Friday, July 15, 2011

Snow Driving In Sweden

That's what I was (or rather trying to be) for the three special days I spent up in snow country, Sweden. Tucked away in a small area of town called Arjeplog, the small community of inhabitants grow to almost double it's size during the winter months when people from other parts of the world head over to occupy their winter homes and tourists like myself who attend driving courses by the various car brands (I had breakfast across the room from the gang from AMG).

So besides IKEA and Swedish meatballs, Sweden, especially when the mercury decides to plunge well below in the negative region, have been known to have one of the most ideal conditions for a special group of people - Car Testers. These individuals, mostly made up of engineers, come from all over the world with their specially analytically-equipped laptops to test their brand's new models behaviour in such extreme weather conditions in Sweden.

So these guys knew their place in the equation and knew what they had to accomplish while on their trip. Me on the other hand, not so.

Used to the tropical sunny climate of sunny Singapore, I was immediately caught out back at the airport where I was received by the minus 20 degree afternoon breeze and an Audi representative. On the bus to the hotel, our Audi country guide gave us the low-down on what was going to be happening in the coming hours and the next few days. Distracted by the Christmas card scenery though, I only managed to catch the words Audi A4 Avant with quattro, fun, sliding and cold en route.

All freshened up and raring to go, our driving instructor ex-rally driver Jerry Ahlin briefed us on the different courses he mapped out for the group of 10 of us, what the different corners simulate, what it will require of us to take them on. He should know, having been the Swedish Junior Champion in '82, Swedish Champion in both '84 and '85 and most recently being the Swedish Champion in '91 with the Audi 90 quattro. Even while rallying, Jerry somehow found time to be the main instructor for the Audi Driving Experience for the last 20 years!

Once done, we proceeded to pair up and get into each of the five A4 Avant's lined-up neatly behind our hotel. This trip was a whole lot of first's for me.

First time I felt snow, first time I'll be driving on it, first time I had Rudolph on my plate, and now, driving a stick shift on the left.

We proceeded down a snow laden, steep downward spiral behind our hotel to the main road and kept a good 100 meter distance from the car in front all the way to where we'd be driving the rest of the day. And what a view that greeted us.

Far reaches of virgin white snow freshly shoveled to the side, carving out the track for the day - an oval.

As unimaginative as that can possibly sound, we were coached by Jerry to hone our drifting skills through the sweeping corners of the wide oval track.

So instructions were:

1. Accelerate up to the corner at about 50 km/h

2. Take foot completely off the pedal and brake just before turning into the corner

3. Aggressively turn into the corner and hold the turn

4. Once the rear slides out accelerate out of the turn while counter steering the understeer

It all sounds very straight forward but driving on something as frictionless as ice is a whole different ball game. Even predictable reactions like steering and throttle inputs yield nothing in most situations.

Taking our seat behind the wheel, we spent a good portion of the afternoon up till 1600hrs sliding off the track from severe understeer and getting tugged out of the ice by the circuit tractor from the understeer. Both of which we've studied and understood very well from Wikipedia and from driving our own cars, but nothing can prepare you for when you're faced with a sliding car and the correct procedures is the only thing standing between you and getting yourself wrapped around the lamp post.

With our tanks lightened from all that driving, we headed back to the hotel with wide smiles on our faces from the sample of comedic relief some of us exhibited earlier in the day. Knowing that we had another day of driving the next day to fully exercise the lessons we were repeatedly taught by Jerry made dinner easier to swallow.

I've got a part 2 coming up to document my next two days so make sure you check back regularly for my virgin adventures on ice accompanied by a whole lotta photos of the snowy paradise that is Sweden!

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