Adrenalin Sports: All white on the night: Adrian Turpin test drives the latest import from Sweden: competitive ice-kart racing

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The Independent Culture
''WE TRY to make a show of it,' Simon Davison says, explaining the attraction of ice-kart racing, a sport he has brought across the North Sea from Sweden to Alexandra Palace, North London. 'It's karting's answer to the Gladiators,' continues the former British junior rally champion.

It's showy all right - strobe lighting, race organisers barking orders into Captain Scarlet-style radio microphones, 'We Are the Champions' and the BBC Grand Prix theme tune (aka Fleetwood Mac's 'The Chain') belting out over the PA. A race marshal weaves through the traffic on skates brandishing an oversize flag, and there is a Le Mans style start for the final figure-of-eight race in which the drivers are forced to waddle penguin-fashion round the rink before they leap into their karts.

The technology that makes ice-karting possible comes from Sweden. To the list of things that the Swedes have given the world - the Volvo, the smorgasbord, the flat-pack home-making kit - can now be added the spiked kart tyre.

Davison got the idea in 1991 after hearing about ice-racing on frozen Scandinavian lakes. Adapted for a standard go-kart (140cc, five horse power, four stroke engine, top speed 35mph), each ice-kart tyre is covered with two rows of 40 tungsten-alloy spikes that bite into the ice and stop the flyweight carts from sliding out of control.

The spikes look dangerous. But, contrary to the horror stories Davison is fond of telling participants before the races begin, the red stains on the tyres are dye from the grid, not blood from the drivers. 'The truth is,' Davison says, 'ordinary go-karting requires more bottle, but ice-karting needs a lot more true driving skill.'

Not that driving skill guarantees success: when Formula One driver Rubens Barrichello took a spin on the ice, he paid the price for missing the briefing and the practice laps that each new driver is allowed before competing. Apparently Torvill and Dean met the challenge of hot rubber and ice rather better.

Learning the basics is not in itself a challenge: you could train an intelligent ape to set the machine in motion (fortunate, since I'm the next best thing, a certified non-driver whose experience behind the wheel has previously been confined to dodgems). It didn't take long to discover that getting started is one thing, staying in control another. Accelerating down a long strait, my backside an inch above the ice, I soon found myself confronted by a wall approaching at speed. Fortunately, ice-karts have the kind of stopping distance that road safety officers dream about: the only damage was an embarrassing spin and a gentle spray of atomised ice.

If it sounds exciting, then the down side is that it's not the cheapest or the easiest hobby to take up: you'll need either pounds 1,200 or 39 friends willing to chip in pounds 30 each for the three-hour race nights. Almost all the bookings are from companies, a night out for the corporate lads. On the night of my visit there were four teams (christened by the lads as the Felchers, the Ant Hill Mob, the Wiggies, the Fatties), and the pre-race briefing resembled a scene from The Dambusters: overall-clad chaps huddled together, waiting to go into battle with man and machine. Of the 40 competitors only three were women.

But perhaps the lack of women says more about investment banking than ice-karting. It's not just an event for the boys, maintains Davison. 'The women quite often do well because they adapt to the technique better and are less aggressive. We've had three women on the podium at the end of an evening.'

By 10.30pm, after over 40 individual races, the Ant Hill Mob had swept all before them. And, as the karts are driven off the rink to be garaged for another night, the satisfied bankers drifted away and parked themselves happily in the bar.

Ice-karting takes place at Alexandra Palace, Wood Green, London N22. For details of how to book contact Business Pursuits (0442 877711)

(Photograph omitted)