What is the F.A.T. Ice Race? Ferdi Porsche reveals all
The coolest weekend in the Porsche motorsport calendar has a history to match
Man crossed arms leaning on Porsche in snow, mountain backdrop
The story of how Ferdi Porsche revived the tradition of holding motorsport races on a frozen Austrian lake – and all about its new event in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains
On 10 February 1952, a handful of daredevil skiers tethered themselves to the back of motorbikes and set off on three breakneck laps around a frozen lake near Zell am See in Austria. The sport was called skijoring, meaning ‘ski driving’ in Norwegian, and it marked the beginning of the Porsche ice racing tradition in the Austrian Alps.The inaugural 1952 race was held in memory of the late Ferdinand Porsche, who had died the year before. To honour the memory of Ferdinand, who was laid to rest in Zell am See, the crowd observed a minute’s silence before the race began. Zell am See had played a big role in the life of the Porsche family well before Ferdinand’s death, so it’s no surprise the place would play host to an annual Porsche ice racing event. After its launch in 1952 it ran until 1974 and then once again from 2019 to the present day.The Porsche family and Zell am See in AustriaNestled among towering peaks and snow-covered valleys, the town of Zell am See is a jewel in the Austrian Alps, perched on the edge of crystal-clear Lake Zell. In winter, the town of 10,000 transforms into a winter sports paradise, attracting a throng of skiers and snowboarders to its slopes. Looking around, it’s easy to see why Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of the Porsche car brand, chose this location for his family estate, Schüttgut, in 1941. “For the longest time, Zell has been my family’s second home,” says Ferdi Porsche, the grandson of Ferdinand, who is now in charge of what today is known as the F.A.T. Ice Race. “The place is close to our hearts, which is why racing here again feels great.”It’s a short drive from here to the small town of Gmünd, where the first ever models of what would become the Porsche 356 Coupé were built, in a converted sawmill, just after the end of World War II. This beautiful, peaceful region of Austria is where Porsche was effectively born – and made it the perfect location to race on ice.
Porsche racing cars at Professor Ferdinand Porsche Memorial Race 1952
The first Porsche ice racing event took place at Zell am See in 1952. “In memory of Professor Porsche,” reads the banner in German at the finish line
1952: the first year of the Porsche ice racesThe inaugural ice race in 1952 – known as the Professor Ferdinand Porsche Memorial Race – was a somewhat improvised affair. The course, which was 1800m long, was practically devised on the spot. Despite this, the event was an instant hit, attracting thousands of spectators over the weekend. Back then, the fastest car on the ice track averaged 57km/h around the circuit (today that average is well over 100km/h). As well as skijoring – skiers were dragged around on the circuit not just by motorbikes but cars too – there were plenty of drivers competing against each other in the new Porsche car, the 356.The success of the first Porsche ice race was such that it was quickly decided to hold the event again the following year – but this time it would be on a more professional level. So it was that in the winter of 1953, 48 competitors from Austria and Germany battled it out across 13 ice races over the weekend, impressing the packed crowds with their feats in formidable Porsche sports cars.Over the years, the ice races at Zell am See welcomed dozens of great racing drivers, but few quite like one particular star of the 1955 event. Otto Mathé was an Austrian racing driver who’d lost the use of his right arm in an earlier accident and now competed by steering with his chest and shifting gears with his left arm. Hurtling around the slippery track at 97km/h, Otto stole the show. His car was a curious piece of engineering that he had built himself. A trained mechanical engineer, Otto designed a silver single-seater in which he had fitted a 130hp Porsche Carrera engine. The car was nicknamed the Fetzenflieger (German for “shreds on wings”), because the engine was covered with a white cloth that occasionally caught fire, leaving a trail of burning rags fluttering behind the car.
Archive of Zell am See ice races, biplane over track
With its frenetic, high-speed action, the Porsche ice racing weekend at Zell am See would become one of the most anticipated winter motorsport events of the year
Over the years, the ice races welcomed many more famous faces and cars, such as the Porsche 550 Spyder piloted by Porsche factory drivers Richard von Frankenberg and Huschke von Hanstein. As well as full-time drivers, many enthusiastic amateurs took part too, including local competitors like Ernie Vogel, president of the Austrian Porsche Club. Although not a professional, Ernie – driving a RSK Spyder factory Porsche – even managed to beat German Formula One driver Wolfgang von Trips, a man renowned for his prowess in wet weather, in one ice race.2019: ice racing returns to Zell am See as the GP Ice RaceAfter more than 20 years of highly successful events, the ice races of 1974 were cancelled after a tragic accident out on the frozen lake when a snowplough fell through the ice, drowning its driver. The event would go into hibernation for another 45 years before it was revived by a young man with a substantial link to that first ever ice race back in 1952. Step forward Ferdi Porsche, great-grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the founder of Porsche AG.
