Ice racing is exactly what it sounds like – racing on ice! But it’s a bit different in the sense that it’s not just for cars. This cool motorsport includes motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, and more, racing around oval tracks. Motorcycles are especially popular in ice racing.
While not a professional motorsport in North America, ice racing is a popular club activity in Canada and states like Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It’s also popular in countries with colder climates, such as Russia, Sweden, and Finland. These locations not only offer the necessary cold weather to race on ice, but they also have a community of enthusiasts to support the sport.
Get to know this thrilling and chilling sport in this article.
What is Ice Racing?
At its core, ice racing is a motorsport where competitors race vehicles across a frozen body of water or a prepared ice track. The primary objective is similar to other forms of racing – to be the fastest to complete a set course or number of laps.
But what sets ice racing apart is its surface: the ice that reduces traction and adds a layer of complexity and excitement to the racing experience. While trying to be speedy to contend with their rivals, drivers must also handle the unpredictable nature of the ice, which affects how they control their cars.
Competitors must not only contend with their rivals but also with the unpredictable nature of the ice, which can vary in texture and stability, affecting speed and vehicle control.
The sport encompasses a variety of vehicle types, each bringing its own flavor to the ice. The most common are:
- Car ice racing: Often using modified street cars or specially built race cars, these events test the drivers’ ability to control their vehicles on slick surfaces. Modifications like studded tires are common, enhancing traction on the ice.
- Motorcycle ice racing: This category typically involves motorcycles equipped with special tires featuring metal studs. The riders must demonstrate extraordinary balance and control as they navigate the icy track at high speeds.
- ATV and snowmobile racing: These events are popular for their high-energy and fast-paced nature, with ATVs and snowmobiles being naturally suited to snowy conditions.
Each type of ice racing brings its own set of challenges and requires different skills and techniques. The choice of vehicle often depends on the racer’s personal preference and the specific conditions of the ice track.
When and Where is Ice Racing Popular?
The ice racing season naturally aligns with the colder months, typically taking place in winter when lakes, rivers, and outdoor tracks are reliably frozen. This seasonality means that the sport is most popular in regions with cold climates. In Europe, countries like Russia, Sweden, and Finland have a strong ice racing culture.
In North America, some Canadian provinces (Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alaska, Manitoba) and the northern states in the US (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine, New York, Alaska, and Michigan) are hotspots for ice racing events.
History of Ice Racing
Ice racing, specifically motorcycle ice racing, has been nearly as long as motorcycles. It began with the simple need for an open field and daring riders ready to slide sideways in close quarters.
It was in West Maitland, New South Wales, Australia, back in November 1923. This form of racing really took off when riders realized regular tires didn’t cut it in snowy conditions. While informal groups had been racing on studded tires for years, it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that ice racing got a formal structure in the West.
Ice racing quickly caught on in Europe, where countries like Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Germany, and the Netherlands eagerly adopted this extreme sport with their harsh winters and speedway enthusiasm. The bikes, outfitted with around 140 spikes in the front and 190 in the rear, resemble their speedway counterparts but feature frame modifications, those deadly spikes, and protective fenders that look like circular saw safety guards.
Staten Lorenz from Michigan was the trailblazer who first braved the ice with spike-fitted tires, paving the way for all-season speedway races.
Rise of Championship Events
During the 60s and 70s, ice racing fans were treated to two big championships: the North American Ice Racing Championship in Anchorage, Alaska, and the European Ice Racing Championship. The North American races saw the likes of Earl Bennett and Chuck Higgins clinching championship titles. Meanwhile, Pedro Rodríguez, known for his Formula One racing, made a splash by winning his class and an exhibition race in 1970, securing an impressive 2nd place overall.
In 1990, the Andros Trophy in France brought a new level of professionalism and exposure to ice racing. This national ice racing championship event attracted professional drivers from various motorsport disciplines and became a benchmark for ice racing competitions.
Developments in Spikes and Tires
Despite the apparent danger, ice racing attracts the bravest of riders capable of leaning their bikes to extreme angles where even the handlebar grips scrape the ice.
