Remarkable Driving in a Remarkable Setting
What do children dream about? They usually dream of things they love, such as friends, family, pets and favorite toys. I honestly felt like a child on a recent, magnificent trip hosted by Volkswagen. To translate, I dreamed that my friends were the journalists with me, my family as the Volkswagen family, my pets were the reindeers and my favorite toy was definitely the Volkswagen Golf VII
We landed 100 kilometers from the Arctic Circle – nowhere, a region called Arvidsjaur – the Managing Director of Volkswagen Middle East, Thomas Milz, told us. Upon our arrival at the airport, with a temperature reaching -20 degrees Celsius, I immediately knew that this was an ideal area for automakers to conduct winter driving training. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche also have academies here. As well, this is a desired spot for automakers to conduct cold-weather product testing. In the 4 days I was up there, I saw something pretty close to a Korean manufacturer, a BMW, a Mercedes and a Volvo fully decorated in body disguise.
Let me say it straight. Many of you have seen an ice- or snow-driving video on YouTube. You see a car driving ridiculously fast, sliding to the side, threatening to hit a frozen lake. The snow is tossed everywhere, the car drifts from side to side and from one corner to another.
I did all that!!
The Driving Experience
During the whole trip, we were equipped with the Golf VII TDI 4MOTION mated to a manual gearbox transmission. Volkswagen has fixed long, twisting tracks on the surface of a frozen lake to teach driving to experienced media from the Middle East in how to drift through the corners, get maximum acceleration on the straights, and respond to an ice surface in a way that gets maximum performance from the car. All of this with the ESC (Electronic Stability Control) off! What a dream come absolutely true.
Vehicles had studs in their tires (Lapina, weird name, made in Sweden) and if any of us lost the car in the corner, the most horrible thing that could have happened as to drive into a wall of snow that flanks the track. So it was somewhat of a safe environment. Ironically speaking, continually hitting the walls will brighten up the Golf’s front fascia, he he!
The first day was not that terrible, but it was compared to our fourth day of driving when I felt I could participate in a rally cup backed up by a team of sponsors – the feeling I had was full self-control. We did a lot of exercises, among them slalom driving and drifting between cones. Then there was the ball game, where you drive backwards until sharply turning to kick the ball with the front fascia of the Golf. And I personally granted the winning cone, reaching a distance of 27 meters. I was quite happy; many other journalists tried to beat it to no avail. We played the dirty Fox Hunt game. It revolves around two roundabouts. Every driver started in the middle of the two roundabouts, but driving the opposite way. We completed many exercises that trained our vision, and then ended up driving alone for the last 2 days. A special thanks to the Touareg safety cars that probably removed us from the snow walls 1000 times!
We had the chance too, to drive the Polaris Razors. It was marvelous but different than driving the Golf. The next day we had the opportunity to visit Santa Clause by driving Polaris snowmobiles around the snowy Swedish forests.
For every single event we attended, instructors followed up with us. I mention this because in my 8-year motoring career, I have never seen such an extreme and fanatical but funny instructor! One of the Volkswagen instructors has bizarre skills to bring the table: champion race driver, Ronny Wechselberger, for example, was also a stunt driver on the Bourne Ultimatum movie, and he holds the Guinness World Record for the tightest parallel parking.
While this is questionably just a stunt at the end of the day, Ronny suggested that the skills required to perform such a maneuver are like those he would employ as a race driver visualizing the details of a track. Similarly in Volkswagen’s Driving Experience, we were taught to gain knowledge of the distinctiveness of the program’s circuits and exercises, and identify clever surface dissimilarities consecutively to anticipate the car’s conduct on every single surface.
I remember Ronny’s voice telling us in a steady manner: “Look where you want to go!” Although this sounds obvious when driving a car, it’s surprising how easy it is to become distracted by surrounding objects. I realize how much we get extracted anytime we drive, such as reading the billboards along the road. Looking where you want to go, as told by Ronny, will be the distinction for driving around an obstruction or driving into an obstruction. That’s what we call a basic skill.
The last day in Arvidsjaur and before our last dinner, we were given a hot lap night drive with program instructors at the wheel. At speeds up to 140 kph, at first I thought that driving at night on the frozen lake circuit with headlights on would be more dodgy than running during the day like we had been doing. But I admit, it was super exhilarating!
If you think about it, Ronny made many fastest lap times at Le Mans and they were made at night. The reason behind it is quite simple: no distractions, no trees, no clouds, no stands and spectators, no irrelevant boards that make you lose your focus. The headlights shed light on what you need and nothing more. I am now convinced that it facilitates the driver to center 100% of his concentration on the given task. In conclusion, the hot lap made on the lake at night was amusing for sure, but not as dangerous as we all might have thought.
For those who want to try something new and far different from sand dunes, mountains, water, asphalt or even snow; Volkswagen offers a yearly winter program for fanatics to drive anything that has 4 wheels. The ice driving experience is something special and different compared to other road conditions you will encounter. On my behalf, I would rate it among the top five events ever attended.