Skijoring with Porsche cars on snow in Zell am See
Norway’s former Olympic downhill ski champ, Aksel Lund Svindal, tries his hand at skijoring at the 2020 GP Ice Race in Zell am See
Along with his college friend Vinzenz Greger, Ferdi brought the iconic ice race back to life as the GP Ice Race in 2019. Hosted at the Zell am See airfield, the event was packed with thrill-a-minute races, activities and surprises, reviving a beloved winter Porsche tradition with a fresh twist. “The GP Ice Race is the baby of my friend Vinzenz and me,” explains Ferdi. “We studied together at the University of Vienna and wondered why only a few young people of our generation are as interested in motorsport as we both are. One day, when we were skiing in Zell am See, we noticed the studded tyres on my father’s Porsche 550 – the car used to be used in ice racing. I knew a little about the events that had taken place there many years ago – but unfortunately far too little. It was incomprehensible to me that ice racing had not taken place for many years.”To make it happen, Vinzenz and Ferdi teamed up with two men who know more than a fair bit about motorsport – former F1 driver Hans-Joachim Stuck and ex-Porsche factory driver, Richard Lietz. After 18 months of preparation and liaising with local authorities, the first GP Ice Race was born. Despite modest expectations for its inaugural year, the event was a hit, attracting thousands of spectators. Motorsport and winter sport fans flocked to the small Austrian lakeside town, with some travelling from as far away as New Zealand.2024: The GP Ice Race becomes the F.A.T. Ice RaceIn February 2024, after a three-year break due to Covid-19, the Zell am See Ice Race returned with the usual fanfare and – as Ferdi had had time to reimagine the concept – a few new developments. For one, the GP Ice Race, as it was formally known from 2019 to 2021, returned as the F.A.T. Ice Race under the F.A.T. International banner, the projects and events company that Ferdi helped found. “We were looking for inspiration on how we could grow the event and decided to look to the past,” says Ferdi. “We went through all the Porsche Le Mans winners and who featured on the cars. The name F.A.T. International caught our eye. The brand wasn’t there anymore so the IP [intellectual property] was up for grabs. We felt that it was the perfect roof brand for the whole event going forward. And because it said ‘international’, we decided to go beyond Austria.”
Man wearing winter jacket leaning on Taycan in snow
For the first time since its inception, Austria’s F.A.T. Ice Race now has a twin event in Aspen, USA
It now means that motorsport fans in the USA have been given an opportunity to sample the legendary F.A.T. Ice Race action in the shape of a new event held in Aspen, Colorado. Ferdi and his team chose the US because he felt its passion for motorsport culture would complement what F.A.T. International had already built in Austria. “I’ve attended many Porsche events in America with my dad and my family and it was always fun, always diverse,” said Ferdi at the inaugural Aspen F.A.T. Ice Race event. “And the next generation of motorsport fans is here too. I’m hoping to grow and do more in the States in the future – and not only in winter.”The highlights of this year’s F.A.T. ice race eventsThere was plenty to see and do at this year’s F.A.T. Ice Races in Zell am See and Aspen. The Austrian event featured interactive displays of Porsche Design Timepieces, drawing crowds eager to see the watchmakers’ craftsmanship in action. Inside one of the hangars at the airstrip sat a professional watchmaker’s table where the Chronograph 1 Utility – Limited Edition watch was unveiled, which features a special strap printed with the coordinates of the Austrian F.A.T. Ice Race. Inspired by a military model popular with the US and German air forces 40 years ago, the redesigned chronograph also bears the Mankei icon, a nod to the race’s Austrian roots. Aksel Lund Svindal, Porsche Design Ambassador and double Olympic gold-winning professional skier, was seen sporting the special timepiece as he met up with old and new Porsche friends at the race.
Held a fortnight after the Zell am See event, Ferdi certainly enjoyed his time in Colorado for the Aspen ice race weekend – particularly the appearance of the legendary Porsche GT1-98 racecar (see video above). A unique one-of-one model, the GT1-98 won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1998 and was flown into Aspen by the Porsche Museum. It was accompanied by Stéphane Ortelli, one of the three-man team – along with Allan McNish and Laurent Aïello – who drove the car to victory at the Circuit de la Sarthe that year. “The GT1-98 is my favourite car,” admitted Ferdi when recounting his Aspen trip. “At this point, it’s more of a pop culture icon than it is a car. What I loved most was that Porsche had to adapt the GT1-98 for the ice race. The engineers raised the floor, reduced the steering angle and flipped the steering shaft around to gain more height. I think that’s what people really appreciated seeing in Aspen. Cars they wouldn’t normally encounter outside of an event like this.”But then, when it comes to the F.A.T. International ice races, it’s always best to expect the unexpected.
Consumption and emission information Taycan Turbo S (WLTP): Electric energy consumption combined: 20,5 - 17,9 kWh/100 km; CO₂ emissions combined: 0 g/km; CO₂ class: A.
Continue reading
Bend at the Nürburgring on misty morning
Driving on Grand Prix circuits with the Porsche Track Experience Experience the thrill of the world’s greatest tracks with the Porsche Track Experience from behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS or 718 Cayman GT4 RS – painted Grand Prix White, of course. Read more
Porsche 963 on racetrack at 24 Hours of Le Mans
A beginner’s guide to the 24 Hours of Le Mans The 24 Hours of Le Mans is one of the biggest dates in the motorsport calendar. Ahead of its 101st edition, discover its history and what makes it so special for Porsche Read more
Namibian desert scene with sand dunes in background
Offroad desert driving in Africa on the Porsche Travel Experience Namibia A land of spectacular wildlife and unforgettable desert scenery, lit by a desert sun that inspired the Porsche colour African Queen Metallic. The Colourful Experience heads to the vast sands of Namibia Read more