ARJEPLOG, SWEDEN — The trick is to find a way to disconnect that part of your brain that says “this doesn’t seem right”.
Even as the back end of your 2020 Jaguar F-Type P300 starts rotating…and rotating…and rotating…and rotating still, you have to remember that you’re on an ice track on studded tires and to just keep toeing that throttle (tough in winter boots – it’s -15 degrees Celsius here in Arjeplog, Sweden, the home of both Jaguar Ice Academy Sweden and the brand’s winter testing facility) and dialling in some opposite lock and you’ll come out of it. Or you won’t, but it won’t matter because you’re in the middle of a frozen lake and the worst that’s likely going to happen is you’ll end up in stuck in some snow, waiting to be towed out by one of the Land Rover Discovery support vehicles and suffering little more than a bruised ego.
Even that’s a push, though, because the goal of the Jaguar Ice Academy is to help teach the attendees how to handle a car in snow, and what to do if you do find yourself stuck in a slide on the way to pick up the kids or what have you, among other things. That, and to make sure said attendees are having fun while they’re at it – which is not hard to do when you’re travelling on ice, in the dark (even though the clock reads 4:23 PM) at the helm of a 296 hp, F-Type P300 RWD sports car (equipped with right-hand drive, to boot!). Or a 380 hp, AWD F-Pace SUV.
In order to get there, though, you have to first tame the logical part of your brain that’s telling you to put a lid on it.
It’s not as if you’re just cast out to the wolves on one of the open high-speed circuits that take up a large part of the massive frozen lake that makes up much of the facility. You’ll eventually get to that, but first you have to learn the basics on one of the smaller handling courses also included in the program. One has you moving through a slalom (always look two cones down and yes, the goal is to eventually be drifting through the gates), another focuses on low-speed drifting which put us behind the wheel of an AWD F-Pace. The third is a frozen, 600-meter skid pad where you are told to drift to your heart’s content; you know you’ve really made it when you can hold a drift ‘round the entirety of the loop. I never did. To see one of the instructors do a demo lap, though, rooster tail of snow mist and all, offers a certain kind of beauty that is a wonder to behold, especially considering the snow kingdom-like surroundings.
It’s cold, though, so as much fun as it is to stand on ceremony and marvel at what these professional drivers can do, the best way to combat said cold is to step into a nice, toasty Jag and hit the track.
For its part, the slalom exercise is a great starter – it was the first module we did over the course of our 1.5 day stint. It teaches car control on ice, with one of the main goals to combat the “tank slapper” effect, which has you moving the weight back and forth to the point where if you let it get too out of hand, you spin. You need to curb that momentum and the best way to do that is to keep your hands quick but your steering inputs trimmed just enough so as not to stray too far in either direction. What’s really fascinating about that, though, is that while I found myself moving tentatively through the cones at first and driving almost as I would a more traditional slalom on tarmac, it couldn’t have been three passes before I was able to let the tail out just that much more, and just that much more still. The instruction and equipment offered by the academy is such that when you are able to start putting lessons learned to practice, you start reaching heights you may never have thought possible when it comes to car control.
Unlike similar schools offered by other manufacturers, there’s not a whole lot of in-class work before you set out, the instructors allowing you to learn as you go out on the track. I’ve attended programs like this before from other manufacturers and Jaguar’s method here is actually quite liberating. It’s great having just you and the track ahead of you. Being able to fine tune things as you go is a breath of fresh air. Of course, you can always have an instructor join you for a few stints if you wish.
After the slalom came the low-speed handling course, and this actually turned out to be one of the best modules of the experience. Sliding an F-Pace ‘round at about 30 km/h may not seem like much, but you’d be surprised by how much you can learn while doing so.
The big takeaway is just how much of an effect your throttle can have on how the car moves through the coned course. A slight dab will send you forth in a fairly, ahem, “polite” manner, but if you throttle in another fifth of the way through the pedal travel, that back end will come around. If you want to slide around the entire hairpin at the end of the track, the throttle is your friend. Eventually, we were sliding to the point where it almost felt like we were going backwards, like Ken Block ‘round a segue. It’s an eerie feeling; because of the confluence of sideways and forward motion, it almost feels like somehow the world is moving around you. 30 km/h or not, when you finally do that hairpin right, it’s bliss.
Almost – but not quite as – blissful as the feeling you get when out on any of the three winding circuits we were eventually let loose on.
With right-left-right switchbacks, straights, tight hairpins and long, fast sweepers these tracks have everything except elevation changes. That’s a lot of varying forces being exerted on the cars, but heck if it doesn’t become one addictive activity as you delve deeper and deeper into it.
You’ll take a lap behind an instructor car – just to see the track layout – but after that it’s pretty much open season and it’s time to crank it wide open. The instructors will provide commentary over in-car walkies, but past that it’s you, your drive partner, the car and the track. It’s here where we come back to the “logic-defying” thing we talked about earlier – especially as the day gets later and night falls, which it does early here. There’s no rest for the weary, however, and we were let lose on the track both day and night. The day stuff is great – this is really where you get to hone your line (just like a tarmac course, there’s still a racing line, with turn entry, turn apex and turn exits) and get a feel for both the F-Type and the F-Pace.
You’ll want to get accustomed because as night falls, your instincts come into play a little more as visibility isn’t quite the same and you want to get those turns as tattooed onto your brain as possible. Of course, it’s not that visibility during the day is perfect, either — the track surface tends to blend into the snow alongside – but there’s something about spearing into the inky dark that does make you think twice.
Still, though; if you’ve ever watched a night stage broadcast of the Sweden round of the World Rally Championship and wondered how the heck they do it, well, this is probably as close as you’re going to get. In all honesty, if I was given the opportunity to do one of these activities again – just one – the night drive on the open track would be it.
Of course, while we were invited to participate here, the Jaguar Ice Academy is not reserved for professional drivers or Jaguar/Land Rover owners; anyone can do it, assuming they have the 3,000 Euros (about CAD $4,400) required for the event, a price that includes room and board. We drove the F-Type and F-Pace, but other versions of the academy provides a variety of cars, from these two to the likes of the F-Type SVR and Ranger Rover Velar SVR.
Either way, you’ll come back from the Ice Academy a more confident driver in the snow, and with a rarely paralleled drive experience under your belt.
Not enough for you?
If you need a break from bumbling ‘round an ice track, then perhaps taking the passenger seat and letting one of the instructors take you for a rip is just the ticket. Not in the F-Pace, not in the F-Type but in this: the bonkers, all-out Jaguar XE SV Project 8.
Not familiar? Allow me: Essentially, what Jag has done is taken the XE compact sedan, stuffed in a big ol’ supercharged 5.0L V8 good for about 600 hp, tuned the 8-speed auto and AWD system, added special Bilstein dampers and ceramic disc brakes and switched all body panels save the roof and front doors. The front clip is wider, and the hood and front fenders follow suit – all are crafted from carbon fibre. Since both the front and rear tracks are wider, the rear fenders had to be flared. As did the back edges of the rear doors and the rear bumper.
In well-trained hands – say, those of racer-turned-instructor Oscar King – it is a ride rivaled only by the best roller coasters. I can’t tell you how quickly power is deployed from tip-in, or how well gears are held because I wasn’t driving. What I can say is that the ride – even on the ice – is bonkers quick and so very, very loud as all that power gets fired through barely muffled exhausts. Not to mention that much of the sound deadening has been removed as a weight-saving measure. This car positively blasts the track, with King power sliding through every corner as all four wheels shod in studded tires scrabble for traction. Don’t worry if the corners of your vision get blurry; it’s all part of the experience.