Zell Am See: Home of Porsche's Winter Spectacular

This Austrian lakeside town, home to its most famous family, has hosted ice racing since the 1950s.

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A Porsche 911 drifting around a corner on ice.
No traction, no problems.
Photo: Porsche

The weather outside is frightful. But the ice is so delightful. This time of year, many are getting ready to head home and visit family. Near the Porsche family home in Austria, preparations are being made for the annual ice race.

In 1937, a skijoring event was held for the first time on the frozen surface of Lake Zell in the Alps. The Scandinavian practice of car-towing skiing has made its way to the picturesque mountain range as a spectator motorsport competition. Also during the 1930s, Ferdinand Porsche grew fond of Schüttgut, a 600-year-old estate overlooking Zell am See, the town on the lake. He ended up buying the estate in 1941, which still is a working farm today.

A year after later Ferdinand Porsche’s death in 1951, the Porsche family brought racing back to Lake Zell in his memory. The ice race proved popular enough that it returned in 1953. With both skiers in tow and without, drivers raced atop the ice annually for the enjoyment of fervent spectators who made their way to the mountains. The only thing that could stop the thousands of fans was a lack of ice cancelling the event during a few winters. The ice race’s original run ended after the 1974 edition, when a snow plow fell through the ice and the driver drowned.

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Fetzenflieger returning to the Zell am See ice
Fetzenflieger returning to the Zell am See ice
Photo: Porsche

The ice race’s most well-remembered driver was Otto Mathé. Mathé lost the use of his right arm after a motorcycle accident in 1934. He took to the Lake Zell ice in 1955. Mathé drove a strange-looking home-built Formula 2 car powered by a 1.5-liter Porsche engine called the Fetzenflieger, which roughly translates to the Shredding Flyer. About Mathé, three-time F1 world champion Niki Lauda said, “I admired the way he drove the race – with just one arm. And I thought the spikes on his famous ice car were great.”

Porsche 2020 GP Ice Race Highlights

The ice race was revived in 2019 by Ferdinand Porsche’s grandson also named Ferdinand. However, the modern races aren’t held on the lake. They’re run at Flugplatz Zell am See, a small airport south of the lake. Snowplows can’t fall into freezing water if there isn’t any. The ice races heavily feature both modern and vintage Porsche cars. Skijoring is still included. This year’s GP Ice Race is scheduled for the last weekend of January.