Racing a $250,000 Bentley on Ice is Nuts

But it’s even crazier when you’re riding shotgun with a maniac on a frozen lake in Finland.
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But it’s even crazier when you’re riding shotgun with a maniac on a frozen lake in Finland.
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Some people are born to move on the ice. In the dark winter near the Arctic Circle, where lakes are frozen for half the year, moving on ice—in a dogsled, on a snowmobile, or in a purpose-built $250,000, 550-horsepower Bentley Continental GT with a 6.0-liter W12 powerplant—is second nature. 

Take Juha Kankkunen, for instance, an elfin creature who haunts the frozen lakes near Rukka Peak, far north of the Finnish capitol of Helsinki. He has won four World Rally Championships, which is an astronomical feat in an of itself. But he has also set the world speed record for driving on ice at 205 miles per hour (in a Bentley, naturally). Spend a few hours riding shotgun with him, dancing sideways and rocketing forward on a frozen lake, and it begins to seem believable. 

“I don’t know why it surprises people that I can go this fast on ice,” Kankkunen says, his blue eyes twinkling in the goddamn cold air. “This is what we do our whole lives up here. It just requires that you feel the ice beneath you. And you need to have a sense of humor.”

Kankkunen drives with one finger. He anticipates turns by 4 or 5 beats, steering left, then waiting, waiting as the engine idles and the car slides sideways at 90 miles per hour. Then he toes the throttle and the wheels gain purchase. “The secret to driving on ice is two parts,” he says. “Patience, my friend. Patience and a complete suspension of disbelief. You will make the turn if you wait for it."

The lakes around Bentley’s Power on Ice program are lined with frosted fir trees. The days are short, the menus crowded with reindeer meat. I fire up one of the Continental GTs and think at first that it’s not much different from putting an outsized amount of horsepower to dirt, which is something I spent a considerable amount of time doing as a kid. The largest difference is that when you’re on ice, no matter how long the studs are on your tires, it’s nearly impossible to stop. Out here, you slide the exquisitely-crafted Bentley through one of the snowbanks that act as Nerf-like guardrails on the frozen lake and pray that you haven’t done any damage. 

If you can’t dig yourself out, you have to wait for a tractor to grab you while you stand shivering with cold and just a little bit of shame.

Courtesy Juha Kankkunen Driving Academy

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This sort of driving is an art form. Juha is Picasso. But he’s not the only Scandinavian who earned his rally racing chops by taking cars out on lakes. The list is long and includes Petter Solberg, among others. 

The cost of the Bentley program is in the ballpark of $13,000 (minus airfare). That's a lot for three days on a frozen lake. But the beauty of it? Whether or not you’re an owner, you’ll want to learn the tricks of how to handle a car on ice. You’ll also want—just once—to eat the grilled loin of a reindeer.

Photos by Bentley Motors