Formula Offroad Iceland is not a widely known motorsport, but it has existed for more than half a century. In one breath, it can be described as ‘precision driving over extreme vertical terrain.’
What started as a recreational and training exercise for Icelandic mountain rescue teams, quickly became a way to showcase rescue vehicles in action to the general public, and raise money at the same time. Before long, mountaineers wanted to see whose off-roader was the best, which led to teams being formed and vehicles being purpose-built for the event. All this is slightly ironic, because it’s actually illegal to drive off-road in Iceland.
As time has gone on, the machines competing in Formula Offroad Iceland have only become more extreme. These days, the events are made up of 1,000+hp tube chassis rigs with chunky paddle wheels that are able to climb more or less vertical surfaces.
Drivers test themselves on different courses, some that require hardcore off-road capability, while others are purely about speed.
During the North European Zone (NEZ) competition in Hønefoss, Norway, there were two classes – Modified and Unlimited – competing on 12 routes over two days.
Modified class machines are based on production off-road vehicles. They should have a bonnet, fenders, and side panels that resemble the original vehicle, and their tires are smaller. On paper, these vehicles have their disadvantages, but from what I noticed, an experienced driver can take a Modified rig to the same heights as an Unlimited class off-roader.
The general rule is that most of the vehicles don’t clear the course, and the best option is to get stuck or drive down accepting defeat. Then there are those who go all-out, and often their return to the ground is a little less graceful.
On every route, the driver can earn up to 350 points, and these are accumulated by the how high they’ve gone, and deducted with mistakes like stopping, going backwards, touching or driving over markers. On timed courses where it’s all about getting the job done as quickly as possible, points are deducted for every tenth of a second lost to the fastest competitor.
Most teams run naturally aspirated petrol V8 engine setups, usually with a shot of nitrous oxide for some extra horsepower at the peak. Both front and rear differentials are locked, as is the center transfer case. So if a single wheel is able to move, all four wheels will be turning. Gearing is offset to the front wheels, so they turn a little faster for more responsive steering uphill and have a braking effect on descents – a real off-road trick right there.
A few years back, turbochargers became more popular in Formula Offroad Iceland, hence why engines like this boosted 2.4L Honda K24 are now finding their way into the top trucks.
As for transmissions, most of the guys seem to opt for Turbo 400 or Powerglide units. Suspension-wise, you’ll either see coilovers or a more traditional four-link arrangement both front and rear with air shocks and hydraulic bump stops. Steering on every vehicle is also hydraulic. Roll cages are constructed from 48mm steel, and by regulation need to be able to handle six times the weight of the rig.
Modified and Unlimited cars have a different tire tread patterns. I say tread, but I actually mean shovels – just look at them! These shovel tires for Unlimited trucks are based on racing slicks with paddles welded on, while Modified class vehicles use die-cast sand tires with smaller shovels. Super Scooper and Bigger Digger are the two types of paddle patterns. The Super Scooper pattern zig-zags from left to right corners, while the Bigger Digger is a long scoop for the full width of the tire.
It’s mostly drivers from Iceland and Norway taking part, with organized national and international (NEZ) championships. Around 30 cars were present at this major event that I attended.
The spectacle is crazy to see in person, but I was also surprised to learn that after a full season of driving up and rolling down this Icelandic quarry, a full field of drivers and their rigs will head to the United States and put on a show at the Bikini Bottoms Off Road Park. If you’re anywhere near Dyersburg, Tennessee on October 3-5, I suggest you get along to witness the madness for yourself.