“Wait…wait…ok, power on!” commanded the instructor. “Power, power power!” My foot hesitated for a split second before coming down hard on the accelerator. The back end of the car had already spun out, and the vehicle lurched sideways up the track, spraying ice into the air. My deer-in-headlights reaction time, however, had already done me in. As we careened toward a snowbank, my responsible driver instincts took over and lurched the wheel in the opposite direction of our drift and send us into a neat tailspin. After burrowing the luxury car’s grill into the wet snow and feeling the embarrassment ride the wave of blood into my usually pale face, I could hear the Portuguese instructor say in a calm voice, “Your reaction time is slow. You need to anticipate what the car is going to do.”
My instructor, professional driver Tiago Rodrigues, started racing more than 30 years ago. I, on the other hand, have been driving an unremarkable spread of family cars since I was a clueless 16—my most exciting moments behind the wheel centered on inching through the perennial snowstorms of Upstate New York. Yet here we were together in the North of Finland, riding around on a frozen lake. Bentley flew me out to test some of the most luxurious high-performance cars in the world.
Thousands Of Pounds Of Metal On A Frozen Lake
Since 2006, luxury automotive manufacturer Bentley has hosted a driving event in Northern Finland known as the Power On Ice. It’s part demonstration and part marketing event for the select few with large wallets, but it’s also tremendous fun. Just south of the Arctic Circle, in an otherworldly and brilliantly white landscape, guests are invited to push the limits of Bentley’s fleet in some of the harshest natural conditions cars can be tested in. Under the tutelage of professional drivers, guests careen around an ice course that’s cut into the snow resting atop a lake in Kuusamo. And this year, they also got to commandeer a pre-production model of Bentley’s sparkling new SUV, the Bentayga.
The course itself is designed by Finland’s own Juha Kankkunen, a four-time world rally car champion who treats visiting drivers with a white knuckle “hot lap” around one of the tracks. At the completion of my own “hot lap” I fumbled over an awkward “thank you,” to which he replied “Eh, simple” with a relaxed smile and a banking gesture of his hand simulating a car’s movement. There wasn’t a single moment throughout the entire adrenaline-soaked lap that the car was ever facing straight ahead.
Perhaps one of the best ways to show off a high-performance car’s prowess on ice is to drift in it. For those not versed in the automotive lingo, drifting is when a driver oversteers and causes the back wheels of the car to lose traction, flinging the back end out. What better way to flex automotive muscle than to sling thousands of pounds of growling engine around an icy corner? It also happens to be just plain exciting for passengers and spectators alike. The sight of it instantly gets the blood pumping. It is an art, however, which requires particular skill and lots of practice.
I did a heavy amount of drifting behind the wheel of two cars: the Continental GT Speed, a powerful two-door coupe, and the Flying Spur, a boat of a sedan with a supreme luxury interior.
My first experience drifting was in a bright green GT Speed. I struggled a bit on a figure eight track swinging wildly back and forth with no real semblance of flow. I did a fair bit of plowing snow on that go around but thankfully Rodrigues, my instructor, didn’t have to call the “traktori”—the eight-ton tractors that come rumbling over to drag out the more spirited drivers that find themselves spinning tires in the snow. The goal in these exercises was not to crash in the snow, but it inevitably happens, and in a way, it means you were really giving it a go if you did. The guest with the most traktori pull outs usually gets an award, and this year’s lucky winner got a pair of green tractor-shaped cufflinks.
We moved on to the circle track next, where I began to settle into a groove. On the circle, you could pretty well drift non-stop around the entire track if you could hold it. It was good for getting the feel of the technique, and with the 626-hp twin turbocharged W12 engine snarling in front of me and the leather steering wheel in my hands, the rest of my surroundings washed away—with a giddy version of myself in control. A quick swipe of a snowbank quickly brought me back to Earth, however, when the icy surface I was traveling on decided to put my cockiness in check. Out on the ice, “I feel like I’m twenty something,” remarked guest Judi Hannan during a break at the lodge.
Drifting in the Flying Spur felt something like how I would imagine a limousine barreling across a frozen lake would feel. Watching this sedan sliding sideways in a wall of snow across the ice was a bit comical. I even felt a little silly driving it as such, but that was trumped by the fact that it made this yacht on wheels exceptionally fun to drive. (But don’t be fooled; its appearance belies Bentley’s robust W12 engine.) It drifted much more easily than the GT Speed but required a bit more patience. “Wait until the back goes, then power on,” advised Rodrigues as I floated around a corner at 50 mph. “As soon as you feel the back go around, gently increase the power so you can control the drift.”
It was easy to get a little overzealous inside the bright orange Spur, and even though I was driving English style on the right hand side, I started to cut left turns as though I were still steering from the left, provoking a yell from Rodrigues—“Watch the passenger!”—as I excavated some snow with the left side of the car.