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Volvos, Snow…& Yoda

Some of Calvin Fisher’s best drives have begun where the road ended… and the lake began. He shares an unlikely experience in Sweden.

Tick, tick, tick, tick. The sound of the hazard lights was deafening, the accompanying amber light illuminating the entire cabin. On, off, on, off.

Humiliation, thy hue is orange. This felt as good a time as any for an existential crisis, forcibly parked in submission (entrenched, really) in a bank of snow.

My Volvo V40 Cross Country itself was surely wondering why – since it was originally conceived for an urbane life – it was now finding itself in such an exciting predicament.

A Race Circuit On A Lake

I blame a Scandinavian man named Benji, who had earlier warmly coerced me with a “just accelerate here, turn there, gently here, softly there…” before unleashing me on this icy road.

I say road, but it was more like a madly winding race circuit. The type you would carve out of a frozen lake – which is precisely what Benji and his Nordic team had done the night before.

And it was he who was crackling over the radio at me now with a “Well done, just so, but more turn.” Yes, I definitely should have “more turned” just then. Let’s rewind an hour or so, shall we?

Ice Drifting 

A tepee. I was in snowy Sweden clutching a mug of hot cocoa and inching closer and closer to a fire in the centre of what clearly resembled a massive tepee.

With me were seven of my peers, and we were all paying attention to Benji and his team.

He was talking feverishly, with equal parts mouth noises and hand gestures – the latter being a clue to the steering-wheel twirling we were all about to engage in.

We had each been handed the keys to a turbocharged Volvo V40 Cross Country and were subsequently invited to take it around the racetrack they had crafted for us upon a frozen lake.

But we were meant to do it completely sideways, initiating a four-wheel drift, since none of the four driven wheels would have any sort of traction. Yes… grip.

There was simply none of that. Not when pulling away, not on turning in. The car’s electronics were fighting hard for any semblance of momentum, never mind direction.

A Product of The Cape Flats

We were advised to disable the car’s own traction control and, sort of, use our own.

Cool, again, I was training for this all my life, being a product of the Cape Flats after all, with skills honed in the sedans of several friends and uncles at informal racing venues and parking lots.

Yet this is how it went: I engaged “D” for “drive”, fed in a bit of throttle, and indeed, we were moving.drives

A left-hand corner slid into view and my tiny inputs to the steering wheel were translated into massive pendulum swings from the Volvo as it arced not so much its nose towards the apex, but rather its entire broadside.

This was the first time I had to pilot a car via its side windows as I was forced to countersteer into the slide. In fact, if I had to relive this day, I would not use the windscreen either; there was just no need for it.

Soaring Confidence 

To prevent myself from beaching, I dialled in just a fraction of opposite lock, and naturally, this spun me in the other direction. Too much, in fact, but somehow, I got through it with the grace of a circus elephant on skates – success!

My confidence soared as the next corner sprang up; a right-hander this time. I could do this. I could not do this. Again, I got it horribly wrong, and seconds later received those words of encouragement by Yoda-Benji.

Plucky? Perhaps. Stubborn? Absolutely! But I was not deterred. After being freed from the ice, the next 45 minutes saw a ramped-up progression in my confidence and ditto my competence as I managed to only crash into every other corner.

A Driving God

This was, we were told, a 1.4km course of twists and turns, and I would not leave until I had done a full lap, completely sideways and somewhat in control.

Then it happened, around two hours since that first cup of cocoa. A moment of total jubilation as I managed to string together a full loop of swoop, and with it the kind of elation I tell my kids I felt when they were born. I’m not a driving god, but for that five minutes or so, I got to feel like one.

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