Remoteness introduces a certain purity to any experience. There’s an escapism to the journey which allows you to reprioritize why you showed up to where you showed up to in the first place. When it comes to cool cars, it should be in pursuit of fun. But this isn’t always the case, because for all the community social media has fostered within the car world, it’s also proliferated a mainstream where exclusivity overshadows passion, flexing supersedes knowledge, and price tag outweighs skill.
Ignoring that, and in the persistent pursuit of fun, Ferdi Porsche founded GP Ice Race, which both is and is not what it sounds like. That is to say, yes, there are cars racing on ice in the Austrian Alps of Zell Am See, but more than that, GP Ice Race is an idea that the things you have matter far less than the things you do with what you have. Of course, in this instance, centralized around the automobile – its history, its future, and the current state of a particular community whose shared passion is to “get fucking stone chips,” according to CEO Tino Klein. In other words, focus on the use case. If your car is a track car, track it. If your car is a Dakar Rally car, jump it. If you’re Max Verstappen and you just won the F1 World Championship, well, you already won and can do what you want, so why not put studded tires on your F1 car and drive it on ice? All of which were things that happened at the most recent iteration of GP Ice Race.
Highsnobiety attended this year’s GP Ice Race and chatted with Ferdi and Tino to learn more about its origins and their future plans for the festival.
How would you describe the GP Ice Race?
FERDI PORSCHE: GP race is a festival around the car as a cultural icon, with the idea behind it of being unapologetically fun. That's what was in mind when they started it back in the 1950s. They just had a frozen lake and they had cool cars, and they decided “Why not race on them?” It became this sort of cultural event and people had fun at it, and they probably went for beers afterwards and they talked about it and they created memories. And I think that's what GP Ice Race still is.
If you grow up in Austria or Germany or anywhere like that, inevitably at some point you're driving in snow and ice. Was it an existing event that you revived or do you mean generally speaking?
FP: There was ice racing in Zell Am See because the lake was freezing back then. It still is every five, six, seven years. In '52, it was the first time they did it with cars. The ice race continued up until '72 and someone tragically died preparing the roads above the lake… the same guy who prepared the roads for the bus and for the track. That was the reason that the race was canceled and never took place again.
And in 2017 I found out about it and I had the idea to bring it back. So four years later, it's a bit bigger and a lot has happened in the meantime, but in the beginning, just the question of why is something that is so cool and visually so strong that would bring motorsport closer to young people, that would have this whole festival part, why is all that gone nowadays?
How did you meet and what was the moment after that when you thought: “Okay, yeah, this is what we have to do?” What was the emotional impetus behind you wanting to do it?
FP: Firstly, Ice Race was sort of always a question of “Would that still work?” So we started by talking to people like Richard Lietz, he's a Porsche works driver. I saw him on Instagram doing a lot of ice racing. We talked to the mayor, we talked to the tourism board, and actually everyone said if it would still be around, it would be mega, but everyone was skeptical of whether it would still be doable. I connected with Tino, actually, I think shortly before the first Ice Race. Um, because I knew him via Instagram, because he has this dark green car.
I texted him and I was like, “Dude, you seem like a chill guy and I like your Instagram. I think it would be cool if you would join us, you might like it.” Tino showed up and we had a quick chat and then the same year, in the summertime went for a drive up Grossglockner and at one point I asked him if he wanted to join and I think, yeah, he regrets it already.
Instagram and social media has been a really good automotive enthusiast connector. Would you say there is some element of this that was very much at the right time of a particular social moment?
TINO KLEIN: I think so. The interesting thing, as Ferdi said... I came to the first race and I drove there in that green car. So I'm obviously a lunatic ‘cause I drive a GT3 on snow tires. But when anyone asked me before I drove there, “Why are you going there?” I said, “Because it's fundamentally unlike anything nowadays that someone looks at something and tries it again, even though it's not been around for 40 years.” And in Ferdi's case, let's be honest, 95% of people will look at something he tries and if it goes wrong, everyone talks about it. But you know, you don't get the kudos. So it's easy not to try. And I think the story that he always tells me is he saw these spike tires and they used to be like nails. Like, they were literally nails on tires. The guys who used to race on ice were nuts. But these really were like, not 7mm, like now, like… actually centimeters. If you were to fall, that's it...
It's like a medieval weapon, yeah.
TK: All these little newspaper articles Ferdi showed me, there's 10,000 people standing around at a time when you know, some of those cars were incredibly rare, but it was super inclusive. It wasn't the sort of thing where you read the newspaper articles and anyone talked about this rare or that rare. They took 550 Spyders, which even at the time were 5-10, times the price of a good car. And they put these nails on them and they raced each other. That is an ethos nowadays, when everyone's buying things for investment to be cool to brag on Instagram is the anti-Instagram. If you don't drive these things, no one cares. If you are on a list and you've got an allocation, literally no one cares. Unless when you get that key, you drive, or come to the Ice Race, who are you going to tell the story to other than maybe send someone an Instagram picture?
