You had to know it couldn't last forever. Most recently our Subaru ice racer was in action way up north in the wilds of Quebec, getting sideways on a frozen circuit. As it turns out, if we wanted to keep on racing we should have stayed up there. This form of motorsport needs frozen lakes and some unfortunately turbulent weather in the northeast over the past month didn't do the local bodies of water any favors. But, we were able to make it to one final event before the season was put to rest. We have some highlights to share below, including footage of what it looks like to be inside a pirouetting WRX, plus some discussion about how to safely stow your winter racing gear for the summertime off-season.
Round 6 - Smooth ice at Warner Lake
Warner Lake is about 30 miles southwest of Albany, NY, making it a short trip for many of the racers. It's a frequent site for the Electric City Riders, a Schenectady-based motorcycle racing club that also does its thing on studs, but the Adirondack Motor Enthusiasts Club hasn't brought the four-wheeled show to Warner in a few years. The ice was unusually smooth on this day, about 14-inches worth but so clear you could see all the way down to the water below. It was an odd feeling to walk along and see the cracks running down before abruptly ending where the wet stuff begins.
There was hardly any snow out there and the smoothness meant grip was at more of a premium than ever. The Menard-class cars with their studded tires went out first to chew things up, and they were kind enough to run off-line during practices to give those of us in the stud-free classes a chance to make some passes. However, anyone who went off-course would quickly learn just how little grip even the best unstudded snow tires have on a skating rink.
The track was a short and simple layout that's typical of what we've seen this season, with a single left-hander breaking up an otherwise wrong-way oval. As grip was low I found myself running in third gear almost all the time, even through the single tight turn; downshifting just meant more wheelspin, not more acceleration.
Heat race #1
Having missed the last round thanks to our trip for the winter track day in Quebec, I was relegated to starting seventh out of the nine-car SL4 class. The AWD cars started just ahead of the 19-car two-wheel-drive SL class, and within a few laps those SL cars were swarming over the SL4 pack. Because of the lower than usual grip, the beginning of the race was much like the end of a normal heat, where the lighter two-wheel-drive cars often have an advantage. This made for an interesting race, trying to claw past the SL4 competitors while also watching out for advances from SL cars who were slower out of the corners and onto the straights but faster into and through the bends.
Ultimately I'd pass two SL4 cars, finishing fifth in class and seventh overall, with two 2WD cars ahead!
Heat race #2
With another set of studded class races completed, the ice was grippier than in race one and it seemed to hold its grip much better than your average ice. There was speculation of hard ice thanks to the lack of snow cover but whatever the reason lap times didn't seem to drop off quite as seriously as usual. I started in fifth behind the number 78 green Audi, who dove up into third at the start, pipping the number 71 black WRX wagon. The Subaru would get back by after a few laps, and eventually I would as well, motoring by on the outside of the tightest turn on the track before blowing my braking into the following bend and giving the position back. But, a few laps later I went around the outside again and this time made it stick.
I'd finish in fourth this time.
Heat race #3
Final race of the day and it would be a mostly boring one with something of a tragic ending. At the start I maintained my position but wasn't able to keep up with the top three, who quickly pulled out a lead. I was slowly moving away from the Audi, who was behind me in fifth, and having a fairly good time drifting around lapped traffic – or I was until one SL car caught me out, anyway. It was shown the blue and yellow flag, which indicates to a driver that a faster car is coming to put you a lap down. In most forms of racing this is an indicator to move off-line and failure to do so can result in a penalty, but with this club the car that receives the blue flag is under no obligation to change their driving style. They can do whatever they like.
Despite knowing this, I was surprised when I was about to pass the car in question going down a straight and had it move across to block the pass. I lifted off the throttle to abort that attempt but, driving under the white flag with one lap to go, I charged through and put the car behind me... only to realize that in doing so I'd put myself off-line for the next turn. I went flying off-course, hitting a cone (but not knocking it over) and spiraling onto the perfectly smooth ice that lay in wait just beyond the orange markers. It'd take me a good 30 seconds to get up to speed again and by then the Audi had motored on by.
A fifth place to end the day, and the season as it would turn out. The last three rounds of the 2010 season would be canceled thanks in large part to the series of snowstorms ("snoicanes" if you like) that tore through the east coast recently. There was plenty of ice, but it was buried under feet of loose snow and slush.
Generally racers put their machinery up for storage through the winter months, but naturally things are a bit backwards in the ice racing world. Depending on what you're racing and how much prep went into it, you'll have more or less work to do to ensure things will be ready for the ice when temperatures get freezing again, but even those racing their street legal cars will have a little work to do.
Hopefully you won't be running your snow tires all summer long, so you'll need to put them away. If you care about the finish on your wheels you'll want to give them a cleaning before storage, as brake dust can eat right through them, especially painted wheels. For storage, the most space-efficient way is to stack them flat in a corner. Start by letting out some air pressure, then wrap each wheel and tire in a bag to keep dust and critters off (a tire shop will have specialty bags that are great for this, but giant contractor trash bags will work on smaller wheels). When stacking the wheels, put a piece of cardboard between them if you can. This will help to better distribute the weight of the next higher wheel.
If you're using magnetic numbers you'll want to give them a good cleaning too. Even if they're just used on the ice, they tend to end up covered in muck at the end of the season. Beyond that all you'll need is somewhere flat to place them. I made a giant folder out of a cardboard box to slip mine into before stuffing them in the back of a closet.
If you disconnected that front swaybar for the season, now would be a good time to reconnect it. Driving without it connected is a bit unsafe but, beyond that, you run the risk of failing a state inspection – assuming you live in a jurisdiction encumbered by such things. Finally, make doubly sure that any and all fuses (ABS, air bag, etc.) that you pulled for racing have been reconnected, though hopefully you did so after every race and haven't just been ignoring that angry idiot light on your dash all season.
It's a wrap
It's been a great season of racing and, while we didn't catch every event, hopefully we gave you a solid taste of what wheel-to-wheel racing on frozen lakes is like. The speeds are lower than many other forms of racing but the grins are certainly wider. It's rare that you'll find a cheaper, safer way to get your drifting kicks, and for those who stare transfixed at the television watching the exploits of a Solberg or Hirvonen during a winter rally, it's a great way to try it for yourself.
We hope you've enjoyed the past few months of icy antics and, when the seasons change again, maybe you'll feel inclined to turn a wheel on a frozen lake near you – assuming you have some frozen lakes near you. Until then, it's off with the Blizzaks and time for something a little more summery.