With a lineage that goes all the way back to the 1950s, one of Austria’s newest but already best motorsport events played out in the Austrian Alps this past weekend.
Thousands of people once traveled to Zell am See to watch and take part in its annual ice racing escapades, but it all came to an end in 1974 after a snowplow fell through the ice, sadly claiming the life of its driver. The event was permanently cancelled, and it stayed that way for 45 years, until being resurrected in 2019 by Ferdinand ‘Ferdi’ Porsche – son of Dr. Wolfgang Porsche and nephew of Ferdinand Alexander Porsche – as the GP Ice Race.
For the first comeback year it was a private event at the airport runway location, but in 2020 the GP Ice Race was opened to the public and found immediate success. Ben even went that year… sort of.
The 2021 and 2022 events were low-key affairs with Covid pandemic restrictions in place, and 2023 couldn’t catch a break with warmer than anticipated temperatures forcing its cancellation. Conditions weren’t ideal for the 2024 running either, but the show – now rebranded as the F.A.T. Ice Race – went on. It was my first time at the event, and I could not wait to experience everything it had to offer.
The F.A.T. name should be familiar with any diehard Porsche racing fans. ‘F.A.T. International’ was a logistics company that backed the Porsche team at Le Mans in 1994, which was the year a Dauer-Porsche 962 won. Ferdi and his colleagues secured the rights to the F.A.T. name and original logo, and are now using it as an umbrella brand for all their future events and more.
As you might expect, there’s a strong Porsche connection to the F.A.T. Ice Race, and the German automaker is a major event partner alongside Mobil 1. But all the VAG brands were well represented on Saturday.
Fourteen-time Austrian national rally champion Raimund Baumschlager was setting lap records in the Red Bull Škoda Fabia, while VW made an appearance with their yet-to-be-revealed 2025 Mk8.5 Golf R. As the new all-wheel-drive model’s official launch is still a few months away, no one was surprised to see it wearing a full camouflage wrap.
As the F.A.T. Ice Race is – like its name suggests – a proper race event, their should have been qualifying sessions followed by racing across a number of classes, but the warm conditions saw the original timetable swapped for a full day of demo runs.
Sadly, there was no skijoring either. For those who don’t know, that’s the name of the winter sport where a person on skis is pulled along by a horse. Well, that’s how they used to do it as far back as the 1920s on the frozen lake at Zell am See, but in more recent times, horses have been traded for cars and the speeds have increased exponentially.
Still, many drivers gave it their all in the slushy conditions, especially those in the 4WD class. I was instantly reminded why I love rallying.
My favorite F.A.T. Ice Race category was the Classic. It’s where I found the biggest variety of competing vehicles, and true passion for car culture. The owners of these cars don’t come to win; they’re here for the love of motorsport, the atmosphere and the camaraderie.
If I had to pick one favorite moment from the event, it would have to be when a Baja Bug overtook the 1,400hp Audi S1 Hoonitron with Olympic and World Cup ski champion Marcel Hirscher behind the wheel. The expression on the VW driver’s face was pure elation.
F.A.T. International’s vision is to bring enthusiast and personalities together for a cultural experience. There were many famous faces in the paddock, from former Formula 1 drivers including Valtteri Bottas and Mark Webber, to other motorsport icons including Group B rally legend Walter Röhrl, and Hans-Joachim Stuck, who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1986 and 1987 with Derek Bell and Al Holbert from behind the wheel of a Rothmans Porsche 962C.
Jeff Zwart was another familiar face I spotted. In a sense, Jeff is a veteren Speedhunter, having been a celebrated director, photographer, and author during the car magazine era. And he’s still creating today.
When I saw Jeff, he was checking out one of the largest gatherings of Porsche 550 Spyders ever assembled. Only around 100 of these open-top two-seaters were ever built, so to have 10 of them at the 2024 F.A.T. Ice Race was pretty special.
Since the Ice Race’s 2019 resurrection, the Ruf family have been regular attendees. Furthermore, Ruf also sponsors the event. I didn’t manage to meet Mr. Alois Ruf himself, but I was lucky enough to speak with his daughter Aloisa, who showed me around the vehicles they brought to this year’s event, including a pair of Ruf SCRs – one in yellow and the other in green.
Of particular interest though, was Mr. Ruf’s personal car and dream build – the Ruf R56.11, which features a 356 body coupled with 911-sourced transmission, suspension, brakes and steering. Its 2.4L air-cooled flat-four engine with twin overhead camshafts produces 170hp, providing the lightweight coupe with a 225km/h top speed. In these slushy conditions the R56.11 was running a little slower than that, but it still looked like a huge amount of fun was being had.
The parking area was filled with endless rows of German machinery, with a number of new Porsche 911 Dakars and GT3 RSs popping up here and there. If you really want to stand out though, you need to take a leaf out of race car driver Freddy Fast’s book. He turned up with lifted bus named Raumschiff, which fittingly translates to spacecraft.
During my time at the 2024 F.A.T. Ice Race, I got to see the many sides of this event and the community it’s built around. I can only hope that it continues to grow, and perhaps ultimately becomes a winter version of the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
The good news is, anyone in the USA won’t even need to travel to Austria to experience the F.A.T. Ice Race, because in less than two weeks’ time, the winter sports paradise of Aspen, Colorado will become F.A.T. City for the very first time.