Porsche 550 Spyder, an Audi DTM car and an Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 that’s worth more than most top tier National Lottery wins.
Like we said, it’s an utterly banzai but addictive concoction of money, vintage machinery, skiing lunacy and stunning scenery. Brief bouts of hypothermia were suffered and the index finger almost fell off a few times while capturing this event, but it’s another classic to tick off the list and one we will be regaling friends with for years to come.
Fancy going? You need to check out the website for more details.