“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.
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.
From The Track To The Road To The Ice
When Bentley rolled out the Continental GT3 for the 2014 racing season, it was the first new Bentley car to hit the racetrack in over a decade. With it came its cousin, the GT3-R, a remarkably unchanged road-going version designed to bring a harder edged, sporty option for Bentley customers. The technical carryover from the GT3 to the GT3-R is such that the specifications for each car are nearly identical. The most notable being the 4-liter twin turbocharged V8 engine (they gave the W12 the heave-ho to reduce weight) that growls awake when you gradually accelerate, like a bear grunting out of its winter slumber.
I was aware before I got behind the wheel of the GT3-R that Bentley let go of certain luxury amenities to shave weight in the never-ending pursuit of speed—there is no wood in the interior, for example, and light carbon fiber makes up the difference. But even with that weight loss, the car still weighs a hefty 4900 pounds. I was a tad skeptical.