While spikeless bikes also participate in ice racing, the spiked variety dominates the scene with their dramatic traction. These spikes enable such extreme lean angles that they’ve surpassed the original intention of just safe traction.
Because of the spikes, racing on ice inevitably damages the surface, more so on indoor tracks. To address this, the community standardized the spikes, with “Silver Rockets Racing Studs” becoming the norm since 1991 to strike a balance between grip and track preservation.
Interestingly, while the spikes are standardized, tire construction is not, so teams developed unique combinations of rubber, spike placement, and internal “liner” tires. These liners, initially repurposed bicycle and street motorcycle tires, have evolved into specialized components. With races involving only left turns, spike arrangements vary based on rider preference and experience, leading to some astonishing lean angles and the use of knee protectors as much for cornering as for safety.
Ice racing has diversified into various forms in recent decades, including cars and snowmobiles. While the sport is still most popular in cold-weather countries, it has spread globally, with events now held in North America and parts of Asia and even adapted formats in countries without harsh winters.
Is Ice Racing Safe?
While there are always risks involved in racing, modern developments have made sure that racing in a specific icy location is as safe as possible.
When conducting a race in a frozen lake or body of water, the depth and quality of the ice are checked meticulously. The minimum ice thickness for safely conducting an ice race varies depending on the type of vehicles involved.
There must be at least 10-12 inches of ice for motorcycles, while for cars and heavier vehicles, at least 12-15 inches is a must. These thicknesses ensure the ice can support the weight of the cars, participants, and any equipment without risk of breaking.
The ice must be solid and clear, which is stronger and more stable than white or snow ice. Clear, blue, or green ice is typically denser and stronger, indicating fewer air pockets and a more consistent structure. Also, the surface should be as smooth as possible for uniform traction and to minimize the risk of vehicles losing control.
Ice tracks are designed with safety in mind. They’re often oval-shaped to minimize high-speed cornering risks. Regular maintenance ensures the ice is in good condition to reduce the likelihood of accidents.
Ice Racing Events in the World
Ice racing, while niche motorsport, has several renowned events around the world that draw participants and spectators alike. These events are celebrated for their challenging conditions and the unique skills they require from competitors. Here are some famous ice racing events:
- Andros Trophy (Trophée Andros): Held in France, the Andros Trophy is a renowned ice racing championship that features cars and motorcycles racing on ice circuits. It’s known for attracting professional drivers from various racing backgrounds and is one of Europe’s most prestigious ice racing events.
- Swedish Rally (Rally Sweden): Part of the World Rally Championship, this event takes place in the snowy and icy conditions of the Swedish forests. It’s one of the few high-profile events where world-class rally drivers compete on snow and ice.
- AMSOIL Championship Snocross: Primarily held in the United States, this is the premier snocross (snowmobile racing) championship. It features high-speed snowmobile races on snow-covered tracks, including jumps and other features.
- Russian Ice Racing Championship: Russia, with its long and harsh winters, hosts its own ice racing championships. These events often feature heavily modified cars racing on frozen lakes and are known for their extreme conditions.
- Ice Speedway Gladiators World Championship: A motorcycle racing championship where bikes equipped with studded tires race on ice. This event is known for its high speeds and the incredible skill required to maneuver the bikes on ice.
- Ice Racing Series in Canada: Canada hosts a variety of ice racing events, such as the “Ice Dice” by the Alberta RallySport Association. These events typically involve racing on frozen lakes and are popular in regions like Alberta and Ontario.
- Lake Baikal Ice Racing: This unique event takes place on the frozen surface of Lake Baikal in Siberia. It’s an extreme test of endurance and skill, with participants racing across the vast expanse of the world’s deepest freshwater lake.
- Speedway on Ice in Northern Europe: Countries like Sweden, Finland, and Norway host speedway races on ice. These involve motorcycles racing on oval ice tracks without brakes, requiring incredible control and nerve from the riders.
What Do You Need For Ice Racing?
Now, if you’re curious to try ice racing yourself, you have to be prepared for equipment and personal safety measures. The right gear and vehicle modifications are not just about performance; they are critical for ensuring safety in this high-adrenaline sport.
