This is the ice experience I hinted at in the last column. I was lucky enough (after dropping a truck load of hints) to get a ticket to attend the Audi ice experience held on the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground in the Cardrona Valley near Queenstown.
I flew down to Queenstown (unchaperoned) and checked into the Rees Hotel. This was all part of the package. In keeping with my desire to undertake some pre-event training, I dined at Rata restaurant (the Josh Emmett one) that evening with a friend. It was not a late night because we were up early the next morning (5.15 am …!!) to get to breakfast by 6 am and out onto the bus at 6.30. No-one else was about, apart from the odd idiot trying to get to the top of the mountain before anyone else, and us.
We drove up the Crown Range road and then onto the Proving Grounds and were greeted with a row of brand new Audi RS4s, RS5s, S4s and S5s. It was a spectacular entrance with the cars sitting there in the half light of dawn with their lights on. It looked stunning with the lights shining on the snow.
We were briefed (i.e.–“Don’t prang the cars”) and then got underway at about 8.00 am. I won’t bore you with all the exercises that we undertook, but needless to say, the idea that we would be able to control a car on ice by the end of the day was rather stretching the imagination.
The first exercise was gentle acceleration up to about 30kmh then with foot off the brake and the accelerator, steer left and then steer right and the car tail breaks away and then steer in the same direction of the skid and it comes right. Easy peasy!!
The next exercise was a bit more like I imagined it to be. You drove into a semi-circle at about 10kmh, turned the wheel hard right and floored the accelerator. You then ended up going around the circle in a great big power slide and keeping a modicum of control. Well, some of us did …
We progressed to slaloms, both big and small, power sliding, under steering and then there was a procession of cars going around what they called “mini Finland”. This was a track about a car width which bobbed and weaved around various snow banks and you didn’t get much over about 30kmh, but all the time the car was slipping and sliding through each curve and straight – and under control.
The last exercise was the best. Imagine a giant circle about 400m across looking rather like an oversized LP vinyl record with a great big mound of snow and rocks in the middle. The snow and rocks was where the instructor stood so that he wouldn’t get run over. One of our lot tried that at least three times!!
You entered the ice rink quite slowly, turned away from the centre and then went onto full lock back towards the centre mound and floored the accelerator. This ended up with the car drifting around the circumference of the circle with its nose continually pointed in towards the middle. By feathering the throttle and gentle movements on the steering wheel, you could keep the car on a continual slide sideways. Now I know what those kids love about drifting
Contrary to what I thought initially – we never really got above 50kmh. Control on ice is all about using the throttle and hardly touching the brake and not much else.
Whilst it is a great showcase for the cars, it is also a fabulous experience. You could see this was the case because of the grins which stretched from ear-to-ear on every driver in the group. Even some of the lesser able drivers were grinning like idiots. These were the ones who tried to run over instructors, road cones or into snow banks continuously.
Audi then treats you to a meal out (no doubt paid for in the ticket) at one of Queenstown’s great restaurants, gives every participant a video clip of the day’s events and then sends us on our way, tired, full and slightly more knowledgeable than previously.
A number of these car manufacturers have ice driving experiences. I thoroughly recommend them. They are a lot of fun, give you some skills that you would not otherwise attain and also allow the car maker to showcase the cars’ abilities. I hasten to add, the abilities of these cars was quite something. The interesting thing was that we were told to keep the traction control off so that the car could slip and slide without the computer taking over.
Everyone voted the RS4 as the car of choice. It looks stunning in red and quite understated, but once you put your foot down the noise is fabulous and all you could hear across the proving ground was the roar of V8 engines as these cars really let rip.
David O’Neill is a Hamilton born and Hamilton based Barrister. He was trained at Otago University. Apart from his 30 plus years in the law, he has a strong passion for cars and motor racing.David is married with four sons, three of whom share his same passion for cars, but none of whom have the financial ability to go racing as yet.
David’s love of fine motor cars extends to writing reviews on cars for two legal publications circulated throughout New Zealand. Additionally he races a car in the Targa NZ Series and is proudly sponsored by Ebbett Prestige of Hamilton.