There are these kinds of events that are on every petrolhead’s bucket list. Drifting and racing on a frozen lake certainly accounts for one of them. Especially when the cars of choice are the latest and most sporty versions of AMG. GTspirit came to Arjeplog, Sweden, which is just about 100 km south of the arctic circle to join the AMG Winter Sporting 2016, a division of the AMG Driving Academy.
As soon as we landed on Arvidsjaur airport we realised that AMG isn’t the only manufacturer to host ice driving events in this area. Booths of many other brands such as BMW, Audi or Continental made it clear that the dry, cold conditions are ideal for the auto industry to put their products to the test.
The whole area of AMG Winter Sporting finds itself on a frozen lake and consists of various tracks with promising names such as Ascari or Cota. Although not exactly representing their real life counterparts, the biggest difference is the surface. Instead of tarmac we are on ice!
The AMG Lodge, where all the contestants have their own room and where breakfast and dinner are served is roughly a 10 minute drive from the lake. A small sauna and jacuzzi give contestants the opportunity to relax and unwind after an exhausting day of driving in the blistering cold. We got temperatures as cold as -29c at times. From the AMG Lodge to the lake, everybody was shuttled in 4MATIC sprinters with higher ground clearance.
For this event, which lasts from January to April, we had a choice of amazing cars to use. There were AWD cars such as the A45 AMG and the CLS 63-S AMG as well as RWD cars such as the mighty AMG GT-S and the C63-S. The latter we liked to call the drift machine, because no other car made going sidewise THAT easy. All of the cars were equipped with winter tires with short spikes of about 2.5mm, which are legal to drive on public roads in Sweden during winter time.
Let’s go a little bit into detail of each car. The 381 hp A45 AMG (GTspirit review here) with its short wheel base and non-permanent 4MATIC system was the easiest car to drift on the icy tracks. When gently using the throttle, the 4MATIC system almost always helped you pull out of corners that one already thought to have lost. Thanks to its 4MATIC system the car was capable of accelerating on snow and ice extremely well.
The CLS 63-S felt a bit heavier to maneuver through the corners, obviously due to its weight. However – again – it was hard to grasp how the 4MATIC system propelled the car on those slippery surfaces. It was hard to believe how easy and well balanced a car with that weight, size and long wheel base could be controlled. The enourmous amount of torque (650 Nm) and power (585 hp) helped in combination with the 4MATIC AWD system to reach the highest speeds of all the cars. We managed to reach over 100 km/h quite a few times.
The AMG GT-S was a premiere for the AMG Winter Sporting this year. It hasn’t been used before because as a RWD car with a fairly long wheel base and the long hood it’s a bit more difficult to handle than the other cars. With 510 hp and 650 Nm it is actually way too powerful for a RWD car on ice. Still we were surprised that after a few mins of practicing, long, controlled drifts were easily manageable. We thought the car would be much harder to handle than it actually was. However it came at no surprise that the AMG GT-S still was the car that the mighty G-Class had to pull out of snow banks the most. Another thing that made the GT-S stand out was its amazing sound. Going sideways under full throttle the V8 screams like there is no tomorrow, which is just amazing!
The C63-S is the second car on site to feature RWD and it didn’t take us long until we nicknamed it the “drift machine”. Acceleration was nowhere as good as with the A45 or the CLS63, simply because of the wheelspin, no matter how gently you kissed the throttle. This is obviously a result of the 510 hp and 700 Nm that are available from only 1750 rpm. But as soon as you picked up some speed, the fun began. Just a slight tip on the gas and already you were going sideways, easily controllable and manageable because of its well balanced weight distribution and perfect wheel base. The C63-S sure was most fun, even though it would be unfair to classify the other cars anything short of awesome.
We were lucky enough to have Bernd Mayländer, who has been DTM driver and F1 safety car driver for over a decade now, accompanied by Roland Rehfeld, Kart champion and racing driver as our instructors. They both have been AMG ambassadors for a long time and their driving tips sure helped a lot to improve everybody’s skills.
We arrived at Arjeplog after a 90-minute transfer from Arvidsjaur airport when it was dark already because in January the sunrise is as late as 9:50 am and sunset as early as 2:20 pm! After quickly checking in to our room at the AMG Lodge we were grouped into three groups of 10 and then already being shuttled to the frozen lake where the cars were waiting for us, beautifully lined up.
