High Performance Winter Driving

Driving a modern car at speed these days can feel like you are just a passenger in a computer game set in “learning mode’. If you “shock” the brakes, ABS saves your bacon. TOO much throttle on exit, the computer cuts your power and stops you from spinning like a top. Turn-in too fast, traction control steps in. Lose front end grip mid-corner, torque vectoring will allow you to rotate the car down into the apex. Facing a cold wet track, just dial your Porsche, Audi, or BMW to “winter” mode and mash on pedals, the software will save you. All modern traction control computers will effectively disconnect you from the harsh reality of your boneheaded mistakes. The best systems will convince you it was your superior driving skills that made it all just happen. It wasn’t. ABS, PSM, PASM, PTM, launch control; who is driving this thing, you a  some software engineer from the Weissach R&D Center? 

Now, look at the picture of the beast above. No Nannies – No anti-lock brakes – No PSAM or stability management. It’s just you and the machine, charging headfirst into harsh winter conditions onto a compromised track surface with only your wits, experience, and courage to keep you on course.  

Your first time out on the asphalt with a badass dinosaur like this, you realize that while not as fast a GT2 Widow Maker, it is not a toy. If you are not careful, it’ll take your whole hand off quicker than Jaws took Captain Quint’s legs on the stern of the Orca.

You will be running solo right out of the gate.  NO simulator to practice on beforehand. No winter mode to dial in. No place for a ride-along instructor to bail you out in a jam. You are being thrown into the deep end of the pool, it’s a sink or swim proposition.  

My marque is ironically called “Simplicity”. Yeah, right.  Only available in a bright orange, Gulf Porsche 917 inspired livery, this hardcore 1950’s design still  has a primer pump and manual choke for startup in sub-zero conditions. “New” technology includes a high torque OHV engine attached to a manual 5 speed plus high and low reverse. As Commander Cody would say, “Got seven gears, uses them all, got overdrive, just won’t stall”. 

It comes standard with trick hand-activated locking rear torque vectoring differential driving oversized rear knobby tires.  My “SnowRex” is a 2010 lightweight model. Newer models can be optioned with electric motor driven chute rotation and the top-of-the-line models even come with heated handgrips. Well la-di-da. I prefer an old school, all manual, driver’s machine.  A no-frills high-performance snow carnivore. It’s a challenge to learn how to pilot one of these at speed with consistency and precision. I’ve been working on my technique for decades.

* Legal Disclaimer: All techniques below were performed by Professional Driver on a closed-circuit course.

HPSR Pre event tech

Here are the basics for your first time out for the season. Set your tire pressure between 15-20 pounds (1.0-1.3 Bar). Make sure your auger and 2nd stage turbine are clear and all shear pins are in place. Check your fuel and oil levels. This should get you through most pre-season techs.

Green Run Group – first sessions

Have an attack plan. Visualize your way around the circuit concentrating on getting your lines “right and tight”. Don’t leave lines of unblown snow, your neighbors will be able to see where you blew a corner or drifted offline on a straight. This takes practice and every course is different. In wet (snow) conditions, if you disengage the blower while moving,  you may clog the chute requiring you to leave the driver’s cockpit to unpack the second stage turbine. Nothing says “Rookie” like a machine stuck on the side of the course with a broom handle stuffed in its snow exhaust.

Don’t be hard on yourself, if you mess up a couple of passes, you are still adding the all important “seat time” you need to become an expert driver. Your goal is to learn how to drive with precision and efficiency. Your goal is NOT straightaway speed, anybody can do that. Keep on working on your technique and your machine’s feedback will let you know when you are “in the zone”. Get the basics down and the speed will come.

Get yourself conformable before attempting to tackle the big pile at the end of the driveway. That heavily compacted snow, piled deep by your county snowplow, is always a challenge. Be prepared to remove it more than once. (Bastards!)

Red Run Group

If you have a couple of years of experience and are brave or crazy enough, you may be ready to try these high-speed maneuvers. Next snow event, fire up your machine in the garage with the choke on. Let’er sit and warm up for a minute, then choke off, full throttle. IMPORTANT, check that there are no pets directly in front of you on track out.  You don’t want to create a Fargo by the lake scene. Put on your driving gloves and pull down your goggles. Activate your posi-lock and check that it is fully engaged with a little test “chirp”.  

Drop the clutch and blast out of the garage with the engine screaming. Revel in the smell of 1970’s burnt hydrocarbons. With the wind in your face, scarf flying behind you, and the serrated auger clawing at the snow in anger, bring her up to maximum velocity.

Approaching turn #1, eye your entry and exit points. Execute a rally-style right-left Scandinavian Flick and dive into the corner under full throttle. NO BRAKE! Now you’re going to need fast hands here. Blower clutch in. Deactivate the locker for inside wheel torque vectoring, maintaining the engine at full redline. Turn-in, hard and as the rally guys like to say, “back’er in” to the apex, while by rapidly rotating of the blower chute.  Just like an old 911, drift your turn-in, full throttle at the apex while executing a perfect prodigious power slide mid-corner to exit. More fast hands are needed on exit to unwind the chute control, dump the dual-stage blower clutch and re-engage the rear locker for maximum traction as you straighten out and charge into the next straight.

Remember, eyes up. Full commitment! Trust in your experience,  and hours of muscle memory and pick. Pick your next line and do it all over again. 

It takes courage and commitment to consistently go in hot and get it right every time, and you want to get it right. The last thing you want is your neighbor “Fred” giving you instructions on how to operate your machine. What does Fred know? He gets his driveway plowed and makes his kids shovel the walk…and he drives a Prius.

The heavy pile at the end of the drive from the county plows is where advanced drivers can show their stuff. Advanced group operators know how to use the tractor – blower combination in a “plow’n shoot” mode while setting the chute controls based on wind direction and velocity. Just like on a dry circuit, every time on course, you have the opportunity to learn something new.

Remember there is never a perfect lap, but after a complete session linking numerous hot laps in a row, you have earned the right to go inside and hoist a pint of your favorite hot cocoa and tell yourself, “You drove well today kid.”

Additional Resources:

There aren’t any YouTube clips I can find on the advance techniques mentioned above  but you can substitute a professional Zamboni driver.  Those guys are good!

NNJR-PCA Deep Snow Instructor.