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We are driven by luxury motor coach to a field along a river in a rural area near Sallbach, Austria. The field has been flooded with river water and is about four inches of solid ice. The course is surrounded by two-foot-high snow banks, which aren’t high enough to hide the fact that the river still poses a serious consequence for reckless drivers.
We are driving the Austrian equivalent of the A4 2.0 turbo Avant, at just over 200hp. I had been hoping to spend time in the S4 Avant—with an aggressive 333hp and the added space of a wagon, it is by my estimates the definitive ski car. But, after a lap in the A4, I quickly realize that my disappointment has been misplaced. Even with studded Pirelli tires the ice is, well, icy. With the 200hp A4 it doesn’t take more than a short jab at the throttle to get the wheels to break loose. And that is what we did; the two-day course essentially becomes one long power slide.
After a few basic driving exercises to become acquainted with our cars, we jump right into it, starting with under steer. Under steer, while more common on front wheel drive cars, can happen to any car. The problem is that the front wheels lose traction while turning, causing the car to “plow” straight through the turn and not respond to any steering input. The most common reaction drivers have as they sense a car under steering is to turn into the turn more. This is actually the worst thing you can do. The correct approach, while completely counterintuitive, is to let off the gas and unwind the wheel. Bringing the front wheels back so they point in the direction the car is traveling will help them regain traction more quickly. This technique will reduce the duration and severity of the event but it won’t eliminate it.
Next we tried over steer, where the fun begins. Over steer is related to the drive wheels and is only possible on rear or all wheel—in this case, Quattro—drive cars. Over steer occurs when the driver accelerates too much while in the turn, which causes the rear wheels to lose traction and the back end of the car swings out under the load of centrifugal force. The result is more or less the same as under steering, the car travels straight across the turn. The fix, however, is very different. Rather than straightening the wheel, you want to counter steer or steer against the turn. This keeps the car from spinning out. You also want to maintain a little acceleration. If you quickly let off the gas a drastic load change will occur. Weight will be transferred onto the front wheels, making the back wheels lighter and making it more difficult for them to regain traction. Instead, maintaining even gas pedal pressure while reducing acceleration slightly will keep the car more balanced and help regain traction sooner.
Here is an illustration to help you better understand the concepts. If you have any questions post them in our community section and Ill get you an answer.
The Scandinavian flick is a technique used to intentionally unweight the car and induce over steer. Rally car drivers occasionally use it to get around tight corners. Say your approaching a tight right hand turn, as you near the corner you brake hard then turn left away from the corner. This causes a load change that lightens the rear end. Then as you enter the turn you flick it back to the right. Rocking the car back and forth like this causes the rear wheels to slide out (over steer), keeping the front of the car pointed in the desired direction. Although this may sound easy—brake, left, right, wait, back on the power, go, go, go—it’s all about timing and patience.
Here is a video of Colin McRae, arguably the best rally car driver ever, explaining it from inside his WRC Ford.
Really though, talking about this can only get you so far. Check out Audi.com for a list of courses offered. Then, next time you heading up to the hill take the scenic route and have a bit of fun.