Deep in the Austrian Alps lies a road that’s famous amongst Petrolheads from all corners of the world. It’s a place where you can regularly spot bikers and drivers navigating the seemingly never-ending twists and turns leading up the mountain pass, one of the highest accessible roads in Europe, and back down again. Time your visit right, and you can also spot developmental vehicles by multiple car manufacturers going through real-life testing. And since very recently, there’s also a cool new stop close to the summit, with historical relevance, a connection to the GP Ice Race, and managed by a member of the Porsche family. And luck would have it, we spent a few days with Ferdi Porsche discovering the amazing Grossglockner pass and learning all about the new Mankei restaurant, the F.A.T. International brand, the Ice Race and the special Porsche Design watch.
Robin Nooij, MONOCHROME – I’d like to start with the GP Ice Race, which was relaunched in 2019 if I’m correct. Can you tell us more about this event?
Ferdi Porsche, co-founder of F.A.T. International – Ice racing was already done at Zell am See, Austria back in the day. From the 1950s to the 1970s, they raced on the frozen lake. At one point, my dad had a car that he competed with, with spiked bicycle tires to get around the track. And like long spikes, I’m talking centimetres instead of the small spikes we use nowadays. I never really knew that it existed, however, as it had been gone for such a long time. And people just forgot about it as it wasn’t a thing anymore. It just disappeared.
One day a friend of mine and I were talking and this came up. That’s how the idea started to bring it back to Zell am See as we felt it we wouldn’t be the only ones interested in such an event. There’s a whole new generation of enthusiasts that are into such things. It’s a lot of fun and more like a festival instead of a race, although there is actual competition. The people should bring the party though and it’s motorsports but not too serious. And so we sat down with the mayor and the Tourism Board to pitch the idea, but a lot of them said it probably wasn’t going to be possible, but if we managed to get everything sorted, they would support it. That’s how it started in 2019 and we had the perfect conditions: minus 20 degrees, blue skies, big crowds of people and plenty of cool cars!
Starting such an event in 2019, right ahead of the COVID pandemic, there must have been some challenges along the way.
Yes, that was something we never took into consideration as I guess no one really did before Covid. We had to rethink how to tackle such an event within the pandemic. The first two editions were great but then came the challenge. We rented out the track for four weeks in total in the first year, to shoot videos as much as we could and invited small groups of people according to the restrictions. In the second year of the pandemic, we did a small version of the Ice Race, with about 250 to 300 people on the ice, with partners, press and content creators.
Since then we also changed locations, from the old and rather small airfield near Zell am See to the newer, bigger one (Editorial note: it’s no longer run on a frozen lake but on a specially prepared track). Sadly for this year though, the weather was too hot so we didn’t have enough snow and ice to host a race. But for next year we’re working on a concept to race anyway, and just turn it into the coolest and most fun winter car festival if there isn’t enough snow and ice to build the track. In the end, we are at a time of the year when nothing much happens on the motorsport calendar, which for us is perfect.
That sounds like a blast! What can you tell us about the actual cars allowed in the GP Ice Race?
Basically, anything goes pretty much. We have divided cars into six categories, with one having a skier being dragged along behind a car just like they did all those years ago. A bit mad, but very cool to see and people seem to love it! This class is always racing against the clock, otherwise, it would be too dangerous. The other classes go through qualifying first and then we race four cars at a time against each other on the ice. So it’s not about setting the fastest lap time but it’s actual head-to-head racing, with a final in every class at the end of the day.
And are the classes fixed or do they change from year to year?
Well, we changed them a little over time because we’ve learnt what works best and what doesn’t work as well from previous editions. We’ve added in an electric class, something that’s entirely new because that didn’t exist in the early days of the Ice Race. Also, we have a Spirit of Ice Race class for cars that are not very competitive but amazing to see go around on the frozen track. Think of Porsche 356s and stuff like that, and we even had a Meyer’s Manx dune buggy at one point! We still want those kinds of cars to enter the event, even though they wouldn’t be able to win or are too rare and valuable to risk damaging.
What are the requirements to compete?
You just need to buy studded tires, that’s it. Buy tires, fill in the form and then send it to us and our selection process starts. We generally have double the amount of registrations for the race. We pre-select a few cars that we really like to see enter, but it’s pretty much open to anyone and anything. For the remaining spots, we draw who can enter for that specific edition.
The whole event is now hosted under the F.A.T. International name, a very important name in Porsche’s history. Can you tell us more about that?
