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CHAD LUCKHOFF RECOUNTS HIS ICE ACADEMY EXPERIENCE IN SCANDINAVIA

CHAD LUCKHOFF

It is believed that the Sami language of the Nordic countries has over 300 variations of words to describe snow and its many forms. That is quite a jump from the 50-or-so words that Eskimos have, but I soon realize why. Even as a writer, I struggled to find words to describe the breath-taking Scandinavian landscape. But it was the Jaguar Land Rover Ice Academy Experience itself that really sent shivers down my spine. On the frozen lakes of Northern Sweden I would be exploring the limits of some of Britain’s finest automobiles. Our first task in the Jaguar F-Pace 30ds was simple: with all safety systems engaged, we had to drive around the extremely wide, large circle carved out of the snow banks on the frozen lake in an anti-clockwise direction, getting a feel for the levels of grip on the ice. Even with studded winter tyres, the grip levels were somewhere between a wet road and a skidpan. 

On our second trip around the circle, we switched off some of the systems by selecting TracDSC, a mode which allows some tyre slip and sideways angle, but still limits the amount of slip and engages the stability control when things get a little too far out of hand. It was then into the Range Rover Velar D300 HSEs as we headed out to one of the two dynamic platforms for a slalom exercise. We disabled all of the active safety systems and the onus was on us to stop the large SUVs from spinning out. We often got it wrong and ended up switching ends in a flurry of snow spray and ice chips, while trying to redeem some of our shattered dignity. 

After an exhilarating first day on the ice, we returned to the hotel to dine on a veriety of reindeer and moose dishes, dreaming about our next day in the 280kW F-Type R-Dynamic Coupe. 

Before we could take to the sports cars, we once again visited the large circle track in the AWD F-Pace, this time, with the DSC switched off. Sliding and dancing on the fine line between slip and grip, I discovered a new-found respect for the F-PACE, its nimbleness and agility belying its substantial frame. 

In the second session, we dashed for the F-Types and, like a bunch of 5-year olds, we stood in the waiting area, excitedly pushing buttons in our new toys. We went back to the circle to get to grips with the dimensions, low seating position and 280kW of power. The F-Type certainly is a different animal, with less body roll and much less weight transfer under braking, and when lifting off the throttle. I had to modify my driving style a little, but the taut chassis communicated well, even on the slick surface of the ice. After building some confidence, we made our way to the next, more challenging track - a compact, technical track with a series of tight lefts and rights, followed by some short straights and longer hairpins. It was after one of these hair-raising corners that my exuberance got the better of me, and the big cat skated off the groomed track and got bogged down in 3 feet of snow. Twenty minutes of shovelling snow later and nearly requiring a second Land Rover Discovery to extract us, we finally managed to break free from the icy, white powder. My track time took a serious knock thanks to the lengthy recovery process, my ego suffered a similar fate. 

The next morning was a frosty -29 degrees Celsius, but we couldn’t let the weather jeopardise our objective of the day - to reacquaint ourselves with the supercharged V6 F-Types and then graduate to the force-fed V8 monsters, culminating in a series of fast slides, drifts and sprints, all performed to the bellow of a 5.0-litre engine. It's done in steps, though, and we first had to select a V6 to play with. It was an AWD V6 that bit me the day before, so I was looking for an RWD version to go play with. Unfortunately I hesitated too long, and there was only one car left open - my four-wheel drive friend from the previous day. 

Through the low-lying cloud I could barely see the convoy of cars as we drove to the faster handling track with long, sweeping turns that seem to go on forever. This track combined decreasing radius sweeps and sudden direction changes. It tested our ability to correctly position the cars and get the speed and attitude in check before requesting anything else from the chassis. 

We then headed back to the base station and stepped into the V8s. The cabin environment was nearly unchanged but the soundtrack attached to the accelerator pedal differed more than just a little. I made the most of the two laps that each of us got, managing to hold a fast, near continuous slide right from the outset. I saw the speedo needle swing past 140km/h and didn't check back to see where it ended - all I know is it was fast, sideways and it felt good.

After lunch, we headed for our last track – one with a series of straights, punctuated by long, tight hairpins with little room for error. Here I realised I could do what I thought was impossible three days ago. I was at the helm of a supercharged British sports car in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I found myself smiling, sensing that this was why I travelled 14 000km. In that Jaguar on that vast, frozen lake in Northern Sweden, I found my happiness. And my escape.