The choice of vehicle largely depends on the type of ice racing you intend to pursue. Cars, motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles are all popular choices. The vehicle must be in good mechanical condition to withstand the harsh conditions of ice racing. For cars, lightweight models with an excellent power-to-weight ratio are preferred.
Modifications are essential for adapting your vehicle to the unique challenges of ice racing. The most common modification is the studded tires, adding much-needed traction on the slippery surface. For cars, suspension adjustments might be necessary to handle the bumps and irregularities of ice tracks. The engine must also be tuned for better performance in cold conditions.
When it comes to motorcycles, these are usually modified with tougher frames and longer wheelbases for the challenge. Riders can choose between full rubber or studded tires for their bikes. With their added grip, studded tires change the game – no drifting, just precise cornering with the bike leaning close to the ice. Racing with studded or rubber tires is quite different, and racers usually stick to one type due to these differences.
3. Safety Gear
Regardless of the vehicle, don’t forget safety gear. This includes helmets, racing suits, gloves, and boots specifically designed for motorsport. Given the cold environment, clothing that can protect against hypothermia is essential. Layering is key, with materials that retain warmth even when wet.
For car racers, additional equipment like roll cages, racing seats, and harnesses are vital. Motorcycle racers should opt for armored suits, which offer protection against falls on ice.
Goggles and anti-fog visors are helpful to ensure good visibility. In team events, communication systems within helmets can be crucial for strategy and safety.
How to Prepare a Car for Ice Racing
Preparing your vehicle for ice racing is a detailed process that should be approached with care:
- Inspect and maintain: Start with a thorough inspection of the vehicle. Check the brakes, engine, suspension, and electrical systems. Regular maintenance, such as oil changes and coolant checks, is crucial, as cold temperatures can affect the vehicle’s performance.
- Install safety features: For cars, install necessary safety features like a roll cage, fire extinguisher, and racing seat with harnesses. For motorcycles, ensure that all components are secure and functioning correctly.
- Studded tires: Install high-quality studded tires. The studs improve grip on ice, which is critical for control and speed. The type and pattern of studs can vary, so it’s important to choose ones that suit your vehicle and the specific ice conditions you’ll be racing in.
- Test and tune: Once your vehicle is set up, test it in conditions as close to race conditions as possible. This helps fine-tune the setup and get a feel for how the vehicle handles on ice.
What are the Techniques and Skills Needed for Ice Racing?
Mastering ice racing demands a unique set of driving techniques and skills different from those used in traditional racing. Due to the slippery nature of ice, drivers must adapt their style to maintain control and speed. Here, we delve into these techniques, methods of practice, and the crucial skill of interpreting ice conditions.
1. Throttle Control
One of the key skills in ice racing is precise throttle control. Unlike in regular racing, where you might aggressively accelerate out of turn, ice racing requires a gentler touch. The goal is to maintain traction without causing the wheels to spin excessively.
2. Braking Techniques
Braking on ice is tricky and requires a lot of practice. Drivers must learn how to brake early and gently to avoid skidding. The use of engine braking, where possible, can also be effective.
3. Steering and Cornering
Steering on ice is less about sharp turns and more about gentle, smooth movements. Oversteering, where the rear of the vehicle slides out, is common in ice racing. Drivers often use this to their advantage, steering into the slide (counter-steering) to maintain control.
4. Weight Transfer
Understanding and manipulating the weight transfer of the vehicle is crucial. By managing the balance between the front and rear wheels and the left and right sides, drivers can maintain better control during turns.
5. Skid Control
Mastering the art of controlling skids is essential. This involves a combination of steering, braking, and throttle control to keep the vehicle stable while sliding.
6. Understanding the ice
An ice racer must know how to read track conditions. Learn to recognize different types of ice, such as clear black ice, white ice, and snow-covered ice. Each type offers different levels of traction and requires other techniques.
Be aware that ice conditions can change throughout the day due to temperature changes and sunlight exposure. Adapting to these changes is a key skill.