With the worst of the winter having passed we are on the straight and narrow to warmer days – ungritted roads and most importantly an end to the vitamin D deficiency the media love to obsess over.
During the winter period many of us may have been driving in road conditions that are just not our forte, which is unlike our fellow Europeans in colder climates who happen to have a whole manoeuvre named after their ability to chuck a car sideways into a corner! Rumour has it that the first Vikings even used the ‘Scandinavian Flick’ in their longships when first landing on the beaches of Britain!
The UK does lots of things very well: fish and chips, standing in orderly queues and even the Olympics were a success. One thing we are not so good at is winter. As soon as the temperature drops the roads become treacherous due to a combination of inexperienced/nervous winter drivers and cars that are equipped with budget summer tires – not even Mad Max would dare venture to the local supermarket for his weekly shop…
For those of us who enjoy motoring and adventure in equal measure, Jaguar Land Rover offer an experience package that is arguably the most sideways fun you can have on four wheels. The Jaguar Land Rover Ice Academy.
The Swedish town of Arjeplog is situated only 200 miles from the arctic circle, surrounded by your typical Scandinavian mix of alpine forests and large stretches of water – a heady landscape that increases your heart rate with an almost primal lust for adventure. Yet, at the same time it allows you to breathe that little bit deeper with each intake, relaxing the mind.
Upon arrival we were greeted by a mind-boggling temperature of -18 C, dropping to -26 C in the evenings. The feeling of your eyelashes sticking when blinking helped me have confidence that the lake we were about to drive on would surely hold the 2.5 ton per car! We were thankfully informed that the ice was just over 60cm thick, allowing the mammoth snowplough to get to work in the dead of night perfectly crafting the GPS mapped circuits. Although the ice depth was indeed thick enough to drive on, this was artificially created by drilling the ice, allowing the water to seep up the hole and re-freezing on top of the ice plate. This meant that if you venture too far off the circuit into the deep snow the underlying texture was alarmingly slushy, much to the amusement of the instructors as they briefed us for the day ahead.
After a comprehensive safety briefing, we were straight out onto the ice for day one of three. To ease us in we began with the Range Rover Sport. The heavier weight of the vehicle and the higher centre of gravity would allow us to feel for the roll of the vehicle. This was important to ensure the car maximised the grip from all four wheels as the aim was to keep the car stable whilst drifting through a four-cone slalom. Within a few runs we were all giddy and had huge grins across our faces. We began to feel comfortable with steering the vehicle where you wanted it to go, rather than attempting to over correct, patiently waiting for each tire to find grip while sideways.
As the day progressed, we moved onto the Range Rover Velar on the slalom course as the sun went down. A serene pink glow flooded over the ice, brightly illuminating the snow smoke that all of us were kicking up. This was our first time on a circuit and with the Range Rover Velar’s smaller size we were able to fine tune our new-found skills.
We rounded off the day by finishing in the Jaguar F Pace. This was to be driven on a much faster circuit which encouraged huge sweeping drifts. Before we had a chance to take stock of the situation and get into the swing of the circuit, we all got to see just what happens when your mind tricks you into believing you are Sébastien Loeb. One of our fellow drivers had ploughed straight through the snowbank into the centre of the circuit, deep into the slush. What we didn’t realise was that this would soon become the norm as we pushed to find the limits… of our abilities, rather than the cars! Rescue was never far away, as being a Jaguar Land Rover experience, there was always a Land Rover Discovery waiting to leap into action.
Many of you will have visited a circuit to experience a supercar track day – perhaps you may have left feeling like you didn’t necessarily learn a great deal. The cost of going wide can be catastrophic and the instructors know this and therefore encourage restraint, and rightly so. At the Ice Academy however, this isn’t the case. Although it’s not encouraged to leave the circuit, you couldn’t help but feel that due to the relatively small risk involved with going wide on a corner, it allowed you to push your own ability and gain confidence in a way that track driving just simply doesn’t allow.
At sundown, we headed back to the hotel where JLR had their very own exclusive tepee lounge. Inside was a warm cosy fire, great company and a full evening of sharing stories, photos and reminiscing on the day gone by – not to mention bet placing on who would be the first to require the assistance of a recovery vehicle the following day.
Still slightly unsure about our new-found skills, I awoke to find myself praying that whilst asleep my brain had hurriedly built new synapses to better make sense of the sensory onslaught that is becoming the new normal.
Our first session was on the large circle, a perfect circle 400 meters in diameter, which was designed to easily throw the car into a drift at speed and then sustain it, lap after lap after lap.
Enter the Jaguar F Type. The spiritual successor of the E-Type.
This was the moment we had been waiting for. The rest of the day was a blur of speed, snow smoke and laughter while we experienced the full range of tracks and circuits available to us. Upon uploading content from this experience to various social media outlets, someone asked me “are you James Bond?”. I certainly felt like him.
The F-Type was a different beast all together, with it being rear wheel drive, the importance of the throttle became all to clear. The balance between sustaining a drift and performing a pirouette as you spin on exit was a tricky thing to dial in. The slightest increase in power would only serve to remind you to stop being greedy. Smooth is slow, and slow is fast.
We were experiencing the Advanced+ itinerary, with the F-Type SVR being the highlight. The studded tires, on-board computers and all-wheel drive hurling you with such precision that we were mistaking the machines skill for our own.
The key to being able to extract the most of the 575 BHP, 5.0L V8 is to believe in the power available to you with all four tires scrambling for grip. At times I was looking straight over my shoulder at almost 90 degrees and I was convinced that I had lost control, shortly to be consumed by a cloud of snow smoke as I spun. Each time I was proved wrong. To my astonishment the car managed to pull itself round and keep heading to where I intended.
I will let you experience the sheer power and remarkable capabilities of the F-Type SVR, as it truly was awe inspiring.
By day three we had performed Swedish flicks to our hearts content, honed an ability to control a car at speed on the ice and enjoyed a beautiful part of the world from a truly unique perspective.
The adventure had one last surprise for us however…
We spent the last evening in tepee heated with a large log fire eating such delicacies such as local moose, and even bear!
“Do you think we will see the Northern Lights this evening?”. “Not a chance”, came the reply from the warm local whose venue we had been enjoying.
It was our cameras that first caught a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis when the faint white glow in the sky was proved to be a wicked green under a long exposure shot. The night sky proceeded to light up with a display that felt almost personal, performing its most exclusive show, just for us.
Although the rest of the UK might still be fearful of the snow, I returned with a newfound calmness in sideways situations, as well as a much better understanding of the weight shifting around the vehicle through various stages of the corner. It’s an experience like no other, and when you return a safer and more capable driver, that’s got to be worth it.
But most importantly, I had the chance to travel to what felt like another planet for the adventure of a life time. Something that won’t be forgotten.
For more information, please visit www.jaguar.com/experience-jaguar