Immediately we hopped into an A45 for our first warm up training. Although equipped with small 2 mm spikes, it soon became clear that the surface was very slippery as we entered the first corner rather sideways. After a few laps on the Ascari race track we gained confidence and saw steady progression in terms of handling the car in these winter conditions. Before changing the AWD A45 for the RWD AMG GT-S, the mighty G 63 had already been called for help as one of the other participants got stuck in the snow with his red AMG GT-S.
There was a rule that every time the G-Class had to be called for towing a car because it cannot be pushed out by the participants themselves, the participant’s card will be punched a hole and receive negative points for the competition. Quite an intelligent incentive for contestants to stay on track as much as possible.
Starting up the AMG GT-S we couldn’t wait to get the V8 on the Cota track for some RWD fun. And such fun that was. Accelerating was possible only when you very gently pressed the throttle, otherwise the rear wheels spun at almost standstill. But with the first corner a quick tap on the throttle made the AMG GT-S immediately go sideways and surprisingly easy to control while in drift. The mid-engine with its optimum weight distribution sure helped controlling the car during load shifts. Additionally it was a great joy to hear the V8 screaming while going sideways through the many corners as fast as possible.
After the first warm up round where we got to know two of the four cars, it was time to head back to the AMG Lodge for dinner and some mini-games. Funny detail is that the mini-games also accounted for the total score in the final competition for each group.
The next morning we first chose the drift machine, the C63-S, to see if we learned something the previous evening. And to be honest that car was even more fun than the AMG GT-S, because never before was drifting easier. The cones and sticks seemed so close to each other now, and they had to be put back in place by the instructors more than once. After some serious fun at the Ascari track we headed over to the AMG Arena, which is nearly shaped like an oval so we could bring our drifting skills to perfection. By lunch time we managed to control the drifts entirely with the throttle and almost zero steering input.
After lunch we took a seat in the rather heavy CLS 63-S with its long wheel base and 4MATIC AWD system. Of course the car felt fundamentally different from the other cars and when we took it on the Ascari track and accelerated for the first time, we couldn’t believe the traction and grip this car had on ice. Throttle and the AWD system magically pulled the car out of corners.
The third day we started off with the AMG GT-S again because it was the day of the final competition and we wanted to further improve our drifting skills. The final competition took place at the AMG arena in the evening of the last day. To qualify, one would have to do a fast lap on the AMG Arena followed by a perfect drift. There was only one lap to be timed, so there is no second chance. Being fastest in the training we were confident to make it to the finals, however it didn’t turn out that way unfortunately.
Before the final competition, we were given the opportunity to take a ride in the Race-Taxi. A stripped C63-S with roll cage, 25mm spikes and professional race driver Roland Rehfeld at the wheel. As if the whole experience wasn’t impressive already, this 2 minute ride simply blew our minds. It’s hard to understand how much grip those tires have on ice and how crazy the car could be manouvered around. It seemed like the car was defying physics. A totally extraordinary ride, one has to experience by himself to understand as words fail to describe it.
The Final Competition
For the competition every driver had to do one fast lap in the AMG-Arena followed by a perfect drift that had to be started at pylon 1, held through pylon 2 and 3 and ended at pylon 4. The tricky thing with this is, that as spectacular as going sideways looks and as much fun as it is, it is NOT the fastest way to go around the track.
So you had to be very careful to not drift too much and instead occasionally tap the brake pedal to get the fastest line. While in training team GTspirit was leading, in qualifying we unfortunately missed the 4th place to take part in the final race of champs later that evening by a few milliseconds.
After a short recreational break at the AMG Lodge, everybody was shuttled back to the lake for the final competition. This time the beauty of the drift was not important, only the lap times mattered. Because it was pitch-black, the two C63-S’ were fitted with blue and yellow flashing LED-lights so everybody could see who was leading.
In a knock-out tournament the 4 best drivers were competing against each other for three laps in a one-on-one and the two faster guys then did the final race over 5 laps. In the end the winner was celebrated with some small fireworks.
After another great dinner at the lake we returned back to the AMG Lodge and packed our suitcase, because unfortunately the next morning it was already time to leave. With lots of great memories and newly learned skills we took departure and reflected upon the amazing experiences of the past three days while being shuttled to Arvidsjaur Airport.
If you want to take part in the AMG Driving Academy / Winter Sporting, which we can highly recommend, then keep an eye on their official website for free slots.