Tiger on Ice

Pontus Tidemand is Sweden‘s leading young talent in the rallying world. At the 4x4 test in the Alps, the 25-year-old explains why the current ŠKODA models are so safe on ice and snow. And why driving with all-wheel drive is so much fun.

31. 3. 2016

The Race Blue Octavia RS 4x4 kicks up fountains of tiny globules of ice that completely obscure the rear end of the ŠKODA. And this is just a warm-up lap. As a finishing touch, Pontus Tidemand spins a few doughnuts as if it were the easiest thing in the world. After a series of dizzyingly fast ice pirouettes, the racing pro and his all-wheel-drive car are just about warmed up – and yet every bit as cool as the surroundings.

It‘s a cold morning. Very cold, in fact. The thermometer at Austria‘s Obertauern Ice Park shows an icy minus 17 degrees Celsius. Roughly an hour‘s drive south of Salzburg, the 22-hectare Ice Park is one of the largest winter driving training grounds in Central Europe. Pontus Tidemand is used to the arctic temperatures. Out here, in raw natural surroundings, the ŠKODA works team driver, currently being touted as one of the most promising young talents on the international rallying scene, is in his element. And the Octavia RS 4x4 that he selected from the neatly arranged ŠKODA fleet on the edge of the grounds is, too. “For me, it‘s the sportiest, most dynamic ŠKODA,” says Tidemand, just before sprinting off towards the low winter’s morning sun.

Pontus Tidemand, 25, enjoying himself at ­Obertauern Ice Park between two ŠKODA test drives.
Pontus Tidemand, 25, enjoying himself at ­Obertauern Ice Park between two ŠKODA test drives.

After a few casual laps, the Scandinavian kicks it into high gear. With all the assistance systems switched off, which usually ensure the car stays safely in its lane, he puts on an exhilarating demonstration of his driving prowess. He instantaneously swings out the rear, drifting first in one direction, then in the other. The rock-hard surface beneath the snow tyres creaks and pops, the engine growls. Tidemand‘s artistic style is unmistakable: with traction alone – the snow tyres don‘t even have spikes to counteract the icy conditions – he defies the slickest of surfaces and holds his line. In moments such as this, his driving skills are reminiscent of the sleek efficiency of a Siberian tiger. Pontus Tidemand, Sweden‘s tiger on ice.



Pontus Tidemand. (Photo: Bernhard Huber)

Pontus Tidemand

Pontus Johan Tidemand, born in 1990, comes from a family steeped in rally tradition. His father Thomas Tidemand was a respected rallycross driver, and his step-father Henning Solberg still drives in the WRC today. Pontus debuted in the WRC Academy in 2012. After a stint in rallycross in 2014, he joined the WRC2 circuit in the ŠKODA Fabia R5 in 2015 and promptly caught the eye of observers with excellent results, and took overall victory in the 2015 FIA Asia-Pacific Rally Championship (APRC) to boot.  For 2016, the Swede has set his sights on winning the WRC2 title.

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The 25-year-old, who is currently racking up one rally victory after another for ŠKODA in his Fabia R5, hails from Charlottenberg in the Swedish province of Värmland, roughly 100 kilometres from the Norwegian capital of Oslo. But these days he is seldom found in his home town. “I was on the road for exactly 246 days last year,” he calculates with a satisfied smile. These days Pontus Tidemand‘s whole life seems like one extended overtaking manoeuvre.

Hardly surprising, really, with a motor racing pedigree like his. Pontus Tidemand‘s father, Thomas Tidemand, himself a well-known rally and rallycross driver in Sweden, provided young Pontus with a small, motorised four-wheeler; he began zipping around the family’s land at the tender age of five. And Tidemand’s mother Maud is now married to the five-time Norwegian rally champion Henning Solberg. Last but not least, his younger half-brother Oscar Solberg is now embarking on a rally career of his own.

In Obertauern, the Swede – who, at 188 centimetres, is rather tall for a rally driver – with blond hair, cool blue eyes and a firm handshake is, for a change, not here for a rally. Instead he will play the leading role in a four-minute video touting the merits of the new 4x4 models of the Octavia, Yeti and Superb. It will highlight the advantages those all-wheel-drive models offer on snow and ice. After all, all-wheel drive is the ideal solution for slippery surfaces – and who better to demonstrate that than Pontus Tidemand?

His filming partner for the shoot is Jan Kopecký. The 34-year-old from the Czech Republic has been a fixture in the World Rally Championship (WRC) for years. The two men are immersed in the script written by film producer Jakub Kolář, learning their lines by heart with the meticulous attention to detail that co-drivers devote to their pace notes before heading out onto the rally course. Filming then moves to the tracks which have been fastidiously prepared over a period of weeks with thousands of litres of water and ice resurfacing machines.

