'98 Western Canadian Ice-Race Championship

Day #1  -  Saturday, Feb. 7, 1998

Ferd #09 and Jim Graham #78
That's me in #09, and my friend Jim Graham in #78.
CHAMONIX, France, Feb 1 (AFP) - Ex-Formula One world champion Nigel Mansell had to be content with his 12th place in the 24-hour ice race here on Sunday.

Driving a Ford Escort, the Briton, who was making his return to competitive racing after a three-year absence, finished well adrift of winner Stephane Peterhansel of France, but said: "I've never had so much fun."

The same goes for me!  I've never had so much fun!!!

I was invited to take part in the ice races staged by the Northern Alberta Sports Car Club in Edmonton, Alberta on February 7th and 8th, 1998.  Competitors came from as far away as British Columbia and Manitoba.  And would you believe it, one real sicko [me] travelled 3,500 km from Ottawa, Ontario!

My stellar performance has not yet resulted in an invitation to drive for a Formula One team.  But I'll give it another week or two until news of the Western Canadian Championship Ice-Race Weekend (Chevette Class) trickles its way to Europe.  I think they must all still be distracted in Europe by Nigel Mansell's recent attempt at ice-racing.

The page below describes Saturday's races.  Sunday's races are on the following page.  A third and fourth page features Part 1 and Part 2 of pictures taken from the in-car video of a typical Chevette race start with subsequent first corner collisions.  A frame-by-frame commentary is included.  A fifth page displays the 26 video frames being scrolled within a single animated Gif image.

Here is the story from Saturday.

CRX  Unlimited-Studs ClassFour classes of races were run each day  including [in astronomically decreasing order of expense] Unlimited-Studs, Limited-Studs, Rubber, and Chevette.  The Unlimited class is strictly for millionaires.  For example, this Honda CRX was outfitted with tires bolted through with so many spikes that it looked like the car was sitting on four enormous porcupines.  Power was supplied by a huge engine with an intake manifold that protruded up through the hood, topped with large intake stacks above that!  Several fat exhaust pipes were routed through the passenger compartment and out the right side door.  And check out the enormous plexiglass air deflectors, sails, and wings on the CRX in this photo taken from Jim Graham's in-car video camera as the Honda crackled past him in the paddock.  The Honda CRX was a blindingly fast car, except this was NOT even one of the quickest cars overall!!!

The Limited-stud class has basically the same type of cars but with significantly fewer spikes in the tires.  And the Rubber class has the typical mix of low-budget front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive cars with no spikes, just rubber tires.

The Chevette class however is special in that it is a 'spec-series' where everyone drives the same model of affordable rear-drive car equipped with common Bridgestone Blizzak rubber tires, no spikes.  It is very much a series where driver skill, not wallet-size, makes all the difference.  Races are limited to 15 minute sessions.  So there is no time whatsoever for patience.  Any and all opportunities must be seized instantly, with merciless aggression, if one expects to make any headway.

Chevettes at speed!

There were 3 Chevette races on Saturday and another 3 on Sunday.  Because I hadn't run in any of the previous races this season, I was forced to start from the back of the 25 car pack.  Yet I finished my first race in 7th place!  That was a very pleasant surprise because I haven't done any racing since 1991.  I'd like to think that beats Nigel Mansell's lame come-back attempt.

[The phone just rang, but it turns out it wasn't a Formula One team calling.  It was just another telemarketer trying to sell me something I don't need.  Curses and Drats!]

The grid for the second race was determined by reversing the finish order of the first race.  So I started the second race 7th from last (19th on the grid) and finished 6th.  The competition gets exponentially tougher the closer you get to the front.

This is Ferdinand!I was feeling quite satisfactorily ego-inflated with my performance up to this point.  More importantly, I managed to get this far without damaging the car.  But things went rapidly downhill from there.

Here's a picture of me displaying great mechanical aptitude as I'm checking the oil in my car.  In case you were confused, the dipstick is that thin metal rod over my shoulder, not the guy under the hat!  [hmmm, I think I just figured out how those oil stains got on my coat...]

I started 6th-last for the third race and pulled off a Brilliant start, tucking in tight behind the series leader as he came blowing past.  The crowd parted for him and I followed right behind.  But as we came drifting into the right-hander at the end of the fast front straightaway (110+ km/h), I was smacked by a slower car that turned into me in an [extremely successful!] attempt at blocking.

Crossing paths.He crunched my left front fender and stuffed me into the snow-bank which instantly dragged me around into a spin.  Thankfully the car fetched up tight against the inside snowbank, albeit facing in the wrong direction, as half the pack streamed by before I got a chance to spin it around again.

Note: It was not Jim Graham that hit me.  I just used this photo as a convenient illustration.  I had hoped there would be plenty of in-car footage documenting me lapping Jim Graham every few minutes.  But due to a variety of misfortunes, we always seemed to be starting races from opposite ends of the grid.  This shot shows one of the very rare times that we crossed paths all weekend.

After getting myself extracted from the snow bank and turned back in the right direction, I finished the race in 13th place which was enough to rank me 8th overall in the Chevette class for the first day.

Time for repairsThen it was time for some damage assessment and quick repairs in the pits before heading back into town for the night.  Here I am doing 100 push-ups as penance for damaging the car.  Actually I was trying to figure out why the clutch would no longer disengage.

Check out the "garage floor".  Those wusses in Formula One get nice shiny garages with concrete floors.  Real men [like us ice-racer types], just lie down right on the ice!  Actually, I cheated a bit by putting a blanket down first.  Wouldn't want any vital body parts freezing to the lake's surface until spring, eh.

Go to the next page for Sunday's story.  There's lots more fun to be had...

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