For more than 20 years, Austria’s frozen Lake Zell has hosted racing festivals in honor of Ferdinand Porsche. And despite the pandemic, the audacious, daredevil tradition carries on, though this year without the crowds. Let’s go back and take a look at the history of the GP Ice Race.
Originating from Scandanavia, Skijoring, historically was a mode of transport where farmers on skis utilized their dogs or horses to get from one place to another.
Later, the practice became a sport, and the horses and dogs were replaced by cars and motorbikes. In 1937, the race was held on a frozen lake in the Austrian Alps within a specially prepared circuit.
The picturesque shore of Lake Zell hosted the masses of spectators who came together in that cold winter to watch the brave take to the ice – an epic battle of man, machine, and nature.
Fifteen years later, on February 10, 1952, the race-inspired the first Professor Ferdinand Porsche Memorial Race.
During the day of the event’s revival, nature took hold and created chaos.
There was some heavy snowfall just before the race’s commencement forcing organizers to relocate the event to an alternative location on solid ground. The spectators still came in droves despite the setbacks.
Before the start of the event, a minute of silence was held to honor the first anniversary of Ferdinand Porsche’s passing (he died in Stuttgart on January 30, 1951, at the age of 75). After paying their respects, the engines roared to life, and all the attention was on the action going in the snow.
In the early 1950s, one of the most popular pastimes in Austria was racing. Every weekend, it attracted thousands of spectators and fans.
At the time, mass motorization was in its early stages, and the memorial race was a great way to show that motoring enjoyment need not be put on hold for winter.
Austrian writer Thomas Kamy described the period claiming that “there was a great yearning for motorcycles and cars” from the masses, and it was a dream that will not be fulfilled until much later.
According to a Salzburger Nachrichten report, the first Professor Ferdinand Porsche Memorial Race, despite the improvised 1,800-meter track, was “a flawless event without any accidents.” Aside from skijoring teams on two wheels and two skis, some bold car drivers joined in on the fun. The fastest had an average speed of 57kph.
The close relations of Porsche in the region were already present at the time. In 1941, the Porsche family bought the Schüttgut estate located above Lake Zell.
Following the Second World War, the family also opened a new chapter in their history. In Gmünd, roughly 130kms away, in a former sawmill, the first cars that proudly carried the family name were produced.
In 1953, the memorial race was again held at Lake Zell. The Salzburger Nachrichten reported that “48 participants from Austria and Germany competed in 13 exciting races.” In the car contests, the Porsche 356 dominated the field.
Ferdinand Porsche’s nephew, Herbert Kaes, drove a Porsche 356 to victory in the 1,500-cc sportscar class.
In 1955, Porsche’s racing director, Huschke von Hanstein, won the same class. However, the show was stolen by Otto Mathé, who practically flew around the course at 97kph.
Mathé’s vehicle was a creative Porsche-based car of his own making which was nicknamed ‘Fetzenflieger’, which roughly translates to “shreds on wings.”
The 47-year-old used only his left arm to compete in the race as a previous motorcycle accident left him with his right limb paralyzed from the elbow down.
Niki Lauda, Formula One World Champion was once stated,
“I admired the way he drove the race – with just one arm. And I thought the spikes on his famous ice car were great.”
In 1956, von Hanstein in a Porsche 550 Spyder went up against Mathé in the 1,500cc class and lost.
The Zell am See races continued up to the 1970s when the event had to be canceled as the ice was too thin. In 1974. A huge accident happened just before the event when a snowplow broke through the ice with the driver drowning. The races were stopped completely, closing a very interesting chapter in motorsport history – at least for a while.
The races held in honor of Ferdinand Porsche featured all the elements of exciting motorsports – technology, exciting duels, and fearless winners.
2021: Cold Start by GP
The last two years GP Ice Race events have been incredibly successful with tens of thousands of visitors making the journey to Zell am to witness the brave competing.
This year saw the event needing to adapt once again, this time to meet COVD-19 guidelines. Renamed only for 2021, Cold Start by GP was held without any spectators present.
Next year, a bigger and better GP Ice Race promises to return. The 2022 event is already being planned with the event to be held at the Zell am See airfield runway.
[Source: Porsche AG. Photos courtesy of Porsche AG]