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Finland trip: drifting with a world champion

Reinhard Schmid
Rally training in Finland
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U ntermalted by a loud noise, the spikes claw into the ice. The left turn is about to come. What did coach Ossi Lahtinen say again? Destabilize the car with a powerful steering movement and then control the drift with the accelerator. All right.

Every beginning is difficult

At least with the instructor behind the wheel, it seemed playful easy. So turn the steering wheel hard and accelerate. The VW Tiguan stands sideways and roughly follows the targeted route. Now the alternating curve. What Lahtinen has been practicing almost every day since his youth cannot be learned in five minutes. Concentration, coordination? Here and now the difference between theory and practice becomes apparent. The Schneewechte comes closer, you instinctively duck your head, a rumble, then the all-wheel drive is stuck in the pile of snow. The reason? Too much throttle, too little throttle, steered too hard or too weak. What ever. Every beginning is difficult. On the 70 centimeter thick layer of ice, the pilot thinks of Socrates and knows that he knows nothing. At least none of the hustle and bustle.

Not only lay people train on the ice lakes, but also Formula 1 teams

Insight is the first step to knowledge or in this Fall to the perfect drift. At the Juha Kankkunen Driving Academy near Kuusamo, 800 kilometers north of the Finnish capital Helsinki, experienced lateral drivers try to impart at least some of their skills. The starting conditions are ideal: the sparsely populated forest area is a paradise for outdoor freaks who explore the world of reindeer on skis, snowmobiles or dog sleds. In winter, Kankkunen sets up its base on one of the 166 lakes. Here not only amateurs, but also Formula 1 teams train to drift to perfection. At the first station it seems like an almost impossible task, but this is due to the ambitions of the participants. They take things too quickly for the trainer's taste. In any case, the driver of the eight-tonne tractor at the rally school does not suffer from underemployment. The monster is responsible for getting the driving school vehicles rammed into the snow and damaged.

Don't worry, the ice won't break that quickly

The frozen ground cracks loudly when the tractor rolls by. 'Don't worry,' grinsLahtinen, noticing the skeptical expression on his guests' faces, 'the ice doesn't break that quickly. Even if you're standing ankle-deep in the meltwater in late spring, the shift is wearing.' Reassuring. Different vehicles are used at different stations throughout the day. From the VW Tiguan with the ESP switched off, it goes into a VW Golf with activated driving aids. This also provides the right excuses for botched drifts: the electronic skid prevention device with its know-it-all messing about is to blame. In the slalom, however, you have to recognize the advantages of electronics: How stubbornly the Tiguan circles its course around the pylons on ice, impressed.

After VW Golf and VW Tiguan, a Subaru Impreza WRX is used

But ultimately, the participants are less interested in the advantages of the To try out technical assistants rather than to learn how to drive sideways. And in the afternoon it becomes clear that the fast laps are working out slowly, even without sinking the cars in the snow. At the end it goes to free driving on a winding handling course. In order to keep an eye on the route, we now mainly look through the side windows and suspect what rally legend Walter Röhrl meant when he said that you can recognize good drivers by the fact that the flies stick to the side windows. Then the last car change was euphoric about the newly acquired driving skills. After the VW Golf and Tiguan, racing feeling is the order of the day, a Subaru Impreza WRX is ready. At the wheel: Juha Kankkunen . Well, maybe you can learn a few tricks.

Towards the end, the master shows his skills

However, after the first corner it is already clear: No matter how safe many feel after the training 'Skill is something completely different. Kankkunen only has one hand on the valance. One steering impulse per curve is sufficient, after which it directs the Impreza through the handling course using only targeted throttle thrusts. You can tell how fast he is there when he passes the other drivers, as if they were just about to pit. The Finn answered in his own way when asked whether he would take it more cautiously on the rally stages through the woods: An hour later, his team cordoned off a road that was barely vehicle-wide. With a helmet on and lashed in the copilot seat of his 350 hp racing Impreza, it's off to a special trip.

Through the Finnish forests at 210km /h

The engine sound is reminiscent of a jet fighter. Kankkunen accelerates. The narrow, spiked ice tires claw into the slippery ground. The roar of the engine is accompanied by the waterfall-like rolling noise. The passenger can only look at the speedometer to a limited extent. The 70 is barely visible, the needle is out of sight after a few meters. The Subaru Impreza rushes towards a hilltop , Trees scurry past the window, then only the engine can be heard: The Subaru has taken off and is heading for a curve. Kankkunen tugs at the steering wheel, the Subaru becomes unstable, its rear slides against the snow plow. The world champion makes driving mistakes? Not at all. This is how the professional stabilizes the car. Then the trip is over much too early. How fast were we going? '210,' replies Kankkunen with his hard Finnish accent. How long did he have to train to be able to drive like this? 'I started on daddy's lap - when I was seven.' You can't catch up with this lead.

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