If someone doesn't understand the Ice Race, they're like, “Okay, so you're driving in circles in the mountains?” No, not really. You really pull together so many different people from so many different backgrounds with so many different aspirations, some of whom can never afford the cars on track. And one of the earliest things that Ferdi did was to say literally anyone should be able to enter their car. So in the Ice Race, for next year, basically for the weekend it's a hundred and something euros for your car. And that can be a 550 Spyder, but it's also going to be a Golf that's set up for rallying. The classes are structured in such a way that we are trying to get as many people involved, which is very different from most motorsports.
It's cheaper than a track day. The observer element is really interesting to me as an American. In the US, whether it’s art, or any object of desire, including cars, it revolves so much around personal ownership. But in Europe it feels much more driven by creative value and beauty… It doesn't really matter if someone can afford the car or not. But that’s certainly not the case with many car shows.
TK: Having come to Ice Race for two years as a paying visitor, and now being part of the team, one of the things that stayed constant throughout is there is nothing in the world at that time of year, regardless of cars and cool stuff, that once someone has seen, been, or even heard about it, got them as excited as this. My mother is a professor, an academic, and she does not care for cars. She is literally the antithesis of a petrol head or someone who considers cars cultural icons, or who would even care to go to a Motorsport event. This year we did the taxi lap together with a 1932 Bugatti Type 51 and she was the happiest child I've ever seen. The same mother who, when she was in a Taycan was like “We're gonna crash and we're gonna die,” and “This is horrible.” And I was going super slowly, sat in a car without seat belts, without a roof, without anything and got out of it and she was just glowing. You know, that really is the best way I can explain it. It's like, it grabs you. It grabbed me when I first came and I think it continues to do that for people who come and visit.
A challenge in the automotive world is that it's very hard to be an enthusiast and not have it very quickly to feel like lifestyles of the rich and famous. What is something that people may not understand about that and about GP Ice Race itself that you want them to know?
TK: Ice Race is a perfect example of that, if the basis of any decision or judgment you make is the not 0.2 seconds you see an image… then yeah. A Porsche going sideways on ice, you're going to be like: “Oh, it's probably a rich person owning an expensive car, doing something only rich people can afford.” The genuine truth is that this platform allows a manufacturer like Porsche to bring a new GT4 RS, and at the same time, have a local hero in his E36 M3 being quick in the same category, racing each other and that’s what this platform allows us to do. And Ferdi and I do say to the manufacturer: "Hey, bring this cool new expensive thing.” ‘Cause when I was 8 or 10 years old and Ferdi the same, you just wanna see the cool thing. It doesn't matter how expensive, it's just a cool thing. And it's the love of the thing, not the love of the price tag, not the love of the allocation or any of that. That love of the thing is so intrinsically honest. And if that's unequivocal then status genuinely disappears, status just doesn't enter into it.
FP: It's like at a ski hut, you know, you're just friends because you're having a good day. You're in the snow. You're in the sun. Everyone is in the same mood. Whether you have the 550 Spyder, the $4 million car or whether you're just a spectator and you have the toy 550 Spyder at home, it doesn't really matter. And everyone sort of becomes friends for this multi-day event.
As it's evolved, what do you want Ice Race to do for people, both participants and observers? What do you want them to leave with?
FP: Hopefully with a lot of shared experiences, and hopefully they come back again as well. When we move to the new location we’ll have so many more opportunities there and we have a lot of space for exhibitions as well and we really want to bring this whole sort of cultural point to it even more. And the whole festival idea of it, ‘cause obviously that was the main thing missing these last two years without spectators and everything. It will feel very new. I think even for the people that have been to one of the previous public events.
What do you think is the wildest thing you guys have done so far?
TK: It's a long list. Ferdi, which one's yours?
FP: Max Verstappen drove his F1 car on our track this year. I think that was pretty special because he was just crowned world champion a week or two before. You could actually hear it through the whole valley, the F1 engine.
Is there anything you wanted to do that you thought would just be too hard, or for whatever reason was impossible that you want to mention?
FP: That will come eventually for the next Ice Race. The whole event location is properly built up right now. We built a water pipe and we built all those things that you need for the festival to happen at the new site. For example, the water pipe we built, we can use river water. We try to build it in a way that it can last for a few years. Basically the answer is no, it's just a matter of time, and so far a matter of COVID probably, but if we can do it somehow and if it makes sense, then they might still happen. Nothing scratched off the list yet.
It’s almost like sort of slowly creating a car enthusiast church, or pilgrimage…
TK: If we can build that refuge for that attitude that I was describing earlier, which is, you know, everyone that ends up in those places ends up there for the right reasons. One-hundred percent, I would sign that statement. I just wouldn't call it a church.