The motorsport season doesn’t necessarily end when the mercury drops. Not in some places at least.
Get that Foreigner song out of your head immediately; this setting has far less cheese and way more cool, in terms of both occurrence on track as well as rather low temperatures usually due to being held 2,000 metres up an Alp. This is the e-Andros Trophy, a fully sideways, ice-crystalled love affair that’s now into its thirtieth year. And now it’s gone all modern, bidden au revoir to the combustion engine along with a big Bonjour! to electric power and some French stars of motorsport.
A potted history for you. Frédéric Gervoson and Max Mamers were friends sharing tastes and values; those of competition, friendliness, loyalty and racing cars. Classing themselves as (Mamers), “a sports entrepreneur” and (Gervoson) as an “entrepreneurial sportsman”, they collected up some interested parties to compete against along with the necessary sponsors and in late January 1990, Serre Chevalier witnessed the first Trophee Andros race.
Alain Froment piloting a Citroen Visa was the initial victor. The format was similar to that of Rallycross; a sprint of five or six laps around a course carved out of the mountain snow, usually with a ski-lift in close proximity. Rules were few and as simple as the cars. In the beginning it was a rallycross car set up with winter tyres and little else. Of course through time, changes and engineering advances would show through. But at first, turn up and blast round on the ice.
The format caught on and the public flocked (or perhaps skied) there as even in 1990, three more races were held in Chamonix, Lans en Vercors and Chamrousse. The next year a race was held in Paris but as the mountain areas were blessed with free and abundant snow, everyone considered that easier. The race weekend consisted of testing and qualifying heats on the Saturday with the finals held on Sunday, although the weather could impact on proceedings.
With increased competition came the inevitable changes: studded tyres, four wheel drive, bigger names and more circuits. And larger attendances. As well as return to Paris and imported snow; 60,000 people spectating in the Stade de France for the eve of the millennium.
Those studded tyres were originally supplied by Pirelli with Continental along with Michelin at times being de rigueur. Signing up Alain Prost (and these days his son, Nico), other manufacturers and allowing women to race from the early days made the Trophy very marketable and good for TV. I believe I first saw these snowy, sideways cars on BBC Grandstand as a late teenager and before our internet-connected lives had to try and remember it was on ‘around Christmas.’
Electric cars being nothing new, Trophee Andros first let them race fourteen years ago. Today, all the competing cars in the top categories are electric powered, four wheel drive and steer and those tyres have 250 studs each. The Andros Sport 01 shoves out around 250kW (350hp) with 1600 torques. Weighing in at a featherweight 1,130 Kg’s, the cars have a 52:48 drive split and can be 80% recharged in half an hour.
The sound from the TV now is the crushing of the snow, the scrabbling for grip studs when the ice is worn down to the tarmac track beneath and the gasping of the crowd as the lurid slides become graceful arcs around the bends. The cars spend so much time sideways that side screen wipers are fitted to carve an arc through the ice crystals deposited by following cars. And are inherently necessary for akin to the mud of rallycross, the snow gets everywhere. Fine when you’re leading.
The racing is amazingly close with regular clouts from the side, rear or heaven forbid, with a race stopping snow bank incident. When watched on TV, the perspective makes you believe, one, they’ll never make that corner and when they do, two, how on earth couldn’t the following driver NOT get past? On-board cameras lend an even more surreal slant (pun intended) with a sheer wall of snow being all you can see for what feels like eternity before the next ‘straight’ appears and the indubitable Scandinavian flick sets up the next corner. Pole position does not equal race victory when ego, ice and Gallic determination are blended together at minus 5 degrees.
The competing cars are not varied. They are all AS01 silhouette racers, tweaked to the teams spec and resembles, oddly enough a small French hatchback. You can slide a car dressed as an Audi A1, Renault Zoe, Peugeot 208. Opel has the best history taking six titles and 41 overall wins with Yvan Muller at the helm in this as well as Kias, BMWs and Toyotas.
Nowadays he runs a team. Father and son Olivier and Aurélian Panis trade paint and cover each other’s car in snow. The younger Panis was victorious in the recent Val Thorens bout with one Sébastien Loeb runner up. Grojean from F1 has showed up. And the perhaps lesser known names are more than capable of showering the bigger names in ever increasing ice crystals. Goodness, if that’s not enough for you they do let engines in the form of motorcycle racers who are arguably more crazy than the cars.
Should you be lucky enough to live nearby or skiing not being your thing, my advice would be go watch and take a hot drink. If you prefer not standing around in freezing conditions may I suggest Free Sports (Freeview channel 64) who are covering the 2019/20 series. The website www.tropheeandros.com is in French but easily navigable and the series concludes in Clermont-Ferrand on February 1st. Ice-skating has never interested me; cars glissading at speed does so in ways Formula 1 could never emulate.