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A Historic European Ice Race Is Coming to the U.S. for the First Time Ever

For most of us, the thought of sliding across a patch of ice—at speed—while behind the wheel is fodder for nightmares, ranking right up there with brake failure on a serpentine descent. Yet from February 8 through 10, a number of elite racers will be deliberately doing just that while competing in the inaugural F.A.T. International Ice Race Aspen.

Motorsport fans of the Baby Boomer and Gen X demographic remember that racing in the late 1970s and into the ‘80s was uniquely colorful, both when it came to the cars and the characters associated with them. Case in point was the owner of motorsport sponsor Française Allemand Transit (F.A.T.) back in the day, a bon vivant who made sure his company’s logo was part of more than a few Le Mans liveries, most notably those of select Porches, before his business went under. And those older still may remember the Professor Ferdinand Porsche Memorial Race on a frozen lake in Zell am See, Austria. Although two seemingly unrelated traditions, both inspired 30-year-old Ferdi Porsche, an architect and great grandson of the namesake German marque’s founder.

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Ferdi has revived the annual ice race in Zell am See, as well as the umbrella name it operates under, F.A.T International—a tribute to separate legacies with the same family connection. He recently gave us backstory on the original contest, his drive to bring it back, and what we can expect in Aspen this weekend.

Ferdi Porsche, the driving force behind the F.A.T. International Ice Race.
Ferdi Porsche, the driving force behind the F.A.T. International Ice Race.

What was your first experience with ice racing?

My passion for ice racing basically came from my dad, who gave my brother and me a trip to Finland for my brother’s 21st birthday—that’s where I first drove on ice. But in Austria, where my family is from in Zell am See, ice racing has a long history.

Your family plays a major role in that history, explain.

While testing cars on the mountains, my grandfather stumbled across Zell am See and said, “Wow, it’s beautiful here, let’s settle.” Ice racing was something that came from the local community, starting in the 1950s. They had a frozen lake, cool cars, and my family was living there, so why not name it the Ferdinand Porsche Ice Race. They stopped racing in 1973. I found out about it because my dad bought a car that originally raced there, and I noticed that it was a [Porsche] 550 with spiked tires. I asked him, “what is this thing?” That was the initial spark for me to go into this whole universe; I’m an architect by training.

Early action from the Professor Ferdinand Porsche Memorial Race, circa 1950s.
Early action from the Professor Ferdinand Porsche Memorial Race, which began in 1952.

When did you resurrect the event, and what was the response?

We had the first two ice races in 2019 and ’20. Honestly, it was the perfect start. We had minus 20 degrees, we had clear blue skies, and we were sold out—from a competitive standpoint—after three weeks. We marketed through social media channels and reached a new audience, which was super interesting to our partners. There were minor flaws, for example the toilets froze, but the reception was epic. People loved it, and we had competitors from the United States, from the Czech Republic, from Sweden, from Australia . . . all over the place.

How has the racecourse changed, and why?

Nowadays, the lake doesn’t freeze anymore, or at least not as often, so we moved into a little airfield—it’s the perfect venue.

A Porsche races on ice in Zell am See, Austria.
The ice race in Zell am See, Austria, now takes place at a little airfield as the lake doesn’t freeze over as often.

Why bring this European Motorsport tradition stateside?

The U.S. and Le Mans are two things that made Porsche great, and so there was always a big connection there. One could argue that Porsche is a California brand built in Germany. We looked at different locations, but Aspen checked all the boxes; it was the obvious choice from an amenities point of view. We want to get acquainted with the people and convince them that we’re serious, that we want to build something proper, and that’s what we’re going to do this year. We’re starting out very small and high-end, as we’re restricted by permits to 500 people, then growing in the coming years, ideally, and hopefully in a natural way.

A car competes at an ice race in Zell am See, Austria.
The cars competing in Aspen will range in model years from roughly 1960 to 2023.

Describe the venue in Aspen?

It’s actually a big field in Basalt, about 25 minutes away. It’s so quiet, and a very different landscape from Austria, but is such a cool place. We built up the track exactly as we do in Austria. We pack snow then spray water to ice it over, and it becomes the perfect track. As an architect, it’s fun for me to come up with ideas of how the paddock should look, the hospitality [center], the colorblocking, and bringing in this vintage-racing vibe from F.A.T.

Ferdi Porsche, the driving force behind the F.A.T. International Ice Race.
Ferdi Porsche will personally host the three-day competition in Aspen this weekend.

What’s going to be your own level of participation at the race?

I’m definitely going to be the host, and hopefully get to hang out with everybody and hear about what we can improve next time. And, for sure, I want to test the track. I’ll be giving taxi laps in an old 911 and a Taycan to show people what the track is like.

Can you give us a preview of some of the cars and drivers we can expect to see in action?

I can tell you that we have a Le Mans–winning car, the Porsche GT1-98, driven by Le Mans–winner Stéphane Ortelli, which might break the internet. We have a Targa Florio–winning car and a Pikes Peak–winning car [a Porsche GT3 TurboCup]—everything from Toyotas to Ferraris to Porsches. I would have to check, but from the top of my head, the earliest is from 1960 and the most modern car is from 2023. As for the drivers, some I can’t reveal yet because we want to surprise people, but I can tell you that Patrick Long will be driving, along with a Porsche Werks driver. And another Patrick, I’m not going to say the second name but it’s kind of obvious, wants to race. It’s going to be a wild mix of people, from collectors to fans to racers. The ice basically levels everything. You can race a pro, but if they’re not experienced on ice, you can drive around them.

Current Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen puts his skills on ice during an ice race in Zell am See, Austria, in 2022.
Current Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen put his skills on ice during the Zell am See race in 2022.

Do you think electrification will become viable in ice racing, or will this remain the realm of internal-combustion engines?

The [all-electric Porsche] Taycan is one of the most fun cars to drive on ice. I think that the more companies that go into [Electrification], the more technicians that wrap their heads around it, and the more customers that adapt to it, the better it will become. We’re already seeing that. I drive the Taycan on a daily basis, and it’s cold in Zell am See right now, but it performs very well. Range is the only thing worse in the wintertime, and that’s going to be solved in the coming years.

Ferdi Porsche with his father, Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, at the GP Ice Race in Zell am See, Austria, in 2021.
Ferdi with his father, Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, at the Zell am See ice race in 2021.

What is your primary goal with the upcoming race in Aspen?

As F.A.T., we are the next generation of car enthusiasts. We want to bring different people together, along with the art world and music—combine the lives and lifestyles around cars.  My main goal is for everybody to leave with a smile, leave inspired, and maybe have met a new friend. I want the people who come, or who watch the content, to be hyped. That’s what this is all about, and the wild-and-free, vintage-motorsport vibe should come across.

For more information on the F.A.T. International Ice Race Aspen and ticket inquiries, click here.

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