The F.A.T Ice Race Is The Best Car Event You've Never Heard Of

F.A.T Ice Race brings an eclectic collection of cars to a remote, frozen airport in the heart of Austria’s skiing country. We take a trip…
The F.A.T Ice Race Is The Best Car Event You've Never Heard Of

Nestled within the Kitzbühel Alps of Austria, and along Lake Zell is the sleepy little town of Zell am See. Throughout the summer, its mountainous landscape brings in visitors keen on finding some peace from the usual hustle or bustle, with the lake itself providing the perfect setting for watersports or a swim. When the winter comes, skiers from across Europe descend onto its steep slopes.

Head off-piste slightly, and you’ll come across Flugplatz Zell am See, a tiny airstrip located two miles south of the town. Allowing for aircraft of up to 5.7 tonnes, it’s very much a strip of the reserve of private and hobbyist aircraft.

One day a year, in the thick of icy winter, a whole different set of machinery descends upon Flugplatz Zell am See, which is why we’re here. F.A.T Ice Race is still in its relative infancy, starting in 2019 and returning in a big way after Covid-affected events in 2021 and 2022, while the weather was simply too warm for 2023’s meeting to take place.

The F.A.T Ice Race Is The Best Car Event You've Never Heard Of

By comparison, the Goodwood Festival of Speed - which perhaps ‘Goodwood on Ice’ is the best way to describe what the Zell am See event wants to be - has been going since 1993. Unlike Goodwood, there’s little sense of occasion as you’re arriving - with the roads approaching giving very little to suggest a major motorsport celebration is taking place.

Yet the calibre of cars turning up would look straight from the paddock of the famous Chichester grounds. As we join the queue of cars adjacent to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Flugplatz sign, you begin to spot the gems. A couple of cars behind us is a UK-registered Porsche 911 Dakar complete with a roof box, and that’s soon followed by a rally-kitted 964 ushered around us mere mortals and directly towards a row of hangars.

Perhaps unusually for these types of events, you can walk the whole paddock in one, neatly arranged straight line - and there’s little order to the mix. Starting at one end, we’re alongside a Martini-tribute 911 and rallycross-spec Volkswagen Polo, directly adjacent to a Lancia Fulvia and with a handful of Rufs (CTR included) nestled nearby. There’s a Mitsubishi Evo IV just across the road being prepped, and a Lotus Esprit wearing a chunky set of winters just a moment away.

The F.A.T Ice Race Is The Best Car Event You've Never Heard Of

This isn’t just a playground for the rich to bring their toys, either, with a solid turnout from OEMs looking to cash in a few cheques too. Lamborghini has brought along a static display, headlined by the Revuelto, while Porsche (perhaps vary aware of its huge customer presence) has wheeled out a few of its own including the 1,073bhp GT4 e-Performance race car.

I’m here with Volkswagen, which has opted to use F.A.T Ice Race as the platform to publicly launch the Mk8.5 Golf. It’s not a small affair either, with four examples - including a heavily camouflaged version of the upcoming R - present too.

This is a car we’d expect to see in Geneva around this time of year, but it’s perhaps telling of the times that VW is skipping the sanitised show entirely and instead opting to bring the car to an audience of bonafide petrolheads. Especially so as it’s wheeled out a raft of heritage cars, including a pristine Mk3 Rallye and Mk4 R32, for the occasion.

The F.A.T Ice Race Is The Best Car Event You've Never Heard Of

Nobody is here just to wander around displays, though, with on-track action too. Being essentially a mound of snow and ice compacted onto a local airstrip, it’s not especially huge - I don’t have an exact measurement, but if you’re familiar with Ice Arena on Gran Turismo 4, you’ll get an idea.

However, you can get very up close with the action - so much so that I’m pelted on more than one occasion throughout the day with blocks of ice flicked from especially keen drivers.

The day doesn’t run without incident, though. Early on things look a little bleak. One, two, three cars rear-driven cars head out and find themselves sunken in slush at the far end of the course and giving more run time for the on-hand recovery tractor than anything. It’s the beaching of a wonderfully crafted Porsche 917k replica that brings a halt to play and a rethink.

The F.A.T Ice Race Is The Best Car Event You've Never Heard Of

After a good hour of delay, a decision for only four-wheel drive cars to run in the morning session with the hope of sending everything else out later in the day is taken. A cold, long wait - but one that proves worthwhile.

The sights are just as eclectic as hoped. Modern rallycross cars are pushed within an inch of their life, with another 911 Dakar and the Ken Block’s Hoonitron woven in. No sight matches that of seeing a Group B Audi Quattro crest towards you in the low-set sun though, Bosch headlamps and all. I wasn’t alive for its time, but for a brief moment, I feel like I’ve been transported to the 1984 Swedish Rally.

The F.A.T Ice Race Is The Best Car Event You've Never Heard Of

Flight schedules mean we have to make a hasty departure, missing out on a good chunk of afternoon running. A shame, really, especially seeing a Ferrari 512 TR prepping to take on the ice.

It gives me a moment on the way out to take it all in, though. To be on the same level as Goodwood or the likes will take some serious work, but F.A.T Ice Race looks to be on the right track to go there - and with the right sort of crowd. It’s enough of a niche to stand out on its own, and the spawning of a sister event in Aspen, Colorado, shows there’s enough global appeal for a serious brand to be built.

Next time you’re booking a ski trip, maybe consider Zell am See, around late January. Keep an eye out for the Flugplatz while you’re here.


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