That’s correct, and it is significant to Porsche. F.A.T. was a logistics company owned by someone who was heavy into motorsports and he sponsored a lot of great cars. He also sponsored the Le Mans Porsche Team who won the 1994 Le Mans 24 Hours race with the Dauer 962 Le Mans-Porsche, a legendary car. The whole story of a former Group C Le Mans-winning car being turned into a road car and then back into a Le Mans-winning racing car under GT1 rules is just amazing. That car is actually here now, in the Mankei Pavilion on display by the Porsche Museum for the opening weekend of Mankei. We will have a car on rotation every two or three weeks probably, so there’s something new to see every now and then.
The F.A.T. company is no longer around and when we were on the lookout for something like this we thought that the F.A.T. name is perfect. It connects everything for us, the whole spirit of racing and everything we want to do. So we secured the rights to the name, and it’s now the umbrella that hosts everything from this new Mankei restaurant but also the Ice Race. Everything is now labelled under F.A.T. International.
The Ice Race is a very seasonal thing obviously. What are you doing throughout the rest of the year?
The first step was Mankei, the restaurant, which is the local name of the Marmot that lives in the alps. It is our first brick-and-mortar location, on the slopes of the Grossglockner Pass in Austria. It has the same link to ice racing and Porsche as everything else we do. The Grossglockner was where the earliest Porsche cars were tested, and it was that time when my family discovered the Zell am See region and eventually moved there.
The Mankei restaurant has always been there and when it came on the market after a fire, it was the perfect opportunity for me to bring my architectural background into F.A.T. and redesign Mankei. It will serve as a location for car enthusiasts and beyond to enjoy themselves when visiting the Grossglockner, have a bit of a break, grab some food and drinks and maybe spend the night, as we also have rooms available. The Grossglockner is just a great road to drive, one of the best in Europe, and the location is perfect for everyone to enjoy the beautiful mountains.
We also wanted something new to the Mankei house, so we built the pavilion next to it, to host events and show various cars. Sort of like a one-car museum, really. I think it’s really fascinating, this combination of an alpine lodge and a very modern pavilion next to it with a bridge in between to connect the two.
And then there’s also the Porsche Design Chronograph 1 GP 2023 Limited Edition.
Absolutely! When we started the Ice Race, we obviously needed a timekeeper because, in the end, it is about a race against the clock. And with my family’s connection, there was only one real option; Porsche Design. I did an internship there during my studies, and my dad once gave me my first watch, a 25th-anniversary edition of the Chronograph 1, so it was clear to me this was the brand to contact first and pitch our ideas.
With the opening of the Mankei restaurant, we wanted to change things up a bit for this one and tie everything together. So along with the white NATO-style strap or the black leather strap, you can get a light green NATO-style textile strap that has the same colour as the facade of Mankei. I think it looks very cool with the contrasting green against the titanium case and the black crown, pushers and end links. Last year we did a full black Chronograph 1 with a white strap so this is a nice change. The watch is limited to 250 pieces, and on the inside of the strap, you find the coordinates of the Mankei house.
It’s striking how fresh the design of the original one from 1972 still looks today. What are your thoughts on that?
It does, and you have to give kudos to him for that. When my uncle (Editorial note: F.A. Porsche, founder of Porsche Design in 1972). I think he was really at the forefront of it and also his studio. I think it was a really cool atmosphere too, setting up a place like this in Tullum, which is basically in the middle of nowhere. It was all about making the best possible product, and it certainly reflects in the Chronograph 1 for me. I mean, Kim Kardashian wears Porsche Design glasses without getting paid to do so, just because she thinks they are cool. It’s the same for the watch, it hasn’t lost any of its appeal, even after more than 50 years.
The connection between Porsche, Porsche Design and now F.A.T. International is obviously very strong. How do you see that progressing into the future?
F.A.T. to me is more like a platform, and about more than just the Ice Race, or Porsche or Porsche Design. Obviously, the connection is very strong between the three, but it’s very much about bringing together people and celebrating cars and cultural icons. Not with your eyes focusing on the past, but also the future in a wat. That’s the spirit I want to incorporate into all of the events and locations that we do. We’re already thinking about the next location and we will be more on the racetrack next year, too. There is a lot of cool stuff in the pipeline, and I think F.A.T. International incorporates all of that very well.
Editorial Note: The images of the GP Ice Race are sourced from ClassicDriver.com.