As the last snow melts on Lebanon's mountain tops and with the ski season firmly over, ice racing is probably not the kind of driving experience you are gearing up for. But Lebanon's coldest winter in more than a decade certainly proved advantageous when our team went to the Arctic Circle for some extreme driving on ice, with Lebanon's mountain roads and abundant snowfall having provided a degree of preparation for extreme driving in minus twenty degrees Celsius.
The ice circuit in Sweden's Lapland came about by chance some fifteen years ago, when a research team from Bosch accidentally arrived at a dot on the map called Arjeplog and found the perfect environment for testing equipment in sub-zero conditions. Bosch was soon joined by German car manufacturers for the same reason, creating replica racing tracks like Formula 1's Hockenheim, Indianapolis, the Euro Speedway and the Spa Francorchamps.
No brakes, all engine
So when Mercedes’ AMG asked us to stay at their Arjeplog lodge we leapt at the chance. After the plane touched down on the ice, the first stop was the garage: three lines of 15 E63 AMGs, C63 AMGs and the new SLK AMGs. Our group jumped into the E63 monsters with 525 horsepower and 700 Newton meters (Nm) of torque, to take us to an iced-over lake that, once out of the car, was so slippery we nearly ended up on our backsides.
The first firm order from instructor Bernd Schneider, five-time winner of the DTM (German touring car championship) and an ex-Formula 1 driver, was to “DSC OFF” — all electronic aids deactivated, so no guardian angels and just spiked tires to help stay on the “track.”
The first push on the accelerator delivered such a rush of torque that the spikes were unable to cope with it and the car went on a 80 degree drift. Running through bends at a 100 kilometers per hour there is some serious G-force at work that can only be countered by steering, throttling and never breaking. But despite the E63 AMG weighing in at two tons, the chassis was incredibly stable while the surgically precise throttle, the torque and the power made the AMG a cinch to drive in that icy wasteland.
The next morning was spent roaring around the simulation race tracks, and in the afternoon the AMGs were fitted with on-board cameras with telemetry equipment for the competition to really begin. With a benchmark set by Schneider of 1.22.30, the AMGs set off one by one, with the teams keeping a watch out for cars that slid off into the snow banks on either side of the tracks. Any car requiring a tow from the G Class Mercedes cost the team a point, so there was a lot of snow spraying around as drivers tried to get back on the ice and team members puffed and panted to push the car out as best they could.
Drifting to win
After the race was over, telemetry analysis started with most recorded times 5 to 10 seconds slower than Schneider’s time. Then it was announced that the Lebanese team had collectively scored the fastest times, even slightly faster than Schneider's, although it must be said that he did not set his best time ever. Given the competition out on the ice, Schneider was surprised by the Lebanese effort, quipping: “You guys are really quick, where did you learn how to drive on snow in the desert?” Obviously, the remark was met with more than a few raised eyebrows.
The last day was spent on faster tracks where drivers could really let the cars go full out, drifting at speeds of up 130 km per hour. It soon reached a point where drifting became almost second nature. While the AMGs were incredible out on the “rink,” we also drove the SLK 55 and C-Class 63 Coupe. The C63 Coupe was over powered for such conditions, and the SLK was the by far best on ice, being smaller and feeling like your were almost go-carting as the car drifted around the track.
Overall, a highly recommended trip, a total disconnection from everything and the ability to drive in a way you would never normally experience, even if you managed to get your car to the top of one of Faraya’s ski slopes.