Taking it 'ice' and easy with racing superstars

"It's all about looking at where you need to go next and steering before you reach that point" explained Aleksi Halen as we skidded across the ice.

"Keep your movements smooth and counteract where the car is turning to keep it going in the direction you need".

Halen is a racer in the Legends series but today he's showing me how to manoeuvre around a track etched into a frozen lake in northern Finland.

He's got the natural mix of calmness and confidence you'd expect of a Finnish racing driver who's been traversing tracks such as this since the age of six. "If we stop racing, then we stop going where we need to go," he said as the back end of the car I'm steering overtakes the rear nad he forces the steering wheel in the opposite direction to re-align us on the track.

Driving on ice is something you'd expect to be unnerving but in our Seat Leon Cupra with full traction control on, you'd barely notice the difference. As long as you're driving carefully, that is.

Push the car a little too far and, even equipped with snow tyres, you'll find yourself sliding, until the electronic stability control  kicks in and narrowly saves you crashing into a snow drift.

Turn that off and it's a very different story. The car effectively becomes a giant ice skate, with traction in a straight line but little grip as soon as you attempt to turn.

Seat has brought us to northern Finland where the snow is thick and the temperature is below zero to demonstrate what its 4Drive four-wheel-drive system can do in extreme weather - with the aim that it'll show us how this clever tech can benefit drivers in the far less extreme UK.

We'd try what are more conventional methods in these parts, from huskies to snowmobiles, which have been carefully honed to work in these conditions. However, Seat's SUVs and sporty hatchbacks are not what you would usually associate with snow, let alone ice.

Our day started in a far more civilised manner, testing out the car maker’s latest addition to its range, the Ateca SUV, across the snowy roads of Kuusamo. These family-sized cars transported us to our ice lake adventure with poise and grace.

Halen sat in the back directing me to the Juha Kankkunen Driving Academy where he works. We travelled up steep inclines through forests and bounded across the snow with surprising ease as we took in the bleak, but beautiful snowy vistas.

Kankkunen will be a name you’ll recognise if you follow rallying. This Flying Finn, for those not in the know, has won the World Rally Championship four times.

So, what else would you do as one of the most famous rallying drivers in the world, but buy a frozen lake in your home country to turn into your ideal race track? And what could possibly make a better location for learning how to tackle these conditions?

Halen takes me for one lap, which seems only suitable for trained racing drivers, before pulling over and telling me to get in the driving seat. With one foot sliding underneath me the idea that I’ll be driving on this seems daunting.

We try first with all of the electronic elements of the car allowed to do what they want and keep me out of the snow. He’s confident I can cope, or at least that there’s enough snow to cushion me and the Leon from any mistakes, and turns off the ESP.

It’s unnatural at first to counter-steer away from the way you want to go, but once you get into a rhythm, it makes sense. It also helps that Halen is shouting at me to turn, brake and accelerate, which I follow diligently. To my surprise, Halen sounds vaguely impressed with what I’m doing as I turn the car into the corner on the approach before straightening it as we hit the apex to slide through the remainder and power to the next turn. “Power on to move the car to the inside and lift off to keep to the inside,” is his next piece of advice as we slide around a hairpin bend.

Sure enough, by adding some power, the car carries on sideways, and as I ease off, we slow to keep tight to the apex.

I soon learnt what can happen if you don’t follow instructions carefully, as one false move placed me nose-first in the snow. We weren’t out of the rally though, Halen told me, as we reversed off the drift.

To show me how it is really done, I get a trip round the circuit with World Touring Car Championship driver Jordi Gene and, the man himself, Juha Kankkunen. Modest Gene takes me round first, explaining that he’ll be nowhere near as smooth as the Finn.

Fearlessly, he speeds around the track, explaining that he’s going for fun skids rather than the fastest time – but he could have fooled me.

Next, I get a chance to meet Kankkunen, the calmest man I’ve ever encountered. He acts as if he is cruising around the track, with the smallest inputs made to the steering wheel, but attacks the corners with speed. Unsurprisingly, the few laps I get with him are over extremely quickly.

I left the car feeling that I needed to move to Finland and rekindle my dream of a career as a racing driver. Although my time on the snow was short, it certainly showed me what a challenge ice driving is and gave me some insight into how to handle a car should UK roads turn arctic.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Try our beta site!

We’re getting ready to launch our brand new website for shropshirestar.com and we’d like to give you a sneak preview.

We’re still applying the finishing touches, so please bear with us if something’s not quite right.

We'd love to hear your thoughts, good or bad, via the simple feedback button that you'll see to the right side of every page.

Try the beta