The weather may be freezing cold outside, but John Simister has a warm inner glow as he tries ice racing with some of the experts

I used to dream of stuff like this. To be driven by a Monte Carlo Rally winner at speed, on ice, pointing every direction but straight on, the driver keen to show me what the car can or cannot do, just to be there.

Then the dream leaves reality even further behind as I partner a past Formula One race winner, a man who has pounded Ferraris and Renaults and Ligiers to Grand Prix victories, on an ice track again. I cannot be here. But I am.

"See," says Patrick Tambay, ex-F1 driver, now multi-talented, multi-disciplined, part-time car competitor and full-time upstanding citizen (he's a town mayor), "full throttle in first gear. And second. Now third. Fourth. Fifth! Even sixth!"

We are going 30mph at the most. That means the rear wheels of our mid-engined Renault Clio V6 are spinning about five times faster than they should be, given our pace. Ice is an effective lubricant.

These are very appropriate conditions, given what happened to Britain's roads a couple of weeks ago. But I am not in England but in Alpe d'Huez, an expensive ski resort and home to a round of the Trophée Andros ice-race series. This 12-round championship is currently dominated by Yvan Muller, here today in his ice-racing Kia.

"Well," he says, "it has Kia mirrors and radiator grille." Otherwise it is a specially-built ice racer, with rear-wheel steering and an Audi V6 engine.

Trouble is, the snow is melting. Colder, drier snow gives more grip, but this is so slippery that even the ice racers have retreated. No matter; we are out playing, and I could not be in better hands.

Last night, when there was a little more grip, I had driven to Alpe d'Huez in the 255bhp V6. This is a car brilliant in the dry but with a strong desire to keep going straight on in the wet.

But I need not have worried, because it is on special winter tyres. These are not the chunky-tread snow-manglers of yore, but tyres which look remarkably normal. They have a slightly more open tread and,

crucially, a softer, stickier rubber compound. Such tyres are normal in Europe's snowier parts, but they elude most Brits.

They transform the Clio V6. It becomes grippy and responsive even in torrential rain, and manageably entertaining in the snow as I powerslide around the village's roundabouts.

It is dark, and now I am sitting next to Jean Ragnotti in a Clio Super 1600 rally car. This has front-wheel drive like a normal Clio, but 220bhp and a sequential-shift transmission.

Ragnotti -- 59 years old, 1981 Monte winner in a mid-engined Renault 5 Turbo and champion of several genres -- is banging it back and forth as the Clio screams and scrabbles its way along the slippery, snaking mountainside track.

He pulls the handbrake from time to time. It is the best way to coax a reluctant front-wheel drive car around a tight, slippery bend.

Overall motion is forwards, detail motion frequently sideways, but we do not hit anything. The tail comes perilously close to a parked Chrysler Voyager, but it misses and it was probably planned to be a close shave anyway.

Back to today, and even less friction undertyre as we head for the twisty Andros circuit. I am in the mind-concentrating (and rear-wheel drive) Clio V6, and Robbie Head, Channel Four's World Rally pundit, former rally ace and all-round good Scottish bloke, is next to me.

"Just keep it gentle," he says, "and if the back starts to slide come off the power immediately." I pick my way around a long left-hander, accelerate when I hit the exit and then feel the tail flash outward.

Off with the power, and the slither eases as the momentum decays and I steer into the skid. I cannot steer too far, though, because the Clio has a hopelessly inadequate turning circle which prevents the catching of relatively low-speed slides that ought to be easily recoverable.

Plan ahead, use minimal power and I might get round. I do have one little 180-degree spin, though. Then I finish off with that run with Tambay, and he spins it too. Even a hero cannot create grip where there is apparently none.

But electronics can. Renault has also brought along some Megane Coupe Cabriolets, with electronic stability control designed to stop the front wheels drifting. It does this by selectively braking the rear wheels to nudge the Renault back on course, and it works brilliantly.

Nothing was faster than the Megane that day. All that human talent, and the electronics win. Humans have more fun, though.

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