ON ICE is Aston Martin’s yearly ice driving event in St. Moritz.
During the one-day event, customers can drive the available Aston Martin models, learning how to control the cars in snowy conditions and of course having fun going side-ways.
This year for the first time, an advanced edition of ON ICE was organized, called ON ICE FROST, especially for drivers who had previously participated in the regular ON ICE event. Having done ON ICE last year, I was invited to join the FROST day this year.
Last Saturday was the big day. Just like last year, I absolutely loved drifting the different Aston models (including the new Vanquish!), especially in this beautiful environment.
However, I must say I was a bit disappointed in the “advanced” FROST program.
The day started with a short bit of theory by instructor Sven, about grip and the different modes of the Dynamic Stability Control system.
After that, it was time to go outside and to pick a car! The selection: two Rapide’s, multiple V8 Vantages (1 manual, several sport-shift), multiple DB9’s (including one Volante) and many examples of the new Vanquish, in various colors. With many opportunities to switch cars during the day, everyone could drive em all!
To my surprise, a large part of the FROST day was taken up by the obligatory exercises that are common in many beginner’s driving courses:
- Avoiding an obstacle
Approach an obstacle at speed, then avoid it on the left or right. Rinse and repeat, with braking, without braking, with DSC ON, with DSC in Track Mode and with DSC switched OFF.
- Accelerating and braking
Accelerate as fast as possible in a straight line, then try to stop exactly in a “box” laid out by cones. A competition element was introduced by having two cars do the exercise side by side, one with DSC in Track Mode, the other no DSC at all.
- Accelerate, slalom back, stop in box
Finally, some drifting allowed in the slalom part! This exercise was also done with two cars at the same time, but with different DSC settings.
I wasn’t expecting to do so much of these, and for so long, in a programme targeted at advanced drivers. Obviously most of the other drivers agreed, because most of the fun was had driving back to the starting line from the end of the exercise. Slaloming back, making large drifts in open areas and doing donuts while waiting for their turn.
Strangely, the instructors were not pleased by this at all, even admonishing us like we were little kids… Also, they seemed to be intent on demonstrating what a great system DSC was and how the exercises could be performed better with the system switched ON or at least in Track Mode.
Eh sure, but where’s the fun in that? We’re here to drift, to go side-ways all day long 🙂
The fun begins!
Now this is what we’re here for. Spectacular Bond-style turning and practicing our drifting abilities.
- The J-turn
Very spectacular to do and to watch, the J-turn means driving backwards up to about 50 kmh, then turning the wheel to one side, causing the car to do a 180. The trick is to switch the car to neutral immediately, then change to 2nd gear as it reaches full turn. Finally, drive away in the same direction you were going, but now with the car pointing forward.
J-turns are always fun, when done successfully, but maybe even more so when you fail -> larger spray of snow! :-).
- Circle drifting
This is my favorite exercise, as it is a great way to perfect your drifting skills. The goal is to keep going side-ways around the entire circle, doing as many laps as you can without breaking the drift, controlling the drift angle with the throttle.
I did most of the circle drifting in one of the new Vanquish cars and I must say: the Vanquish is a nice drift-machine, perfectly balanced and very controllable, even with 560 bhp under your right foot.
This is me, drifting a red Vanquish on the circle, one-handed!
- Figure Eight drifting
Drift around two cones, making a figure eight. This is a cool but difficult exercise, because it forces you to fluently change drifting direction everytime you reach the center of the eight. I am normally quite good at this, but I found that this time the instructors had placed the two cones too close together. For me this made it next to impossible to keep a fluent drifting line. Made extra hard because I was driving a V8 Vantage Sportshift at the time, which simply refused to change to 2nd gear (because my speed was under 18 kph) and was too aggressive on the throttle in first gear.
Oh well, should’ve picked the Vanquish…
Track practice and time-challenge
Yes, this is the good stuff. Speed runs around a big slalom track, using the entire snow area. We were given 30 minutes to practice the track in different cars and different DSC settings. The goal of the practice session was to settle on your preferred car and DSC mode, then to practice going around as fast as possible.
By the time we starting doing this, the snow area had become very icy and slippery in many spots, making even a wide slalom a risky undertaking, especially with no help from DSC. After trying different cars, I settled on the Rapide for the final challenge. Not because it was the fastest but because it was the easiest to control at high speed. I felt that the longer body made it slightly more stable on slippery surfaces.
After the 30 minutes of practice time were gone, we got serious. No more playing around, now all that counted was the fastest time around the track. One car at a time, with Wolfgang Schuhbauer following it to make sure it didn’t miss (or hit) any cones.
However, our practice laps were done in the last minutes of daylight, meaning that the actual timed laps had to be performed in the dark! An extra challenge, but ultimately cool, speeding over the ice in total darkness, trying to find the next cone in the beam of your headlights.
It took a long time before everyone had completed their 2 attempts (the best of the 2 counting for the challenge). The end conclusion (again): I should have picked the Vanquish. Because 4 of the top 5 fastest laps were by drivers who had opted for the Vanquish as their track tool.
Great fun, but …
As I said above, I had higher expectations of this FROST edition. I was expecting a programme more targeted at advanced drivers, with less of the basic driving exercises. I would have liked to see more exercises designed to perfect your drifting skills, with specific instructions on how to get the car side-ways, how to keep it in a drift, at low speeds with tight turns, at high speeds through long curves, etc… Possibly more high speed track driving with DSC off.
However, just like last year, I still had a fantastic day at the ON ICE event. Nothing can beat being allowed to throw these great RWD cars around on a large snowy area.
I mean, look at the pictures: beautiful Astons, the white snow and the sun, the ultimate combination for a day of driving fun.
Here’s a selection of the many photos I (and my wife) took at the event: