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Weekend Edition – Ice Track Fun in Eastern Finland

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This weekend, you get to read some fresh content. In fact, it’s so fresh it’s still preserved in ice and slush. I’ve just returned from an ice track in Eastern Finland, and it’s probably the single must fun thing I’ve done all winter – Amsterdam included.

I’ll be posting photos and stories from the track day all weekend long, so consider this my very own Rolex 24 equivalent.

We stayed the previous night at a hunters’ cabin at a lake not too far away. After driving six hours across the country to reach it, it was a major snafu to discover there were no matches anywhere to be found – and we really needed to heat up the sauna. And yeah, a BMW’s cigarette lighter is completely useless when you’ve got a sauna to heat.

Luckily, we could source some matches from the renter who lived close by. Depriving a Finn from a rewarding, relaxing sauna is pretty much the worst thing you can do.

Our team consisted of my four-pot E34, a friend’s white E30 325ix touring, another’s black E39 540iM touring and a Mazda RX-8, the latter of which was clearly the odd one out. The track day was a BMW club event, so the Mazda only did two runs in a sneaky fashion. It also has a box-fresh replacement engine, so it didn’t feel like a good idea to cane it too hard at this point.

The track is a rallycross track in Joensuu, Finland, and it’s often used for car control practice and various other outings. It’s nicely wide, so you have plenty of space to make mistakes and wrestle the car back to your control. The snow banks are soft and tall, but they’re not necessarily too forgiving as my friends found out.

The first casualty was Mikko’s 325ix. He hit a snow bank early on, bent the front bumper, detached the lip spoiler and the fog light plates – and only some time later did he realize he had mangled the front wing as well. The bumper took some adjusting with a crowbar to make it clear the front wheel again. Damn those understeering all-wheel-drive cars.

Not too long after, Mika lightly grazed his 6-speed 540i into some snow. It must’ve hid a block of ice, as he returned to the pit with his front bumper in pieces. The light impact had effectively shattered the whole bumper corner, but luckily his parking sensors and foglight were spared. A new M-sport bumper is 170 euro over at Schmiedmann, so it’s not too expensive to put it right. For the rest of the day, the BMW held on together with duct tape – always handy on a track. The jury awarded Mika a bucketful of car care products for his troubles.

It must’ve been a recurring fault with black E39:s to bust their bumpers, as a tuned E39 M5 spectacularly demolished the same bumper corner, strewing black plastic all over the track. That guy didn’t look too happy about it, either. You can also blame the -15°C weather, if you like, as that tends to have an effect on the durability of plastic parts.

Me? I spun countless times, but managed to steer clear of the snow well enough to avoid damage. I momentarily lost the black plastic piece hiding the rear bumper tow eye, but managed to find it buried in the bank.

My driving sessions were generally marred by terrible racing lines, which were exaggerated by the track getting polished ridiculously slick very early on. I ran studded Hankook tires, but still slid all over the place. The only fix was to get into a more laid-back attitude, select some Tangerine Dream on the stereo and just ballet around the track in slow motion. The results were immense: less eagerness to 360°, less stress, just lovely fishtailing with schoolbook cornering lines. The vaguely J-shaped track had a nice wide main straight, on which you could effortlessly kick the tail out. The last ice track we drove on was a lot narrower, so a sideways E34 pretty much claimed all the available space there. Here, I could make sloppy mistakes and had all the room in the world to correct them.

The track also had an extra loop near the end, so if you got that corner wrong, you could always take the secondary route and pretend that was where you wanted to go all along. I tended to do that a lot.

After some four hours at the track, with coffee and sausage breaks, we packed our loose parts and headed back on the road. Keeping convoy over Zello app discussion, we felt like a driving team that had given it all. I’m typing this over at my grandfather’s place, heading home to the west coast tomorrow. The roads home will be super-slippery, but thanks to the 518i-ness of my BMW, I’m happy to keep the cruising speed fuel economy friendly.

As promised, the rest of the weekend I’ll be posting more ice track shots. Keep tuned.

[Images: Copyright 2013 Redusernab/Antti Kautonen]

  • Wolfie

    Your pictures remind me of Northern Michigan, Studded Snow tires were legal for years,and they did work. Great for cornering.

  • Manic_King

    Do you have sea ice roads in Finland? Top Gear mag visited the ones we have.
    … &

    <img src="; width="593">

    • We do, but nowhere near where I've recently been.

  • TurboBrick

    What did you have for kindling? Weekend edition of Helsingin Sanomat newspaper ripped up into strips will light anything up even with a crappy cigarette lighter plug. At least the old huge x massive format paper, I don't know about the new tabloid size. No sauna and not even a Saab 9000 to use as a makeshift sauna, that's a terrible situation…

    • Yeah, we only got Savon Sanomat along with the matches, not a minute earlier. We laughed at the old 9000 ad, then wondered if sweat will get into the seats…

  • dukeisduke

    Is it true that you're supposed to go into sauna, get hot, then run out into the snow, and then repeat the process? I used to know someone who worked for Nokia, and he spent some months in Oulu and Helsinki.

    And you're supposed to drink vodka while enjoying sauna, right?

    • Lex

      You're supposed to alternate slow roasting yourself with some sort of shocking cool down, but it's not completely necessary. Here in the UP (heavily populated by Finnish immigrants who left home, found a place that looks very much like the home they left, and said, "Yep, this is it. We're staying."), there's less snow diving. In the best camp situations you can exit the sauna right down the dock and jump in a lake during the summer. A lot of saunas have showers attached for the cool down, but a newb will always have to take a snow plunge. Like in a Russian sauna, the newb will always have to get whipped with a bundle of birch twigs.

      Yes, drinking is a must. We even have a public sauna (private sauna rooms) that allows BYOB but no glass.

  • jeepjeff

    Dude. That looks like ridiculous amounts of fun. Makes me miss living in Truckee.

  • Ok, I'm going to need some Tangerine Dream recommendations. I know I loved their work on the Risky Business soundtrack, but there my knowledge ends. What would you suggest?

    • I would recommend the Tangents: 1973–1983 box set, so you can wade through it and find what you're into, as their output varies quite heavily from esoteric ambient into synth rock. That box set has it all. I listened to the Arizona Live album in the car.

      • eBay duly visited. Thanks!

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