Pontus Tidemand celebrates his ice-dancing programme with passion – and various ŠKODA models. But what does he advise “normal” drivers to do when driving on slick roads? “It‘s important to anticipate situations,” says the rally driver. “On snow and ice you need to slow down as early and as carefully as possible rather than braking heavily and suddenly. In that case, even with all-wheel drive and assistance systems, the car can lose traction and careen out of control.” Particularly with front-wheel-drive cars, it‘s better to cautiously feather the accelerator and countersteer in the right direction than to stomp on the brakes.

And... action! The video team follows the ŠKODA 4x4 shoot with Pontus Tidemand on the monitor.
And... action! The video team follows the ŠKODA 4x4 shoot with Pontus Tidemand on the monitor.
Artist in the cockpit: with traction alone – the snow tyres don‘t even have spikes to counteract the icy conditions – Tidemand holds his line despite the slickest of conditions.
Artist in the cockpit: with traction alone – the snow tyres don‘t even have spikes to counteract the icy conditions – Tidemand holds his line despite the slickest of conditions.

Can you compare the feeling of driving a rally car with that of driving a Fabia R5? Not exactly – but: “The basics are essentially the same”, explains Tidemand. “With a ŠKODA you know that you‘re getting quality. Very high quality that, after a year as an official ŠKODA driver, I have absolute confidence in.” Rally racing is “extreme” driving, he notes, and pushes cars to their absolute limits. And that pays off in the development of normal cars. It shows especially with all-wheel-drive models, he says. “The 4x4 models offer comprehensive safety features, above all on snow and ice. These cars remain predictable and stable even in slippery, icy corners.” And all-wheel drive also lowers the risk of getting stuck in the snow. Tidemand‘s conclusion: “The 4x4 models from ŠKODA are very comfortable to drive in all weather conditions, even on long drives.”

The 4x4 models remain predictable and stable even in slippery, icy corners.

Pontus Tidemand

And how does he drive in normal traffic? “I‘m always careful and drive at an appropriate speed. I don‘t want to lose my driving license, after all, which is required for my job,” he says with a faint smile. The young racing professional comes across as very self-disciplined. When he isn‘t driving on rallies or attending events with sponsors, he can frequently be found at the gym, where he spends a couple of hundred hours every year. When one considers the immense physical demands placed on rally drivers, it‘s no surprise that he feels compelled to ensure that he‘s always in top condition.

But even in his limited free time during the season, the young rally driver keeps to the straight and narrow – it‘s the only way to deliver peak athletic performance. “I have hardly any free time on a rally weekend. During the day we have the individual stages, and in the evenings we prepare for the next stages with video training. And it‘s also very important that we get enough sleep.” And when he does have a few free hours, Tidemand likes to listen to music – “rock and pop, like AC/DC or Robbie Williams” – or he meets friends for dinner.

His favourite dishes? “I‘m a big fan of traditional Swedish home cooking – husmanskost,” says the extremely fit racing pro. This means traditional, everyday dishes such as köttbullar (meatballs), pickled salmon, stews with meat and vegetables, or Janssons frestelse, a hearty casserole with potatoes. “Italian pasta also tastes very good, but it‘s not as healthy as Swedish food,” he says, before tucking with evident delight into the Austrian roast pork with sauerkraut and dumplings that is being served for lunch at the Ice Park. Then he shoots off replies to a few emails, checks in with friends on WhatsApp and takes a look at his Facebook page, where he has some 15,000 loyal followers – and he‘s ready for action. Racing drivers are nomads, but they seldom feel alone – as long as there‘s a car in the vicinity.

This year I want to win the WRC 2 classification, and in the long run I want to be world champion.

Pontus Tidemand

“... and action!” Tidemand and Kopecký volley their lines back and forth with well-practised ease. The next scene calls for the driver to hit the slalom course in the ŠKODA Superb 4x4. “The slalom course reveals the high quality of the running-gear setup and the smooth running of the car,” says Tidemand admiringly, as he confidently navigates the top-of-the-line model around the pylons. “With all-wheel drive, you can drive between the pylons at a higher speed. The car is much easier to control.” The driver patiently repeats this or that shot until the director has his material in the bag. Rally drivers have that kind of endurance. All of a sudden, snowballs are flying between Tidemand and Kopecký. As cool and focused as he normally is, he can cut loose, too.

Tidemand really opens up when asked about his plans for the future. “I always set myself high goals – this year I want to win the WRC 2 classification,” he says confidently, “and in the long run I want to be world champion. I hope that this hard training will pay off one day.” In rallies, the main thing, of course, is to drive as fast as possible. “But there are also other factors that play a role, such as being tactically astute and making smart decisions.” But skills would be nothing without passion. “We all love the massive hp.”

Octavia RS 4x4. (Photo: Bernhard Huber)

Photo: Bernhard Huber, Video: ŠKODA AUTO a.s.